Several weeks ago, when coronavirus was just beginning to become a global threat, my family went to Disney World. I was hyper aware of handrail, door knob and surface that people from all over the world were touching. I was super vigilant to constantly wash my hands and avoid unnecessary contact with people because I was NOT going to get sick.
I got sick.
The night we drove home I came down with one of the most brutal respiratory flu viruses I’ve ever had. It knocked me out for eight straight days, followed by another two weeks of gradual recovery.
Even though I did everything I could to protect myself I still got sick. There are some things that you just can’t prevent, but you have to respond to. The spread of coronavirus across our nation and world is one of those things.
The virus is highly transmissible by close contact and is spreading very quickly. In fact, in the two days between when I started writing this and when it was posted, the cases of COVID-19 in Illinois have doubled. A state of emergency has been declared nation wide. There is no avoiding the impact of this disease right now.
There are things that every person can do to fight it: regular hand washing and social distancing being the key tools we have. Restaurants and bars have been shut down. Movie theaters have cut their capacity in half to limit exposure. Public gatherings have been limited and shut down by local governments. People are panicking, purchasing and hoarding key supplies like toilet paper and sanitizing supplies. The world is responding.
Followers of Jesus are facing the same uncertainty and fear as everyone else. We are watching the same news and events unfold, which leads us to ask this quesion:
How should the church respond to the coronavirus?
Not just the church as a corporate organization, but the Church as the body of Christ. How should followers of Jesus respond when the world is so full of uncertainty?
1. Don’t be afraid
Bible tells us “do not fear” over 300 times. That’s a lot. If I told my kids to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher 300 times, they should get the hint that it’s important to me. It’s important to God that we know we can trust him. We don’t have to live in fear.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
We don’t need to be the people stockpiling to the point where others who really need things can’t get them. God is with us. How can we know that? He told us.
This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Irrational fear and panic-based decisions should have no part in the lives of Christians. God’s got us.
2. Be wise
Rudy Gobert is an NBA player on the Utah Jazz. At a recent press conference he was teasing people who he thought were overreacting to the coronavirus. He touched and rubbed his hands all over every microphone at the interview table to be funny and show that he wasn’t afraid. A few days later he was diagnosed with the virus.
Fear is not of God, but neither is foolishness.
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.
We should take sensible steps to avoid exposure to the disease. We need to do everything we can to avoid its spread. Godly wisdom also takes into account the fact that while you may not be at risk, there are others who aren’t so lucky.
Wisdom and love go hand in hand. When we do things like wipe door handles down or cancel events, it’s not fear. It’s love. It’s love when I do everything I can to show those at greater risk than me that I care about their health and their fears. It means we may have to temporarily adjust how we church ministry based on the wisdom of how we should respond to the facts surrounding the virus.
This is important for two reasons. The first is that we value the health and safety of our church and community. Regardless of how many cases have been reported in our region, we want to be vigilant to protect those at high risk. The second reason is that our testimony to people who don’t know Jesus is wrapped up in our response. Our mission is to make God accessible to everyone. That means there are times when we must be responsive to both the needs and fears of our community.
3. Find the opportunities
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity…
God does not stop working in people’s lives because of pandemics. In fact, throughout history the gospel has spread as followers of Jesus have found opportunity to reach people in new ways during crisis.
In 249 AD, a plague broke out in Rome. At the height of the outbreak the city was said to have lost an estimated 5,000 people a day. The typical Roman cities responded by pushing the infected away, literally throwing them out into the roads before they were even dead to avert contagion.
The Christian response was different. In a pandemic that may have killed off a quarter of the Roman empire, Christians cared for the sick. And not only other Christians. They cared for strangers.
The world at large was stunned as they witnessed communal love like they’d never seen. Christian sacrifice for non-Christians resulted in the early church experiencing exponential growth as survivors, who benefited from the care of their Christian neighbors, became followers of Jesus
There are opportunities for Compass to adjust how we do ministry in this new reality: live-streaming our services, moving ministry online and making it virtual, reaching families at home, serving the sick and poor where they are. But those opportunities are not just for us as a church. They are there for each of us individually.
What opportunities are there for you to make a difference in your world?
Here’s what I know – whatever happens with the coronavirus, whether it explodes like our worst fears or fizzles out, we will come out of this stronger. We will seize the opportunities presented to us to show our world the love of Jesus with wisdom and courage.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.