The COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented response to quell its spread. The impact of self-quarantining and social-distancing has had a profound impact on the church. How do we address this new reality? What does a preacher do in the midst of panic over the concern of an unknown, untamed virus? Not only is the response unprecedented, but also the resources available to share the hope of the gospel through email, social media, Skype or Facetime, or other forms of communication.
Assurances in the Midst of Panic
The following are assurances in which a preacher can engage as he or she navigates the delicate path of faithfulness in the throes of panic.
Remind your listeners that we are a people of faith.
“For we live by faith, not by sight,” Paul reminds the Corinthian believers. We may not know the reasons for this unique infectious outbreak, but, as pilgrims awaiting another home, we live by faith, recognizing that as people of faith we cling to the Lord Jesus Christ, who gives us faith to trust him in uncertain times. We are a people of faith.
Remind your listeners that prayer is essential.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” says Paul to the anxious Philippian Christians. And to the restless Thessalonians he wrote, “pray continually.” These are helpful reminders that we are to be people of prayer. This means that we take on an attitude of dependence, conversing with the Lord throughout the day—and into the night—as we express our trust, our faith in him in the midst of crisis. Pray that God will redeem all of it for His glory. He hears our prayer. Yes, prayer is essential.
Remind your listeners that we are the church.
Jesus tells Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Think of it, nothing will crush, defeat, overthrow, conquer, or eliminate the church. Nothing, even plagues or viruses. The church will remain, even into eternity. And, let me remind you, the church is you, people who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, a unique unconquerable body of believers. The church bands together, lives together, loves together, face challenges together. Whether we are in the same room or online, our connection is Christ. He holds us together. Local congregations are connected to other local congregations in your region, in your state, in your country, and throughout the world because of Christ. We are the church!
Remind your listeners that they are part of the cure.
We have a role to play in quelling this virus—by faith, through prayer, as a church—we want to be obedient citizens, responsible believers as we practice good hygiene, social distance, and even exercising restraint as we avoid hysteria in the hoarding of food and goods.
Remind your listeners that God is sovereign.
Do not forget to remind believers that God is sovereign. Believers have recognized God’s sovereignty—that God is Ruler of all—from Genesis to Revelation and from the early church until the present day. Notice throughout the Scriptures the prayers of the faithful as they addressed God as “Sovereign Lord.” This doctrine of God recognizes God as the absolute ruler. Nothing goes beyond his notice. Nothing escapes his rule. “Why, then,” someone may ask, “has this sovereign God allowed the virus to spread?” Since the fall, our world experiences the consequences of the twistedness of sin. This does not diminish the sovereignty of God. We eagerly wait for the redemption of this world, that “the kingdom of the world [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” Yes, God is sovereign. God is God.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” writes the prophet Isaiah. These words are echoed in the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” It reads:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”
“E’en down to old age all My people shall prove My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love; And then, when grey hairs shall their temples adorn, Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.”
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!”
As men and women who preach God’s Word, who have the privilege of sharing the eternal gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection hope with men, women, boys, and girls, we are reminded that we are people of faith, of the importance of prayer, that we are the church, that God is God and that we have the confidence of his grace, hope, and peace in the midst of panic. We can share this truth with our listeners and assure them that as people of faith, God calls us to live faithfully daily, even when faced with crisis.
Scott M. Gibson is the Professor of Preaching and holder of the David E. Garland Chair of Preaching at Baylor University/Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He also served as the Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he was on faculty for twenty-seven years.