2020 has been anything but normal. The new year has brought new uncertainty, new pain, and a new virus that has thrown the world into a cyclone of fear and chaos.
Stock markets around the world have lost trillions of dollars in value and entire cities are being quarantined. The coronavirus virus (COVID-19) originated in Wuhan, China, and has now rapidly spread to over 100 countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and the Middle East. More than 100,000 people have been infected, resulting in several thousand deaths of older people with underlying health problems.
Children seem to be less affected. However, COVID-19 is no respecter of persons. Government officials have been tested positive for the virus. Hollywood celebrities like Tom Hanks and his wife have tested positive for the virus. And so has Utah Jazz basketball star players Rudy Globert and Donovan Mitchell. The NBA has taken the unprecedented step of suspending the NBA season until further notice.
In my lifetime, I have never witnessed anything of this magnitude.
Uncertainty, fear, and worry are also going viral. As pastors, who are called to shepherd God’s flock, and who are also called to bless the culture we inhabit, how do we respond to this crisis from the pulpit?
Here are 10 Do’s and Don’ts of preaching during the coronavirus pandemic.
First, we do the best thing we can do—we pray.
I’m asking Transformation Church, where I serve as founding and lead elder-pastor, to pray for the families around the world who have had loved ones die as a result of being infected by COVID-19.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). We are too mourn the loss of life. We are mourning with those who are mourning the lost family members and friends. Somehow, in our mourning, Jesus comforts us with the hope that creation and people will not always be broken. A new creation, where sickness and death are no more, is coming.
But until that time, we pray, we mourn, we love, we endure, and we hope.
Second, lead your church in praying for the scientific and medical community.
Ask God to give the scientific community wisdom and insight into finding a cure or vaccination. It’s in times like these that we see our great need for the scientific community. And we pray for the medical community.
These first responders are all over the world on the frontlines with the sick, with the dying, and with the fearful. God, in his common grace, expresses his love through medical professionals. These people are tired and stretched thin. We pray that God gives them wisdom, strength, and endurance.
Third, lead your church in praying for the world’s political leaders to implement strategies that will flatten the COVID-19 and slow the rate of transmission.
I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for government officials, in tandem with the scientific and medical community, to discover, develop, and deploy a strategy to combat this crisis. Church, they need our prayers. God uses our prayers.
Fourth, as pastors and church staff, we must have a comprehensive communication plan and process to keep the people we are to care for as safe as possible.
It is vital that we share information from reputable resources like the CDC. When people lack understanding, fear fills in the blanks.
Fifth, as pastors and church staff, we are to communicate frequently.
People are looking for us to shepherd them through this crisis. Be wise and pastoral. Use social media and your church newsletter as a means of connecting with your congregation. In times of uncertainty, our people need to be led to the One who is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow (Heb. 13:8).
In fearful times, we lean into our great shepherd, “Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
Sixth, we must remind the church who she is through preaching (this should be normal).
She is the bride of Christ Jesus, she is the Beloved of the Father, and she is a dwelling place of the Spirit. We are not a people of fear; we are a people of faith.
Our faith is grounded in the Lord Jesus and his sovereign rule over creation. And pastors, remind your church of our collective history through the ages. When epidemics and plagues would wipe our entire cities and villages in the Roman world, it was the followers of Jesus who stayed in those cities and cared for the poor. Author Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity writes,
Christianity revitalized life in the Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded family. To cities torn by violent strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.
Seventh, in your preaching remind your people to fight against racism and prejudice (this should be normal).
We fight with faith, hope, and love. Sadly, there have been incidents were Asians have been the target of racism and prejudice because of COVID-19. Teach your people to treat everyone as though Jesus died for them, because he did (Heb. 2:9). We are to love our Asian sisters and brothers. In his time of anguish, this is when our love for our neighbors will shine brightest.
Eight, take preventive measures at your church.
Be sure to follow the CDC guidelines for prevention. You may want to hire extra staff to clean the facilities and clean in between services. Be sure to communicate to your congregation the importance of frequent hand washing for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer, keeping proper distance from people, using your shirt sleeves to open and close doors.
And if you are feeling sick or have a fever, stay home and view the church service online. It may be wise to inform older members of your congregation with poor health to view the service from home as well, since COVID-19 will hit them the hardest.
Ninth, when preaching, reframe from making jokes about COVID-19.
Avoid sermon illustrations like, “Christian, we need to infect people with the gospel the way people are infecting each other with coronavirus. Just get close to people and sneeze the grace of God in their hearts.” This would be unhelpful.
Tenth, when the world is in chaos, we are too inhabit the peace of Christ.
When the world is afraid, we are to be strong and courageous because Jesus is our courage and strength. When the world is hopeless, we are to be a hope-filled people because our hope is in the One who defeated sin and death.
“May the Lord bless you and protect you; may the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the LORD look with favor on you and give you peace.” (Num. 6:24-25)
Derwin Gray is Lead Elder-Pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina. He is author of The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches about Finding True Happiness.