In the first post in this series, we considered the perspective we have in these strange times. In the last post we thought about how we can speak hope, but showing help is also a challenge in these times. That is the focus of this post.
It is my conviction, as a medic and as a pastor, that we must be guided by the professionals and the authorities as to what physical contact is possible in these times. Our duty to submit to the authorities and our recognition that all truth is God’s truth, whether we discover it in the book of God’s Word (special revelation in the Scriptures) or the book of God’s world (general revelation in nature accessible through science and reason), should lead us to observe the best guidance about social distancing. This is wisdom in practice and an act of love for the more vulnerable people we could infect and for the healthcare professionals who may be overwhelmed with a more rapid spike in numbers if we do not follow the advice.
We must, however, be creative in seeing how we can best respond to practical needs in this time within the guidelines. Such care must begin within the family of faith. Who are the vulnerable people in your congregation who are already self-isolating or may be in the near future? Can you divide them up between younger members who can contact them daily by phone or video call and could deliver essential items to them if needed? Don’t assume that people have families close by or, even if they do, that their families can do this alone – they may hit a point when they have to self-isolate. If you make such plans, remember to build in a facility for people offering this support to lean on others if they also need to self-isolate. Good teamwork and open communication will be essential.
Then there is the opportunity to go beyond the church community to the wider society. Why not encourage your members to offer help around the neighbourhood. Some people have advised printing postcards to put through their doors. This may not be advisable given the risk of spreading the virus even through paper, but perhaps going round with an A4 poster to show people through the window without expecting them to open the door might work? Or if you are really brave, go out like a town crier and announce your availability! All of this assumes you don’t already have their phone numbers. If you do, of course just lift the phone! The help you can offer may be limited – deliveries of food or medicines to doorsteps or simply a smiling face of a real person who cared enough to call by – but it can be an expression of genuine compassion. If it can be done clearly in the name of Jesus or of the church, even better. Let Him have the glory for the good deeds you do that are, after all, only a response to His grace to us.
On that note, if you decide to act as a church, think about whether you could do this in partnership with other gospel churches in your area. You are more likely to be able to cover the whole neighbourhood without missing any and it is a wonderful opportunity to show unity in Christ. Our concern must not be the reputation just of our own congregation or denomination, still less of ourselves as individual leaders, but the reputation of Christ and the gospel. As discussed above, there are strong biblical reasons for such partnership, but it is also practically wise in this moment.
More widely, we need to realise that there will be economic challenges ahead, quite possibly severe and long-term. How can your congregation respond to this? Can you set up a hardship fund? Begin saving now so that when needs increase you can respond. My advice is not to make this your project as a pastor – seek a godly deacon with the right skills and gift to lead the way so that you can remain focused on the ministry of the Word and prayer. Can you facilitate provision of food needs for your church members who will be economically affected? Encourage those who can to buy some extra non-perishable foods (a list from a foodbank will help and enable people to keep them in the church building or office, then let people know they are there. I am not talking here about your regular donations to foodbanks or other ministries helping those outside the church, but an additional pool of food and money to help church members in need. Again this duty begins within the household of faith.
And that leads to the final point about showing help. As we do all of this, we must not forget that we are richly blessed in global terms. Even if we hit recession and our community loses much of its disposable income, we will remain relatively well-off compared to people in less developed nations. We will, therefore, need to be sacrificial in our giving. We must inspire people, and set the example for them, to give generously to Christian organisations seeking to engage in holistic care for people in less privileged contexts. We must also remember to continue to give to those who serve our churches as external consultants, speakers and trainers. Their incomes may be severely affected by cancellations of speaking engagements. Think about whether you can and should give even some of the amount you would have given as an honorarium as a gift to them to mitigate their losses.
Sharing Help – top tips
· We must act within the best guidance of government and healthcare professionals as a fulfilment of our duty to submit to the authorities and to act wisely.
· Find ways to ensure that your whole congregation, especially the most vulnerable, is supported through regular communication, delivery of essentials to their doorstep and a hardship fund.
· Partner (again) with other gospel churches in your area to provide support to others in your community as far as possible and seek to do so in the name of Christ.