COVID-19 has affected every area of life to varying degrees of severity. I cannot imagine the exhaustion of healthcare workers on the frontlines, the difficulty experienced by grocery store employees, or the anxiety of the service industry. In comparison to these brave sectors, my own problems seem minimal. And while I can’t speak for all churches everywhere, I am sure that like me, many pastors have experienced their own uncertainties and anxieties in this season.
Churches exist to gather for worship and serve their neighbors. So how do we continue gathering and serving, when the most loving thing to do is practice social distancing? Over the past few weeks I’ve come to the realization that while the means and instruments have changed, the mission has not. Though things look different, we’re still able to worship with one another, to do community, and to serve our community.
Immediately after COVID-19 entered the public consciousness as a serious threat, many churches wisely transitioned from in-person services to online formats. Gathering for worship is an essential rhythm for any church. However, we can’t say we love our church and neighbors when we endanger their health and safety.
Some churches had been livestreaming their services for years. Others, like us, had an incredible team who figured it out on their first try that very weekend. I’ve seen worship leaders encourage the church by recording songs with professional quality audio and video, while some approaches have been a little more down to earth. For my junior high and high school students, I created a YouTube account and uploaded three videos that week, using my phone and several books as a makeshift tripod. I was afraid of ending up on one of those goofy videos of influencers being unknowingly recorded while creating content.
People come to church for a myriad of reasons: to be encouraged, challenged, accepted, find community, or simply be loved. One of the primary ways that is done is through the worship service. Regular church goers know what I’m referring to. A message or song that speaks to a specific circumstance or struggle can be incredibly life-giving. Through incredible teams of volunteers, staff members and pastors we can continue to serve our churches in this way.
Many churches have several small group gatherings that meet outside of Sunday. These smaller groups serve as more intimate settings where people can share and grow with one another amongst a safe and trusted group of close friends. Over time these small groups often become a lot like little families, especially for those whose own families are less than ideal. We should all be doing everything we can to flatten the curve by adhering to social-distancing protocols; however, that doesn’t mean we must live in isolation. All people require community, no matter how introverted they are. Thanks to apps like Zoom and Google Hangout, we can continue to do so.
Loving Our Neighbors
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus gave a two-part answer: love God and love your neighbor, which is everyone. But churches (like any other group) are full of imperfect people and unfortunately, there are churches that operate in a faulty binary by ignoring the latter because they claim they’re focusing on the former. I’m ashamed to say that when we announced the transition from on-campus gatherings to online, my first thought wasn’t towards helping my neighbor but how am I going to do my lessons and messages?
The reality is that love of God is expressed through love of neighbor. Churches that only focus on their own self-promotion of online services and groups, but ignore their neighbors aren’t really fulfilling the greatest commandment. I’m so thankful to work at a church that sees both parts of Jesus’ answer and not just one. For many churches, COVID-19 has catalyzed them into action.
Social distancing is loving our neighbor. Discouraging images of blatant disregard for social distancing continue to make the news—from groups of college students partying on the beaches in Florida during spring break to, more recently, thousands of people attending Palm Sunday church services, some in defiance of local and state stay-at-home orders.
Our lead pastor, Tim Park, has stated, “We need to do everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19. We need to protect one another, especially the most vulnerable.” And that means staying at home.
The city where our church is located has a high population of at-risk individuals (65+, pre-existing conditions, etc.). Many younger church members have stepped up in this season by reaching out to their older neighbors, asking if they could pick up any groceries or necessities for them. Our own church has started a “Helping Hands Team” to help with any IT issues, grocery runs, etc.
In Waukegan, IL, Christian Neighbors Church has been delivering emergency food boxes to those in their area. Pastor Luke McFadden has stated, “(While) there (has) always a great deal of food insecurity in our area, this problem has… been exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak. Many have been prevented from stocking up on food because of lack of funds, transportation, or other barriers. We have assembled teams to collect food, package it, and deliver it throughout our area. As we deliver the food boxes, people are letting us pray with them and encourage them in this crisis.”
COVID-19 has affected everyone and the situation remains fluid. As needs continue to shift and change, our mission as the church should remain the same, but we should be ready to adapt to serve those around us to the best of our ability.
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Kevin Ahn is the Youth Pastor of E. Free Church Diamond Bar. Originally from Orange County, CA he received his BA from Moody Bible Institute and his M. Div from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He currently lives in Fullerton, CA with his wife Kelly and their dog Rocky.