Christians have a distinctive witness to offer the larger culture during this time of crisis over the coronavirus. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we be a people guided by faith and not driven by fear. I believe God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is calling us to a special witness in this time of trial.
One of the leading young scholars of the United Methodist Church is Dr. Kevin Watson, assistant professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology. With his permission, I am sharing a guest blog written by Dr. Watson which was originally posted on his regular blog site, Vital Piety, on March 17.
Growing in Your Faith in a Time of Social Distancing
Well, that escalated quickly.
I suspect that we will look back on last Wednesday evening as the tipping point for the United States’ response to COVID-19. It seemed to me to really start when the NBA announced that it was suspending the season. An avalanche of cancellations followed. I waived to my daughter as she stood at the bus stop on Thursday morning and felt like there was a good chance this would be the last time I would do that this year.
There is an inevitable and understandable adjustment period when something this dramatic happens. But today I want to encourage church leaders (lay and clergy) to pick yourselves up and get back at it.
I have been encouraged in conversations with pastors across the connection by how many of you are already thinking in proactive and creative ways about how to continue the ministry of the church in the era of social distancing.
This will be easier for some of us than for others. I want to offer a few suggestions that I hope will connect with anyone who reads this. My challenge to you today is to start somewhere. Take a step forward where you can. What you choose today does not have to be perfect. It should not be impossibly grandiose. Just take a step today that you can build on tomorrow. That is enough.
Here are a few thoughts for opportunities that are offered in this season:
This is an opportunity for families to practice their faith together. If there were one thing I would most passionately encourage it would be this: If you are a part of a family living under one roof, find a daily rhythm to express your faith in a concrete way. I would encourage you to think about enacting practices that you can continue on the other side of COVID-19.
Pray before meals.
In a time when families are home alone together far more than normal, don’t miss the opportunity to eat meals together. And when you do, set aside one minute before you start eating to say a prayer. As you enter into this routine, you can encourage everyone in the family to say a short prayer of thanks for the provision for this meal.
My experience has been that children enjoy praying out loud. It is also a great opportunity to allow them to bring their concerns to the Lord, which also helps us have another vantage point into the hearts and minds of our children.
If you haven’t done this together as a family before, it may initially feel awkward or uncomfortable to you. That is ok! The key question, from my perspective, is this: Do you want comfort more, or do you want your kids to grow in their faith? I promise you that if you take this step you will not regret it.
Read Scripture together as a family.
My family does this as a part of our evening routine. There are a variety of Bibles you can choose from to do this based on the age of your children. Each member of the family shares what they are thankful for from the day and then we read a passage of Scripture. This would be a great time to simply choose one of the Gospels and read a section each evening. Any are great. If I had to recommend one to start with today, I would recommend the Gospel of John. After the Bible reading, someone closes with a prayer giving thanks for the day and anything else they want to pray for.
Honor the Sabbath.
This is for everyone, regardless of whether you have children at home. Be intentional about observing the sabbath. We made an intentional effort to worship together as a family. We connected with a broader church community and sang songs together in our living room, said the Apostles’ Creed, and Lord’s Prayer together. We also heard a passage of Scripture read and preached. Our kids stayed engaged and seemed to enjoy it. Family worship together is wonderful, but I would also encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to connect with your faith community through online worship.
Sunday was also a day that we intentionally slowed down. We played together. We went for a family walk. We intentionally paid less attention to the news and social media accounts. We rested.
Strengthen your small group ministries.
This is an excellent opportunity to strengthen your church’s small group ministry. The first thing I would be encouraging if I were the senior pastor of a church in this season would be opportunities for every single person connected to the church to join an 8-week group (since the CDC seems to be recommending social distancing for at least 8 weeks) that will meet online in groups of about 12.
This would be a great time to give people a chance to experience something like the early Methodist class meeting, a group that is about supporting and encouraging each other in our faith journeys and not primarily learning content. This is an excellent opportunity to gather together and talk about our faith in the midst of unprecedented times in the world.
My book The Class Meeting is an 8-week study that even has a video component (available at the previous link, which you can preview here) that you can watch as a group. This is pretty plug and play for an 8 week stretch. (You can preview the first chapter here.) You could have members read the chapter on their own and then watch the video together and spend about 45 minutes checking in each week. There is a guide for group discussion at the end of each chapter. But this is also a great time for a simple weekly check in: How are you holding up right now? How are you seeing God at work in this season? How can we be praying for you?
I am convinced that this season is an opportunity to experience revival.
In the weeks before COVID-19 was at the forefront of my own mind, I experienced an unusual burden for revival. I found myself praying regularly for revival and asking the Lord to bring revival to our churches and our cities.
This is a difficult and challenging time. I think there will continue to be unexpected challenges along the way. But I am actually optimistic about the opportunity that is presented for the people of God to get on their knees, to recommit themselves to pressing in to their faith, and to interceding on behalf of the world. God seems to make his presence known in desperate circumstances when people stop hoping in their own ability. America is a context where it is difficult to get people to take their eyes off of themselves and turn their focus to the Lord – who is mighty to save.
What step can you take today?
Do not spend the next several weeks treading water aimlessly. Press in to Christ! We may not be able to meet together as we have been in the habit of doing. But that does not mean that there is not ministry to be done.
Focus on growing in your faith in daily rhythms right now. And you will find your faith strengthened for the rest of your life. Focus on connecting with people in your church when the church gathers online for worship. And create a small group to connect with as we ride this thing out.
God is with us. We have not been abandoned. We can thrive even in this place. And we can prepare for a powerful move of God.
Who is with me?
What are you doing to strengthen your faith and be in ministry in creative ways in this season?
Kevin M. Watson is Assistant Professor of Wesleyan & Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, Emory University.