Monthly Archives: March 2020

Ten Commandments for the Covid-19 Stay-at-home Order (King James English version).

1. Thou shalt wash thine hands.
2. Thou shalt not toucheth thine mouth nor rubbeth thine eyes. Even if they itcheth greatly.
3. Thou shalt not call thine doctor after every sneeze you hear, but thou shalt say, “God bless you.”
4. Thou shalt not hoard toilet paper, paper towels or hand sanitizer.
5. Remember the Sabbath day and keep your computer logged onto thine fine pastor’s message at 9:30AM.
6. Thou shalt not leave thine home if thou art sick. Neither shalt thou congregate in large groups, for ifth thou does, thou shalt surely die.
7. Thou shalt not kill thy children even if they left thine milk out on the kitchen counter all night and hath turned their bedroom into such a state of dishevelment that FEMA has declared it a national disaster.
8. Thou shalt not steal thy children’s yet-to-be-given Easter basket candy.
9. Thou shalt not lie about what happened to the last cookie from thine cookie jar.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s supply of toilet paper. Neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor’s paper towels nor thy single neighbor’s quiet house.

How to ensure you will have a post-coronavirus church?

Is anyone else wondering what will the church look like once this coronavirus emergency is over. Before I go much farther, let me state (like Amos) I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. These are just a few of observations. Of course, the longer the emergency lasts the greater the toll on the church and just about every other entity in our lives. Are there steps we can take to ensure, a healthy church when we return?

1) Is passing of the peace a thing of the past? And all the introverts in the crowd shouted, “Yes, Please!!”

2.) Is one cup chalice communion also done? Or communion by intinction when you break bread from a common loaf? Or even passing the communion trays or offering plates down the aisle? Will we all be germ-a-phobes when this is over?

3). What you are probably worried about: Finances. Finances. Finances.
People who were faithfully tithing before all of this craziness, will still faithfully give. Of course, many in your congregation may be laid off or not receiving their full salaries. Tithing even among the faithful will most likely go down (people can’t tithe if they aren’t earning anything). Many Boomers who are now receiving retirement or social security will continue to give (although they may not be comfortable giving on line. Remind them that sending in their tithe or dropping it off at the church is very welcomed). In the event the government sends stimulus checks, don’t remind people to tithe on it. Those who are accustomed to tithing will tithe. Those who don’t tithe when there is not a crisis likely won’t start tithing in one. As always, thank people for their generosity. And as you have always done, trust that the Lord will provide!

4). What you should be worried about: Connectivity. Connectivity. Connectivity.
Just because people are joining your Facebook live or Livestreaming of your service does not mean that they are connected. Pastors, imagine stepping in and out of the pulpit without communicating to anyone coming or going. If the pastor just preached and went home, she/he wouldn’t have a congregation for long. We need to know our people. On a typical Sunday that happens as the pastor interacts with people before and after the service. Now to likewise intermingle with the congregation will take effort— a weekly, consistent effort. Phones calls. Texting. Personal Letters (yes, you can still send notes). Social Media interaction. Some of these things. All of these things. Work very hard at connecting with your people. Failure to connect while your congregation is isolated will only remind them they don’t need the church (or at least your church) when they can move about once more.

5). Be thankful for technology. Anyone with a phone and Wi-Fi or cellphone service can Facebook livestream a service. It might not be the high-tech production of a mega church, but the people that attend your church aren’t looking for a megachurch. They are looking for their family. Technology doesn’t have to be expensive. Use for a free prayer meeting or Bible Study. Five years ago none of these tools would be available to us. Now they are, so use them and be thankful.

6). If not in a complete lock down, use this time for healthy volunteers to deep clean the church. Most churches could use a little extra cleaning. Families will be wanting to get out of their homes. Ask for volunteers to help. When regular services start back, welcome folks with a sparkling clean church.

