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Rebuilding Our Christian Witness in a COVID19 World

This pandemic has been hard on the evangelical witness in North America. Some of that can be written off as simply the cost of compliance. We haven’t been as active or as visible in our communities as we would normally like to be, in the interests of public health. Our church, for example, has a ministry in several long-term care facilities that was quite properly shut down as soon as the pandemic began. That was the right choice, but it came at a regrettable cost. That was one of the things we were known for in our local community. We were that church that sent nice young men and their families into the nursing homes on Sunday afternoon to “do church” with the residents and shut-ins.

But who are we now?

Now we are just that church enjoying the largest public gatherings currently permitted in our city. We are just that church with the “dangerously” full parking lot on Sunday mornings.

So how can we rebuild?

To start with, we can do everything we can to minimize the damage and that means NOT putting up a huge fuss about wearing the mask. To be clear, I don’t have a strong opinion on the impact that mask wearing may or may not have on the spread of COVID19. I’ve seen really strong arguments on Facebook by people I used to play baseball with who are convinced that it does nothing at all and is merely a grooming technique being used by despotic politicians to pave the way for a more autocratic approach to government. On the other hand, most of the doctors in our church seem reasonably convinced that it ought to be somewhat helpful in slowing the rate of infection, thereby allowing the hospitals to avoid being overwhelmed by the inflow of new patients.

Since I have an undergraduate degree in Classics and Religious Studies and a Master’s degree in Divinity, I’ve decided to sit this one out.

I am however concerned by the cost that this argument may be having in terms of our Christian witness. Today on the CBC website an article was released with the title: “How right-wing extremists, libertarians and evangelicals built Quebec’s movement against COVID19 restrictions”.

That’s not a helpful title; the article itself is even worse.

Any time we are being lumped in with “right wing extremists” we need to conduct a quick “cost vs. reward” analysis. I can suffer being called an extremist if that is the price I must pay for believing that salvation is through Christ alone; I can suffer being called an extremist if that is the price I must pay for continuing to believe in the plenary inerrancy of the Scriptures, but that is far too high a price to pay for proving myself right on the issue of masks.

It’s time to let this one go.

This is currently a “hole in our bucket” that we can very easily plug leaving us more time and energy for the task of restoring what this pandemic has stolen. Towards that end, I offer the following suggestions for rebuilding our Christian witness in a COVID19 world.

(1) Be heavily invested in the poor

In his commentary on Galatians 2:10 Martin Luther said memorably:

“After the preaching of the Gospel, the office and charge of a true and faithful pastor is to be mindful of the poor.”[1]

Given the massive amount of debt incurred by our federal and municipal governments over the course of this pandemic, it seems reasonable to assume that the space for Christian charitable operations in our local communities should increase over the coming generation.

Let’s seize every square inch of that permission!

Even before the pandemic Christians generally were doing a very good job at this. One recent study demonstrated that Christians out gave unbelievers in their communities by as much as 129% over the last several years. Another recent study suggests that Christians release as much as 67.5 billion dollars into the national economy every year. Those are fantastic numbers; I say, let’s double down on that. Wisely, prudently, sustainably and evangelistically – let’s double down on that.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 ESV)

May the same be said of us as Christians on the other side of COVID19.

(2) Be heavily invested in the elderly

Every generation offers the followers of Jesus Christ a particular opportunity to distinguish themselves from the unbelieving world around them. During the horrific plague that swept through the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD Christians distinguished themselves from their pagan neighbours by marching into the disease-ridden cities in order to care for the sick and the dying. During the 18th and 19th centuries Christians in Great Britain and America distinguished themselves by being the first and most vocal of those to oppose the horrific institution of human slavery. In the post-COVID 21st century world Christians will have the opportunity to distinguish themselves by caring for the old and the vulnerable.

Given the particular impact of COVID19 on long term care homes in this country, I think it is a safe bet that there will be a wide door of opportunity for churches willing to invest money and personnel in upgrading and replacing obsolete programs and facilities. The Baby Boomer wave is about to crash like a tsunami on our society and churches that are willing to get wet and dirty are going to have more permission and operating space than they can handle.

However, it will require a fundamental shift in our values.

We are still recovering from the shock and blasphemy of targeted-church.

Church growth experts never led a seminar on how to stock your church with old people on fixed incomes, who are too tired to serve and who require an inordinate amount of time and attention from the membership. If that seminar was offered, I certainly never received an invitation.

For most of my ministry career (which began in 1994) the church has been chasing middle age families and their children. For the last 10 years the focus has been on Millennials and Generation Z. No one in their right mind has been targeting seniors.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that we should be targeting seniors, I’m arguing that we should be caring for seniors, because they are about to be viewed as expendable and expensive by most every other demographic in our culture. Let’s be known as those really nice people who regularly check in on grandma. That’s a reputation we ought to aspire to.

(3) Be heavily invested in the family

I’ve heard lots of chatter within the pastoral class about simplifying our approach to ministry on the other side of COVID19. To be clear, I think there is a lot to be said for that. Anytime there is a pause, it behooves the church to do some significant purging. We are probably doing half a dozen things that we could shut down entirely at no great loss to the kingdom.

But I don’t think family ministry is one of those things.

Families are under an enormous amount of stress as a result of this pandemic. Parents are waiting in line for 4-5 hours to get a COVID test so that their stuffy-nosed 8 year old can return the next day to classes.

True story.

