Bill Gates has expressed that the CoVid-19 may be “the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about.” At the same time Elon Musk tweeted, “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” Both Bill Gates and Elon Musk are brilliant, extremely hard working, and accomplished business leaders. Very smart people can disagree about very important issues.
Just as with Gates and Musk, there are varying degrees of concern about the coronavirus among the people in our churches. Some believe the virus will spread rapidly, doubling every six or seven days. Others believe the virus should be viewed as a seasonal flu. And still others believe that both of those are true – that the virus will spread rapidly and that the impact on lives will be similar to the seasonal flu.
Ministry leaders, too, have varying degrees of concern. Some sent messages on social media, sounding a bit like Musk, telling people there was no reason to miss churches. Others are thinking that church worship services could be cancelled for months. The reality is that we do not know what the coming days, weeks, and months will look like. Or as the apostle James wrote: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes” (James 4:14). We are so frail and finite. We cannot know or predict what will happen.
What should a pastor or church leader do? As friends have asked me what I am doing or will do as a leader, I have two thoughts:
1. Don’t take the lead in science.
It is not our role, as ministry leaders, to pontificate on the scientific predictions about what will happen with the Coronavirus. We can point people to credible sources, but we lose credibility if we attempt to become the credible source. The Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and local health organizations are serving the public with information. We are wise to follow their counsel and instructions. On a practical level that means having additional hand sanitizer available, reminding people who are sick to stay home, evaluating the food options that are given before and after worship services, and not asking everyone to shake hands during a greeting. In other words, adjustments based on recommendations from leaders in the health field are wise. We should follow their lead.
2. Take the lead in shepherding.
Where we must lead is shepherding the people the Lord has entrusted to us. We have people who are thinking like Musk, people who are thinking like Gates, and people in between. God loves them all and we are to care for them all. This means shepherding people today and planning for coming days. We shepherd people today by reminding them that the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear. We shepherd people today by reminding them that God’s love is consistent and fixed in a world that is so inconsistent and fragile.
And we should plan for how we may need to shepherd people in the future if a church cannot gather, not in panic, but in resolution to serve God’s people well. Yes, this likely means putting plans in place for providing (or increasing) worship services online, additional online teaching, and opportunities for people to connect online. Do I believe we miss something when we do not gather in person? I believe we miss a lot. I hope and pray we continue to gather. But we should be ready if we need to make adjustments to how we are serving people each week.