7). Prayer matters more now than ever. Pray is last on this list, but it should be our first priority. The pastoral prayer time is more important than ever. As your service is streaming over Facebook, pray (by name) for the homebound sick or those in the hospital who are watching. Immediately it sends a message that they are loved and cared for by their church family. People love knowing that their faith community has not forgotten them. Pray for the community leaders and medical professionals on the front lines. And of course, pray for a swift end to Covid-19. Pray. Pray. Pray.

HINT I: If your church wasn’t healthy before the coronavirus, don’t expect it to be miraculously remedied after the coronavirus emergency. Generally, crises shine a spotlight on the problems, they do not solve problems.

Hint II: Be faithful. Be Bold. Be confident of God’s working. All storms come to an end. This one will too. Do everything to make sure that your local church weathers this coronavirus storm.

There wasn’t a seminary class titled: “Pastoring during a Pandemic 101”

There was not a “Pastoring during a Pandemic 101” class in seminary. Two months ago, I never used the words coronavirus or COVID-19. Two weeks ago, I never heard of social distancing or self-quarantining. Had you told me a week ago, that last Sunday would be the last time I’d eat Donna’s tasty donut in the foreseeable future, I might have rolled into the fetal position shouting, “Why? Oh Why?” If you would have said there’s a toilet paper shortage in America, I would have assumed that one of two things had occurred. Either: 1) teenagers suddenly decided that every youth pastor needed the trees in his/her yard decorated; or 2) everyone in America went on an only White Castle Burger diet.

This is our new reality. What does pastoring a church during a pandemic look like? Here are a few sad observations:

Preaching in a nearly empty sanctuary for a livestream service isn’t as easy as it sounds. I miss having the congregational feedback as I preach. I even miss hearing crickets after a bad joke flops (Have I ever told a good joke?). Now, the whole sermon is like the aftermath of a bad joke.

Caring for the sick and elderly is more difficult. No visitors in the hospitals and nursing homes includes clergy. We can’t pray with folks before they are wheeled into surgery. We can’t visit lonely ones locked up in a facility that in many cases don’t have access to socializing points like Facebook or texting options.

Funerals homes are limiting attendance to 50 mourners with the chairs spread out like they are about to play a dirge version of musical chairs.

I have yet to have a congregant diagnosed with COVID-19, but when (probably not if) that happens, my hands will be tied to calls and messaging. In the moment that I would most want to be by their side, I will be unable to do so.

In other words, in the times when people most need the comfort of the church body, we can’t gather together.

Here are a few good observations from the last few days:

I have a new appreciation for the people I minister alongside. This is new territory for all of us. Our facility crew has been deep cleaning the church (when you return, the church will sparkle). The office staff has been fielding calls and changing plans almost daily. The pastors are creatively thinking of ways to connect with people. Our tech team is working very hard to take our old equipment and make it work for this new day.

I have heard how folks in the congregation are finding ways to help one another. Getting groceries for the elderly. Sharing with others what they have. Talking to their neighbors. Being more prayerful and open about trusting God in the uncertain days. With distractions removed (no sports, school, restaurants, gyms and movie theatres), we are having family dinners again where we can share God’s love and hope with those closest to us.

This scare will end and life will resume back to normal, but when it does I hope we learn a few things. I hope we will continue to help one another. I hope we still look for the lonely ones and get creative in coming alongside of them. I hope we pray just as diligently for Christ’s presence and peace when the world returns to the way it was.

I’ll leave you with these closing words from the Book of Hebrews:

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

Can a Pandemic be the Church’s finest hour?

Before Pentecost (after 3 years of Jesus’ teaching, healing, feeding 5,000 people-at-a-time, raising dead folks back to life, and his own and death AND resurrection), there was only a puny 120 believers gathered in the Upper Room. Any church growth expert would tell you— that’s not very good. Then Pentecost happened and 3000 people were saved on the first day. So there were 3,120 believers. Church historians estimate that by AD 100 (or about the time that the last disciple, John, died), there were maybe 25,000 believers. In 67 years give or take, from Jesus’ resurrection to AD 100, only 25,000 believers? Again, that is not particularly impressive.

But guess what happened between the years 100 and 313 (the year Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire)? Christianity went from 25,000 believers to (droll roll please) 20 MILLION!