Many families have been trying to figure out home schooling, how to replace music lessons and sports activities – all on a reduced budget due to downturns in the global economy. Now is not the time for churches to be offering less support to local families. Let’s find a way to do more. Let’s think outside the box. What about a free dodge ball league for kids ages 10-12? What promotes physical distancing more than the threat of a rubber ball moving at high speeds toward your face? Kids can exercise at a safe distance and hear a Gospel message from a young adult or parent who loves Jesus.

Sign me up!

Sign my kid up too!

I’ve got a daughter who would jump at that in a heartbeat.

Or what about subsidized music lessons?

Most churches have the highest density of piano players per square inch on the entire planet. Let’s put those people to good use. How about $5 per lesson, with the church covering the rest of the fee? That way only the kids who want it will sign up, and the money can be used to buy a book of worship sheet music (if such things still exist) for the child to take home for practice.

Or what about an after-school homework club?

We’ve got a lot of smart people who could help out with all that math homework that so many parents in our community are struggling to assist with before the first set of mid-terms in November.

Maybe these are terrible ideas – I haven’t been a Youth Pastor for well over a decade, but if these are terrible ideas, then send me something better, because there is an opportunity coming toward us to care for and support weary families. I say we figure out a way to meet that challenge.

(4) Be heavily invested in men

If you want to distinguish yourself from the surrounding culture, there are few easier ways to do that than by expressing care and concern for men. Men are the villains in just about every story that our culture is currently telling, and apparently, men have been listening. The suicide rate for men in this country is 3 times higher than it is for women, according to this government of Canada website.

We mustn’t allow Jordan Peterson to be the only voice in our culture speaking to and affirming young men. The church has to find a way to value men and to develop men, without in any way encouraging violent or abusive behaviour toward women.

This can be done, and we above all people should be committed to doing it.

Let’s be known as that place in town that seems to be producing strong, responsible, reliable, courageous MEN who are good employees, helpful neighbours, trustworthy mentors, faithful husbands and committed dads.

Let’s be the place where single women come to find potential spouses. I have absolutely no problem if that should become part of our reputation – it was in the early church, at least in reverse. Rodney Stark, in his book The Triumph Of Christianity speaks about something he calls “secondary conversions”. He says:

“Secondary conversions of husbands were very common in early Christianity. And the major reason was the great prevalence of mixed marriages due to the great surplus of Christian women in a world suffering from a scarcity of pagan brides.”[2]

In the early church, we had all the marriageable women, so the pagans had to come to us! Many men took catechism class only so as to qualify for engagement to a Christian bride. The church was quite mercenary in this manner and so might we be in the future. If we have all the marriageable men, we might find great evangelistic opportunity in offering Basic Christianity courses to interested women.

Let’s be known as a greenhouse for godly men. If we do that – and if we are open and unapologetic about doing that – then we will have gone a great way towards re-establishing ourselves as salt and light within our communities.

(5) Be heavily invested in the Bible

The error of seeker Christianity in the 1980s and ’90s was in thinking that if we said the same sorts of things that Oprah Winfrey was saying it ought to be easier to get people to come to church on Sunday morning. The problem was that people who enjoyed listening to Oprah Winfrey could do so at 4:30 pm in the afternoons on their televisions from the comfort of their couches – why then should they get up at 8:00 am on a Sunday morning to hear the same message repeated in church?

It took the better part of two decades for us to see this rather obvious flaw in our strategy.

Let’s not repeat the same mistake again.

All of the sudden the average Christian pastor seems to sound a great deal like Sean Hannity on Fox News. I’m not sure if this is an intentional strategy or an accidental response to the trauma of lost cultural influence, but I am sure that it is terribly unhelpful.

Let’s stop.

When people come to church let’s be sure to give them something they are not likely to hear anywhere else: the Gospel of Jesus Christ from every page of Holy Scripture.

Let’s be known as the people who are always talking about the Bible!

I so weary of hearing Christians sharing their opinions about politics, medicine, philosophy and economic theory. I’m not saying that these topics are unimportant, I am simply saying that they ought not to dominate our public discourse. I don’t wish to be known as for or against a particular political party. I don’t wish to be known as for or against capitalism. I don’t wish to be known as for or against Marxism. To be clear, I have opinions on all of those things and if you buy me a cup of coffee I will set you straight on these and half a dozen other important issues, but they will not dominate my public discourse and nor will they dictate my preaching from the pulpit.

If you preach the whole counsel of God from Holy Scripture you will eventually be accused of:

Communism (Acts 2:45)

Capitalism (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Feminism (Galatians 3:28)

Chauvinism (1 Timothy 2:12)

Isolationism (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

Colonialism (Matthew 28:19-20)

Pacifism (Matthew 5:39)

Militarism (Matthew 10:34)

Nihilism (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Utopianism (Isaiah 11:6)

Pessimism (Luke 18:8)

Triumphalism (Habakkuk 2:14)

Individualism (Jeremiah 31:30)

Socialism (1 John 3:17-18)

I can live with that. But if we embrace any of these lesser ideologies wholesale, we will have forfeited our calling and capitulated to the spirit of the world.

Let’s not do that.

Let’s be known as “the bible people”.

As confusion and chaos reign outside, this may become our most attractive quality in the months, years and decades following COVID19.

Even still, come Lord Jesus!


To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.


[1] Martin Luther, Commentary On Galatians Modern English Edition, (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1988), 79.

[2] Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 134.