“Pandemic Perspectives” is a two-part post from members of the TGCA South Australia board. In this edition we feature views of the recent (and ongoing) COVID-19 crisis from a pastor, layperson and a church planter.
A View From a Pastor
(Paul Harrington, Senior Pastor of Trinity Network of Churches)
I don’t know a single pastor who hasn’t felt, at least to some degree, like COVID-19 pulled the “vocational rug” out from under their feet. I had my patterns—preaching, teaching, leading, training and pastoring—and then, I didn’t. After 30 years in full time vocational ministry I had to learn new skills; learn new technology; and stop meeting face-to-face with people. It was all up for grabs and I couldn’t be sure when or if it would ever return to normal. I am not thinking pastors were the only ones affected like this, but we certainly were not exempt.
After 30 years in full time vocational ministry I had to learn new skills; learn new technology; and stop meeting face-to-face with people.
I noticed the pastors I work alongside all had different reactions. There was variously: stress and excitement; exhaustion and high-energy; anger and serenity; frustration and quiet hearts. Like many others around us, our reactions have reflected our personalities. Some of us hate change to our routines so our levels of stress and frustration went up. Some of us thrive on new challenges and were obviously thanking God for a wonderful stimulus for novel ministry initiatives. The introverts among us saw the compulsory rest from relating to people as a plus. The extroverts, not so much.
Like all pastors and Christians, I found myself asking how I should process and think things through from a Christological perspective. The example and convictions of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1 have been a tonic for my heart.
Paul knew what it was like to have no control over his life or future. He was in prison and may have been there for five years at the time of writing. He didn’t know how long his incarceration would last and whether he would in due course be executed or released. He had believers around him trying to smear his name. For an itinerant evangelist and church planter, I suspect this wasn’t what he had worked out with his life coach. He should have been stressed, frustrated, angry and self-pitying. Yet he is settled, secure and overwhelmingly thankful. How does that work?
In Philippians 1:12 he says “What has happened to me has served to advance the gospel”. In v13 he says his incarceration is “for Christ”. As a result the palace guard have been exposed to the gospel. Some are preaching Christ with less than pure motives, but the key thing is that “Christ is preached” (v18). Then v21 highlights his focus “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. In the end his aim is that “Christ will be exalted” (v20).
My life as a pastor has been turned upside-down. But the reality is God is still sovereign and we are in this pandemic ‘for Christ’.
Of course I was familiar with Philippians 1 before this. But there is nothing like a global pandemic to bring it into sharp relief. Sure my life as a pastor has been turned upside-down. But the reality is God is still sovereign and we are in this pandemic “for Christ”. The shape of Christian ministry is up in the air right now, but the core concern remains constant: how can we preach Christ? The pandemic has highlighted our mortality – but we know that to die is gain. And while we could take the opportunity to feel a bit sorry for ourselves – the important thing is that Christ is preached. I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ with unprecedented opportunity to speak to others about their trust in Jesus. I am pretty keen to see the back of COVID-19, but I am finding myself rejoicing in the uncertain times we are in.
A View from the Pew
When the TGCA South Australia team decided to write about things we’d learned or reflected on from our different perspectives during this COVID-19 time, I felt unqualified to offer anything. Everyone around me seemed to gain radical clarity on their lives; or they were asking wise, discerning questions about the future of church life and ministry. Not me! No ground-breaking ideas or epiphanies. Instead, I have just been trying to keep up with the changes and support everyone else’s great ideas. This has been the story of my life, let alone during COVID-19! Entrenched in the unremarkable, ordinariness of life and always a few steps behind everyone else. But it’s here, confronted with all my inadequacies and weaknesses, that I know Jesus best.
I have just been trying to keep up with the changes and support everyone else’s great ideas … But it’s here, confronted with all my inadequacies and weaknesses, that I know Jesus best.
This time has helped me slow down just long enough to thank God for the ordinary. You see, if I were ever to have a brilliant idea, most likely my pride would begin to whisper sweet-nothings in my heart’s ear. But in the unsensational moments of having to pray moment by moment because I have no wisdom of my own, there I take courage in the promise that God would give me what I lack (James 1:5).
If my heart were to be pure in motive and thought with any sort of consistency, I would most likely feel overly pleased with how far I’d come. But it’s in the heart-wrenching moments of repeated failure—in every area of my life—that I plead with God to have mercy on me and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51). And when I wonder where I was when everyone else received their handbook on how to be brilliant, I remember that ‘all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16). And I ask God to help me love to read his life-giving words more, and to use me as he sees fit.
So, if you’re somewhat ordinary like me, take heart in the truth that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and ask that God will give you his wisdom, give you a broken and contrite heart, give you a great love for his word and achieve his purposes in and through you. That, my friends, makes for an extraordinary life—a life of knowing Jesus more deeply, during COVID-19 and beyond it.
A View from a Church Planter
In some ways, what it looks like to “be the church” has changed dramatically in recent weeks. But in other ways, it’s exactly the same. We aren’t a community of individuals who “go to church,” but rather a community living as those who ARE the church.
Going to church means rocking up to a place where ‘church happens’.
Being the church means meeting together as the church.
Going to church means meeting together is another option in a list of options (and Subject To A Better Offer).
Being the church means we’re not the whole body without you there.
Going to church means checking the box on a Sunday.
Being the church means life-giving relationships and mission throughout the week.
Going to church means you’re external to an organisation; consuming it’s goods and services.
Being the church means you belong in a family.
Going to church means expecting to be served, and that others will make that happen.
Being the church means looking for opportunities to serve.
Going to church means you approach the body as a consumer.
Being the church means you approach the body as a contributor.
Going to church means chucking whatever loose change you happen to have on you at the time in a collection.
Being the church means taking financial responsibility for your community.
Going to church means wanting to shape the community to fit you (or find one that does).
Being the church means having scripture/relationships/teaching/accountability/belonging shape you.
Going to church focuses on a certain repertoire of songs, style of sermon, feeling you get.
Being the church means coming to pour yourself out in worship, and be filled with joy.
Going to church is delegating your spiritual maturity & discipleship to an organisation.
Being the church is about each member individually pursuing Jesus.
Going to church is outsourcing your acts of righteousness/care of others to a pastor/mercy team/etc.
Being the church means actively taking care of others; bearing one another’s burdens.
Going to church is “it’s about me.”
Being the church is “it’s about Jesus, and us in him.”
Being the church is the people, not the steeple … and right now we have no steeple (well, at CityLight we never had a steeple, but you get what I mean!) The Church is Jesus’ people in gospel community on Kingdom mission! This doesn’t change just because we can’t gather in the same building once a week. Our mission is just as important as ever—our community maybe even more important than ever—and Jesus is just as worthy of our worship as ever!
The Church is Jesus’ people in gospel community on Kingdom mission! This doesn’t change just because we can’t gather in the same building once a week
This is our opportunity to live up to that which we have been called: the very people of God, united with Christ, loving one another as He loved us, shining that love outwardly to a dying world; so that they might find life, and God would get the glory!