This is a follow-up piece to “Your Pastor In the Age of the Coronavirus” where I explore the various competing theological convictions that are beyond the decisions pastors are making.
Jonathan David Faulkner
Christian Conviction, when lived, offers us a set of cohesive ideas which work together for the building up and edification of the body of Christ. These convictions are central to the pastors training and anyone who teaches them to lax these convictions are not doing their job. These convictions, named, are not forsaking meeting together, the care of the flock, seeking their shalom (emotionally, spiritually, physically etc), The preaching and living and insisting upon the Gospel and ultimately, adherence and obedience to the authoritative and Living Word of God and its full council. Obviously, the first three convictions come from The Word, but they are convictions The Word emphasizes all three in various passages. However, sometimes in history, like our current crisis, those convictions can seem at odds with one another, especially the first two. As Pastors we never want to give up in person meeting together, it is the essence of the Churches Family togetherness, doing things together, as a body. But if gathering together as a body would put us at risk for violating the second conviction, seeking the shalom of our congregations, then we have to fall back upon the fourth conviction: adherence and obedience to the authoritative and Living Word of God.
None of these decisions is easy, they are not as black and white as some want to make it. In the internet age we are technically able to continue meeting and worshiping together, even if that is not in person. But we also know that Human Beings are meant to be lived in community with one another and with Christ and while we can have community with Christ anywhere, these times make it hard for us to meet in person, something the CDC has now suggested we not do until April 30th, a long time for any pastor to not see their flock, but especially for your extroverted pastors (FCCBC I am looking at you). Extroverts do not want to give up meeting together because we recharge through fellowship. That is one of the reasons I schedule all visitations on Monday’s, it helps me recharge and get ready for the new week. Not having that has had a negative effect on my mental health, but it has also made me rely more on my heavenly father for sustenance and recharging. Most of us really miss our congregations, we know what the rest of the world is learning, that we need each other, and God oriented fellowship is greater than isolation. This conviction of course, comes from scripture, specifically from the entirety of the book of Acts, 1st Timothy 4:12-15 and Hebrews 10:25.
But many of us also pastor vulnerable congregations, and with more reports surfacing about churches who met and now have members sick and dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, gives us an even greater pause. Many of our congregations are also terrified, in an email this morning I mentioned the fact that what I am hearing from my people is that they would not leave the house even if we were meeting. The second conviction surges to the forefront, I am responsible, in love, for the health and safety of my congregation. God has entrusted this small group of His created and recreated people to me, as an under shepherd and He has given me His love for them through the Holy Spirit. I must stand before Him at the end of all things and give an account for how I carried out my responsibilities as an under shepherd. It would be unloving and irresponsible, if I know the lion is coming to consume the sheep, to not confront the lion and let him devour the sheep. I am charged, as an under shepherd, with the protection and well-being of my flock, I confront the lion, I do everything I can to keep the lion from attacking and devouring the flock. If need be, I give up my life to the lion to give my sheep a chance to escape. I do not bring the lion to the sheep and say: “Have at em’ lion, eat to your hearts content.” Similarly, I do not let the thief steal, kill or destroy, I am not the hired hand, I am the under shepherd and when the chief shepherd appears (Jesus Christ) I will have to give account for how I cared for my flock. If my flock dies of COVID-19 because I would not adjust to online meetings, then I am responsible for those deaths. It is unloving for me to expose them to something that could potentially kill them. As my regional pastor said to me on a Zoom call this morning: “If given the choice between having to repent of not meeting together and loving my congregation enough to not expose them to this, I would rather be on the side of love.” That conviction applies to both times of normalcy and during pandemics. I do not take this charge less seriously when things are normal. For more read: Luke 16, John 10, James 3:1-5, 1 Peter 4 ete.
That brings us to Insisting upon the Gospel. This is Paul’s charge to Titus in 3:1-11, because it is on account of what God has done for us that we are to do good works for others. I have greatly enjoyed the posts that have gone around Facebook saying that: “the Church is not empty; the church is deployed.” Yes, we come together to Worship God and equip His people the Church, but the Church is then called to “Go” and right now, all that equipping (which many of us are still receiving online) is hopefully paying off. Now, for us to get through this, we have no choice but to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We can grieve with those who grieve, laugh with those who laugh, deliver meals for those who deliver meals. The Church is the greatest force on this planet when we insist upon the Gospel, when God’s people, made new by the rebirth of the Holy Spirit, cannot be defeated by any force. History proves this is true, but for that we must insist on the Gospel and live by the Gospel. When a Pandemic hit we suddenly realize how unimportant and foolish our debates over X, Y and Z are and how important one another are. How important the lived aspect of the Gospel is. When we finally come back together, I hope we remember this and in fact, revel in it as we are reunited with our spiritual families and welcome new family members into the fold.
All of these, of course, fall under the umbrella of the forth conviction: “The adherence and obedience to the Authoritative and Living Word of God, taking into account its full council.” As pastors we should be good biblical theologians and recognize that even when our convictions are at odds, we can find wisdom in God’s Word. Hebrews 10:25 is in the same Bible that Romans 13:1-5 and John 10 are and we are accountable to all three. I appreciated a writer from Lifeway last week who noted that if the Government was tyrannically ordering us not to meet at all we would be under obligation to disobey. The church has done this from the beginning, think of the Catacombs in Rome or the Underground Church in China or the Confessing Church in Germany. However, that is not what is happening here, our government has requested that we close our doors to slow the spread of a virus that can kill our congregations, and even kill us. We even have the ability and have been encouraged to find alternatives for meeting. It has actually been quite incredible to see the response and ingenuity of various pastors and churches around the world. We are in interesting times that require interesting solutions and we can still care for and love one another while maintaining good social distancing and containment practices. I had the family of one of our shut-ins last week passing along her thanks for the cards and notes from the congregation. We can still love and care for our people and encourage our people to love and care for one another, just as the Bible commands, while obeying the government which the Bible also commands.
Obviously, these are not the only 4 convictions of a pastor, but these are the ones that have been heavy on my mind and heavy on the minds of many of my colleagues in these recent and coming days. It saddens me to see pastors who have ignored thinking through these convictions and are now paying the price for their negligence of the second because they insisted on the first. No matter how bad this gets, we will get through it, we will be back together again, and nothing can stop that. We must celebrate Easter a little differently this year, we must figure out how to celebrate the Eucharist with a congregation in their own homes. We have to encourage and insist our people live by the Gospel and use proper discernment. These types of events require the church to live maturely and by the Spirit alone.
I hope these pieces have given you a little insight into the through process of your pastor during these days. We are here to care for you who God has called us to shepherd and we should be taking that responsibility seriously. Please walk with us through this time as we walk with you. These are the hardest decisions we are ever going to have to make as your shepherds and there is a lot for us to consider and all of it from Holy Scripture. Continue to pray for us, and always remember, we love you.