The Local Church in a Pandemic World
When we’re faced with something as big as the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash that it has caused (which shows no signs of stopping for a while yet!), we look for solutions that are as big as the problem.
We hope for scientists around the world to work together to find treatments that work and develop a vaccine. We want to see coordinated efforts across multiple governments to stabilize economies and send cash to struggling businesses and families. We try to encourage nonprofits and NGOs to get relief supplies to people right away.
These are good impulses, and often they are exactly the right approach to a given problem, but it can leave those of us who want to serve through our local church feeling, well, helpless. What can my church do in the face of such an enormous crisis? How can we actually serve even our immediate community when we can’t gather, and all of us are stuck at home?
What is the role of our local church?
Bigger than Big
Problems like poverty and pandemics are so complex that there simply is no hope without the transforming power of Jesus Christ. You want big solutions to big problems? It doesn’t get any bigger than God’s story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation!
“For in [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17 NIV, emphasis added).
But there’s even more to the story: The Bible teaches that the local church is the embodiment of Christ Jesus here and now, even in the very next verse: “And he is the head of the body, the church” (Col 1:18a NIV, emphasis added). The local church is where people can encounter the only one who is big enough to solve the global pandemic!
At the Chalmers Center, we believe that all poverty alleviation ministry should be rooted in and flow back into the local church. It’s one of the core ministry design principles we put into our book A Field Guide to Becoming Whole—in fact, it’s principle #1, the one that anchors all the rest.
It’s not even an original idea to us—we got it from theologian Lesslie Newbigin, in his book The Gospel in Pluralist Society. Newbigin understood that the local church wasn’t just another social service agency. Rather, as the place where God Almighty dwells, the local church is the focal point for God’s presence in the here and now. So, although the local church does not appear to have the capacity of governments or international NGOs to address poverty, residing within her is the only One who actually has the power to restore the entire cosmos!
Local Church Ministry
If all this is true, then the local church has everything to do with ministry among the materially poor—yes, right now, and after things start to seem “normal” again, too. The church is the community wherein people experience healing in the broken relationships at the foundation of material poverty: relationships with God, with themselves, with others, and with the rest of creation.
So what can your church do right now?
In some sense, the same things you’ve always been called to do:
- Share the good news of the kingdom of God—that God doesn’t just care about our souls, but our sick and suffering bodies here and now! The ministry of the gospel has never been more important to a hurting world.
- Show mercy to those who are hurting through generous benevolence ministry that keeps the whole person in mind, not just in a moment of need, but throughout someone’s life in a restorative relationship.
- Focus on walking with people to recognize their God-given abilities and resources. You’re not here to do everything for everyone, but to come alongside them as a family that supports and sustains its members.
- Get creative, applying the knowledge of, connection to, and passion for your local community in ways that outside organizations often find difficult to do. You were part of your community before the pandemic, and you’ll be there after it passes. God has put you where you are for such a time as this.
If your church, and my church, and churches from rural Togo to New York City start to live into our callings, who knows what God might bring about? As part of the global body of Christ, your local church is always an integral part of the biggest solution to the biggest problems our world faces!
For more COVID-19 resources for your church, click here.
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