How in the world did that happen?

There was not a charismatic preacher traveling around collecting hordes of followers (although I am sure that were great preachers proclaiming the Good News). No get-Christianity-quick plans. Instead, many historians point to two horrific plagues as the reason for the growth.

Typically, you would think that a widespread epidemic would hurt church attendance (notice our numbers on Sunday), but historians say that Christianity grew rapidly in the midst of those horrific plagues. At the height of the plagues in the year AD251– 5,000 people were dying every day. It was bad, yet Christianity grew.

Here’s what happened: The plagues came. Everyone fled the cities. Everyone but the sick and Christians. Christians willingly stayed behind to ministered to the sick and the dying. Dionysius, the Bishop of Alexandria wrote how Christians responded to the plague of 250AD. He wrote:

“Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ.” (Alan Cross, How Early Christians Handled the Plague).

They didn’t ignore the problem. They didn’t imitate the culture and hysterically take off running (or hoarding toilet paper). They didn’t conduct protest rallies to condemn those who caught the plague or the governmental leaders for not doing enough to stop the plague. They were present. They ministered. Some of them died because they became infected. They understood the risks. They could catch something deadly by their actions. But they also knew the rewards– those to whom they were ministering might come to know the love of Jesus. Not everyone died. Some survived and became followers of Jesus. Family members noticed who cared for their loved ones and they too turned to Christ. The church grew in trying times.

Christians behaving like Jesus has always been attractive.

Let it be said of us– that in the midst of this latest pandemic that Christians are: Loving others. Caring for the needy. Refusing to hysterically react in fear. In the midst of global uncertainty, may this be the church’s finest hour!

Election Season Advice: Don’t be a Goober

With great hesitation and with much fear and trembling, I will write the following words regarding the election year that has befallen us. I will freely admit, I hate winter, but I hate election season even more. Here’s why: I have friends on both sides of the political divide and what am about to write applies to both (it applies to all, any, and even none-of-the-above) camps and political parties. It is very theological and deep. Are you ready? Here it is:

Don’t Be a Goober!

This is not reference to chocolate covered peanut candies. Instead it’s saying (more bluntly) don’t be a jerk. Don’t be obnoxious. Don’t be demeaning. Paul’s advice to Timothy is good for all of us in an election year and every year (by the way, this counsel applies to social media too): Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone (2 Timothy 2:23-24)… i.e. don’t be a goober!

Jesus’ selection of disciples is a great example of how we can be.

Have you ever noticed who Jesus chose to be a part of his twelve disciples? Usually we lump all the disciples together and call them “fishermen.” But they weren’t all fishermen. Matthew had been a tax collector. You probably know tax collectors were hated. The aversion didn’t flow simply from a “Boo on the IRS” sentiment. In those days, tax collectors could (and did) overcharged for their services. More to the point, tax collectors were in cahoots with the ruling occupying army. They were collecting taxes for (what many considered) the evil empire of Rome. Think of Matthew as a “Make Rome Great Again” hat wearing government supporter. Then in the same circle of twelve was Simon (not Peter, the other one). He was described as a zealot. Zealots hated everything Rome. They probably didn’t even eat pizza. Think of Simon (not Peter, the other one) as a far, far left “Feel the Bern” t-shirt wearing hippie type (this isn’t totally accurate because this “hippie” Simon would have held a sign that read: Kill Caesar. He would not have been a peacenik.).

Matthew and Simon under normal circumstances would have hated one another. Yet Jesus choose these two polar opposites to be a part of his closest friends. Could it be that Jesus choose a red hat wearing government supporter and a tie-dyed t-shirt wearing kick-the-government-out fanatic to show that His love and transformative work can bring all people together–even people on opposite sides of the political divide?

Listen, we all know there are big differences in the world of politics. People have firm convictions. But can’t we have convictions and kindness too? Must we be quarrelsome? Paul would have argued that followers of the Prince of Peace promote harmony even to the most disagreeable people. Jesus said it even more specifically not only are we to show kindness but we are to “love our enemies.” Let’s do that.