The Church in Troubled Times

by Joel Comiskey, Spring 2020

Could the Covid-19 virus be a part of God’s plan to test churches and pastors? After all, didn’t Jesus start his church in the midst of adverse tribulation? What do you do when the Roman Legions are forbidding the worship of Jesus? The early church followed the Master’s instructions to meet house to house (Luke 9 &10) In fact, the early church flourished under persecution. Fast forward to 1948 when Chairman Mao closed public church meetings. What did the one million Chinese believers do? They met from house to house and grew to approximately 100 million believers.

I was talking to a friend in a program-based church who was grieving over the church’s lack of small group ministry. The church was so dependent on the Sunday gathering and church-based programs that my friend feared that during Covid-19 the members were uncared for and scattered. My friend felt it was the perfect time to talk to the pastor about starting a small group system. This is not to say that cell-based churches are perfect or without problems in these troubled times. But they do have a head-start in the area of pastoral care.

Last week, I communicated with various pastors from a wide range of denominations and contexts. Our coaching time mainly revolved around life during Covid-19 and how they were coping. A few pastors were doing okay because they were already streaming to Facebook, had a good handle on technology like Zoom for their small groups, and had taught their people to give online. Others were in angst because giving was way down, their people were not technologically savvy, and they didn’t like preaching on video without people present. All were being forced to adapt. Several principles stood out:

  • Pastors and leaders should not compare themselves with the highly affluent tech savvy churches. I coached one church planter who was bogged down with worry and frustration because he had to redo the Sunday morning video over and over, trying to perfect it.  I encouraged him to remember that God had given him a special anointing and unique ministry to his flock. 
  • Pastors are working harder than ever during this time. I’m constantly reminding them to take a full day off.
  • The younger generation is helping pastors get online (video editing, recording, uploading to Facebook, zoom, and so forth). Kudos to the youth!
  • The church needs to ramp up prayer. Make this a key announcement during the online message. Cell leaders are critical to making sure members are praying for one another.  
  • Phone calls, facetime, WhatsApp video helps relieve the feelings of isolation. I talked to one pastor who said, “Joel, I noticed that my people seem so heavy and burdened, what do you suggest?” Along with my encouragement for online cell meetings, I told him to encourage the congregation to stay in contact via phone calls, facetime, WhatsApp video, or instant messaging. Although pastors, coaches, and cell leaders need to encourage and organize this emphasis on personal communication among the members, they must not try to do it all themselves. 

Dependence on Jesus in times of uncertainty is a good thing. In our weakness, Christ is made strong and this applies to Christ’s church. I believe that Christ’s church will come away stronger and purified during this time of crisis.