The Covid-19 crisis continues to bring challenges to the leadership of the rural church as we try to navigate through these unchartered waters. Throughout this crisis, politicians have used and abused the issues to advance their own agenda. Draconian polities seem to be arbitrary and driven by political expediency rather than clearly articulated policies governed by sound research. The medical field has only brought further confusion as different experts have recommended different responses and treatments for the disease. Misinformation has become prolific throughout the internet so that people can find all types of “research” to valid the conclusions they have already drawn. All this has brought have further polarized within the nation and the church in America.
Recently, on a Sunday morning just before the message, I received two messages expressing polar opposite viewpoints regarding the policies the church should have as we moved towards a soft reopening. One stated they would not come because our policies were not rigorous enough, while the other decided to stay home because our policies were too restrictive. But in this we are not alone. This is a challenge rural churches struggle to navigate. With 70% of churches in the US now having some level of in-person services, the challenges we face will only increase. Do we require people to wear masks? Should singing be allowed, even if people wear masks? Should people be encouraged to return to church, or should the option be left to their personal discretion?
All this leads to ongoing confusion and a variety of opinions (many strongly held) regarding the appropriate response the church should take. This was highlighted recently in the news by the response of Grace Community Church to the mandates of the State. They took a hard stand in favor of in-person gatherings, with the implication that to not meet is a violation of scripture and a failure to trust God. In contrast to their response, North Point Community Church has formally announced that they will not have any in-person services until at least 2021. For them, it is unloving and a poor testimony to go against the government guidelines. When there is no consensus from national religious leaders then how can we expect to have a consensus in our local church? From the outset our church has stated that we believe that we should err on the side of caution regarding the pandemic. However, as weeks have turned into months and the spiritual side effects are being felt, we struggle to find a balance between the physical wellbeing of people and the spiritual health of the congregation. The only conclusion we have come to is that there are no firm conclusions.
To help us then navigate through the minefield of personal opinions we have sought to develop a principle-driven strategy. The bottom line is that each church must strive to navigate through all the various opinions in a way that is best for them in their local situation. However, it is critical for each church to carefully develop a clear strategy for doing so, a strategy that is not based upon personal opinions, but carefully thought out principles that are grounded in scripture. Here are the principles that we have sought to guide us as we strive to develop a strategy that is best for our congregation in our local setting. These principles may not be the principles you determine but it is hoped that they will serve as a starting point of discussion as your church leadership works to develop a clear strategy.
1. Maintain a balanced approach. While we must treat the Covid-19 threat seriously, we must strive to keep a balance between the physical threat of Covid-19 and the spiritual and emotional toll it has upon people. We would be foolish to completely disregard the threat of Covid-19, but we would be equally foolish to disregard the spiritual and emotional impact it is having. On the one hand we should not live in fear of Covid-19, rather we should trust in God’s sovereign protection. On the other hand, we should not be foolish and unwise in completely ignoring the threat. One of the lessons of the Book of Ecclesiastes is that the wise person avoids extremes (Eccl. 7:16-18). Certainly, this is an appropriate principle in this case as well. Differences of opinion lead to further polarization of viewpoints. Our task is to avoid the extremes and seek a balanced approach.
2. Continually adapt to the fluid situation (1 Cor. 9:19-23). The threat of Covid-19 is fluid and constantly changing therefore we need to be ready and willing to modify and change our protective methods and procedures as the situation changes. This will involve decreasing constraints at times as well and going back to more restrictive procedures as circumstances change. It will be fluid and we need to be willing to adapt accordingly in the future. We cannot expect that our present response will remain the same for the next six to eight months. All we can do is base our procedures on the present situation. We need to continually monitor the rate of change in our community and respond accordingly. If there is a sudden increase in our community, then we will need to react appropriately. For a county by county assessment of the Covid-19 threat level see: https://globalepidemics.org/key-metrics-for-covid-suppression/ .
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Glenn Daman