This past year, as we have struggled through the COVID pandemic, has undoubtedly been the most difficult of my 15 years in pastoral ministry. This last month has been particularly challenging, as our church family has been shattered by the deaths of four highly active and beloved church members to the second wave of Covid. And it’s not just the passing of these church members. In addition to this, many of our people have lost loved ones back home, many have lost jobs or experienced pay cuts, and many have been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. Every person in our church has been negatively impacted by this pandemic in some way or another, and many have been devastated.
As a church it’s also been challenging to navigate the unchartered territory this crisis has led us into, including not being able to meet physically for long periods, responding to multiple medical emergencies at once, connecting with people online, and much more. This Covid season has truly been a crisis in every sense for our church.
And yet at the same time, there is another side to this crisis that has also been emerging, one which I didn’t really expect. As terrible as this Covid pandemic has been—and make no mistake, it has been absolutely terrible—as a pastor it’s hard to ignore some of the amazing fruit that it has also been bearing in our church. Here are some of the good fruit that I have observed in our church recently, as a direct result of this crisis:
Death reminds us about the brevity of life, about eternity, and about what really matters in the end.
Brokenness And HumilityThe COVID pandemic has taught us that we are not nearly as strong as we thought. We have people in our church in high positions in their organizations, and who are also very well-connected. However, several shared with me that in this crisis, as they struggled to find a hospital bed or oxygen support for their loved ones, for the first time their position, influence, connections, and money didn’t help them at all. And it isn’t just those in high positions—all of us have experienced just how helpless, weak, and small we actually are in this season.
More Mature Relationship With God The ongoing (and seemingly endless) nature of the pandemic has forced us to abandon our breezy and simplistic views of God and His ways. When times were good, it was easy to think that God blesses those who are faithful to Him. But now, watching some of our most devoted church members dying from COVID has caused all of us to ask a lot of questions, and finally to stand in awe of the sovereignty of God and to bow down to the mystery of His ways. Despite the struggles we have faced, our appreciation of God’s faithfulness has deepened. This whole experience has certainly matured our faith as a body of believers.
Earnestness In Prayer Our church leadership has been trying for years to move our people to increased fervency in prayer, both individually and corporately. But this crisis has caused record numbers to join our prayer meetings, even though we’ve only been able to meet for prayer on Zoom. Not only have our numbers increased, but we have also felt a new intensity and desperation in prayer. This pandemic has made us all much more dependent on God – or, better, made us realize how dependent on God we’ve always been.
Eternal Perspective I have always found it a blessing to preach at funerals, because people are attentive at a funeral in a way they aren’t on a normal Sunday. Death has a way of making us serious about life. Death reminds us about the brevity of life, about eternity, and about what really matters in the end. This crisis has had a similar effect on our whole church, as we’ve been surrounded by news of death on an almost daily basis. These days it seems that people are thinking and speaking about matters of eternity more than they ever have before.
Unity One of the sweet ironies of this crisis has been that even though we haven’t met as a whole church for over a year, COVID has brought our people together in a way we have never seen before. I have preached for years about the need to be involved practically and sacrificially in one another’s lives, but it has taken this pandemic to really make it happen. It feels like we are more united in spirit and purpose than we’ve ever been.
Openness Among UnbelieversIt’s not just believers who have become more serious about life and its ultimate meaning, but we have observed the same among unbelievers as well. This pandemic has reminded us all of the fragility of life, and how vulnerable we actually are – no matter how wealthy or powerful we might be. This has led to amazing opportunities to talk about the hope and strength we have in Christ with unbelievers, both within our broader Christian circles and also with non-Christians.
All of the good fruit mentioned above has been the consequences of this terrible time of suffering that we have undergone in the past year or so. None of us would have ever asked for a worldwide pandemic to ravage the lives of millions, but now that it has come it’s hard to ignore the good that has also resulted from it.
From my discussions with other pastor friends around the country, it seems clear that this fruit is not unique to our church alone. Several of my pastor friends reported similar things happening in their churches also.
The fact that an awful crisis like the Covid pandemic has produced these good results probably shouldn’t surprise us. The Bible often talks about the beneficial consequences of hardships in our lives, whether individually (Rom. 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Jam. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7), corporately (2 Cor. 7:8-11), or missionally (Acts 8:1-4). The soil of suffering often yields the most beautiful fruit.
Many of us have been praying for years, even decades, for a spiritual breakthrough among the believers in our churches, and across the nation. I can’t help but wonder if in God’s sovereignty this crisis is leading us to the moment we’ve been waiting and longing for?
So where do we go from here? We don’t know what’s going to happen with the pandemic, but regardless here are some thoughts to consider as we move forward in our churches:
God is still on the throne of the universe, and even this crisis is part of His perfect plans for the world.
View the pandemic as something not just to get through, but something to be harnessed for God’s glory. It’s easy to think of the pandemic only as a terrible event to be endured, both in terms of protecting our physical/emotional health, as well as, managing our church programmes in a rapidly changing environment. But God is still on the throne of the universe, and even this crisis is part of His perfect plans for the world. We should be sensitive to what God has been doing through all this, and what He still wants to do. Our eyes and ears must be wide open to see how God is at work, and how He is preparing His people and the world for greater things ahead.
Continue Stoking The Current Spiritual Interest And Intensity As mentioned above, God has used this crisis to bring about prayer, unity, spiritual seriousness, eternal perspective, and many other good fruits. As much as possible, we should continue encouraging these things, and not let our churches fade back to ‘business as usual.’ Of course, there are certain things that only happen because of the real-life situations we are in, and undoubtedly God knew that the good fruit we have witnessed recently could have only come through these very challenging circumstances. However, as much as we are able we should continue to foster this spiritual maturity and intensity in our people through our preaching, worship, and leadership.
Move Forward Boldly In Mission The COVID pandemic has clearly demonstrated to everyone how fragile and ultimately unhelpful the things of the world are, and how we need a deeper foundation for our lives. The fields have always been ripe for harvest (Jn. 4:35), but they seem particularly ripe on the heels of this worldwide crisis. This unique time in history demands that we shun being self-protective and insular, and rather be more bold, more creative, and more self-sacrificial for the cause of the gospel in the world.
It’s been said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. As difficult as this time has been, may we seize this crisis for God’s glory and the advancement of His kingdom.