As the coronavirus lockdown escalates we must take it seriously. We have two basic options for how we do that – we can be defensive and defeatist or purposeful and proactive.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that [is] it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not before.”Rahm Emanuel
Times of great crisis are also times of great opportunity. For followers of Jesus crisis demands our attention and we’ve been bought with blood by a man who saw crisis and chose the second path.
So our job now is to do all things in his name (1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 14:8). We can:
- Eat in the name of Jesus
- Sleep in the name of Jesus
- Quarantine in the name of Jesus
- Serve one another in the name of Jesus
- Give birth in the name of Jesus
- Die in the name of Jesus (hopefully not too soon though)
- Email in the name of Jesus
- Cook in the name of Jesus
- Think creatively in the name of Jesus.
So as leaders and followers of Jesus the tone of our messages shouldn’t just be “sorry we can’t do church any more” but I urge us to think creatively about how we can seek the kingdom of God under quarantine.
Church history gives us some inspiring examples.
The city of Caesarea had already been weakened by famine and war when a plague hit in the early fourth-century. People began fleeing to the countryside for safety. However, at least one group largely stayed behind, the Christians. As bishop of the city and a historian of the early church, Eusebius, wrote that during the plague,
“All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”
Eusebius goes on to say that because of their compassion in the midst of the plague, the Christians’ “deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.”
A few decades after Eusebius, the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, recognised that the Christian practice of compassion was one cause behind the transformation of the faith from a small movement on the edge of the empire, to cultural ascendancy. Writing to a pagan priest he said:
“when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans [i.e., Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy.”
“[They] support not only their poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”
Julian urged his pagan priests to imitate the Christians’ charity as a way to claw back influence from the church.
Eusebius’ writing could be dismissed as Christian propaganda but not Julian’s as he was a passionate pagan who despised Christians and complimented them through gritted teeth.
How can churches make the most of today’s crisis?
A few ideas:
- Pray! Then pray some more. No, seriously. Having less to do means you can do more.
- Now is the time for a million new small house churches. When did Jesus tell us to sit in rows in large halls anyway? Meet in small groups – anything from 3 – 10. House church can be more “real church” than what we’re used to.
- Pair up every member of your congregation so everyone has someone regularly checking in on them. Prioritise older members and write up a list to make sure no one slips through the cracks.
- Print 200 copies of this leaflet and post it to your neighbours. Then share it on social media for others to do the same:
- Hold bible studies and prayer meetings via video call using your smartphones and laptops. WhatsApp isn’t a good solution as you can only have u to 4 people in a video call at a time, but Facebook Messenger and Skype can allow up to 50. I’ve heard good things about Zoom too. Get people to pair up and you immediately double your numbers.
- Over the last week hundreds of mutual aid groups have sprung up across the UK. Join yours to see how you can help. Here’s a list of them all or if you’re in Northampton click here.
Opportunities so urgent and widespread as this come along only rarely. Jesus is always Lord no matter what happens, and he always calls his people to engage with the world’s need with wisdom and compassion.
While we must take vital steps to create physical space between us this pandemic offers all churches an amazing opportunity to serve the people around them and embody the good news of the gospel, if we are willing to learn.
And finally, I leave you with an amazing email newsletter by a dude called Doug Paul, a pastor in a church that usually meets in both halls and smaller house churches. It includes an email they’ve sent to their house church pastors, one they’ve sent to their members and one they suggest people send their neighbours. It’s well worth a read: