In A Time Such As This

I was going to take a brief break, but changed my mind. And I may be wrong, but . . . .

Yesterday I read that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told churches not to meet.1 If they continue meeting during this pandemic their leaders face the possibility of prosecution and the congregants will be told to disperse.

That order was immediately met with an outcry from pastors in New York as well as from around the country. This, they claim, is the first step on the slippery slope toward setting a precedent for government to shut down religion and remove our rights.


I know that the separation of church and state that we enjoy under our constitution has been under attack. I also understand that if government on any level made this kind of decision it would be uncomfortable to people of faith. But in such a time as this, is it best for Christians to be playing the “rights” card?

Going back to the days of the “Moral Majority” (look it up if that term is unfamiliar), evangelicals have been active in protesting the loss of not only religious freedom, but of religious recognition. At times it has been incredibly silly. I wish that I had saved an email from one Christian watchdog group that urged us to boycott a particular pet supply chain because they had changed their Christmas catalog to a Holiday catalog. My sarcastic bent wants to run wild with this, but I’ll behave. And besides, a mayor insinuating that churches must be closed is far more serious.

Perhaps, though, our reaction to this story, assuming it is accurate, should not be about our rights. Perhaps it should be to ask why the Mayor has been put in this position in the first place.

We are in a pandemic. Tens of thousands of people have contracted the coronavirus. Hundreds of thousands of people world-wide will die. People have been urged to stay home, yet some churches (and other religious groups) are going to go ahead and meet, thereby ignoring our leadership during this crisis.

I am reading 1 Peter during my morning Bible reading. Today I happened to read these verses:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. – 1 Peter 2:13-15 (ESV)

Thinking about this passage and how it relates to the issue of churches defying the instructions of government, I want to ask two questions:

First, in such a time as this, do our “rights” trump the well-being of our neighbor? Again, I understand the potentially dangerous precedent of any government interference in the area of religious freedom. We may well see the day when government infringement upon our religious liberties becomes more commonplace. But to me, we’re missing the forest for the trees if we choose this hill to fight on. People are dying, folks. And the virus spreads where gathering is not contained. How is continuing to meet as a church loving our neighbor. How is it even loving ourselves as a church body? People smarter than most of us are telling us to stay home. In a time such as this, shouldn’t we be subject to the human institutions that God has put in place?

Second, in a time such as this, do our “rights” trump our witness? What kind of impression do we think we give if our churches meet? Do you think those meetings are viewed with admiration? That non-Christians are saying, “Wow, they’re incredible?” I doubt that. There’s enough hostility toward Christians in our day without giving our opponents even more ammunition. Let me ask: how would you feel if you drove past a mosque or synagogue and saw they were open for business as usual? Would our response be any different than the way we viewed college students partying in Florida or the crowds that gathered in New Orleans for Mardi Gras? Would we be happy to see them exercising their rights, or would our response be somewhere between being bemused to being outraged? So how do we think unbelievers look at us if we continue to meet, going against the best medical minds in our country? Where churches are creating a situation where government has to step in and say stop? I can tell you that the non-believers I work with weren’t impressed with the churches that decided to stay open. In such a time as this, shouldn’t our witness trump our rights?

It’s possible that time will prove my view to be naive. If government officials are successful in closing churches during this time, maybe it will have paved the way for greater interference in the future. I don’t know. But for the sake of our families, our neighbors, our churches, and our witness I think we need to take that chance, and trust God with the outcome.

  1. I’ve linked to the Fox News site, but other outlets are reporting this as well.

Pressing the Pause Button…

You have to admire a guy like Tim Challies. By the end of this week he will have posted original content for 6000 consecutive days. No breaks. No stoppages. Just churning out something every day. And on top of that his stuff is all worthwhile.

I started this blog near the end of June. This is my 118th post. Hardly Challies-esque. But I’ve enjoyed what I do – posting a list of helpful links on Monday and then putting up original content on Wednesday and Friday. However, I’m going to press that little yellow button in the picture above. I began to write on two different topics today and in both cases I though, “I want to spend more time on this.”

So I will tip my hat to the Cal Ripken, Jr.* of Christian blogs, thank you for reading my stuff, and tell you that I’ll be back on Monday with another set of links and then hopefully have some new posts beginning Wednesday.

In the meantime, be safe. We’re all preparing for hard times over these next weeks. Keep in touch with your people – especially those who are living alone or can’t get out. When this is over, we will no doubt find ways in which God has used this to bring people to Christ. He always does that and this will be no different than any other time of crisis. Pray for that.

Oh, and wash your hands and practice social distancing. See you Monday!

*For you non-baseball fans, Cal Ripken, Jr. holds the record for the most consecutive games played in Major League Baseball. His record of 2,632 games doesn’t hold a candle to Challies’ mark. 🙂

Tools of the Trade For March 30, 2020

Here is this week’s list of recommended articles. I hope you find something helpful to your ministry and/or your people.

John Piper writes about his favorite image for understanding the Trinity.

You may already read Tim Challies, but if you missed it, his article “What Will the New Normal Look Like?” is well worth the read.

With so many churches streaming services, Peter Mead gives some helpful tips for preaching online.

Some of our people struggle with forgiveness. Dane Ortlund writes “Dare to Feel Forgiven.” This one is literature-table worthy.

The folks at Ligonier have been making some of their resources available for free during this pandemic. Here are some free study guides that can be downloaded.

Paul D. Miller provides some encouragement for churches staying closed. If you’re getting heat about making this choice, this will affirm your decision.

One very legitimate concern that churches have during this time relates to giving. Here’s a helpful article on encouraging online giving.

I take senior citizens – the most vulnerable group in the world – to doctor appointments. I’ve not encountered fear, but no doubt there are people for whom the pandemic is very frightening. Here’s help for you if you encounter fearful people in your church, regardless of the cause.

I don’t know if encouragement is a lost art, but we all can do better. Scott Sauls provides some, well, encouragement.

Ivan Mesa shares a list of free or discounted books that are available during this time.

Young pastors, keep this one in your file. A sabbatical – done right – is a very helpful thing.

Jonathan Leeman share some principles for working with teens in the local church.

I hope you have a great week! See you on Wednesday!

What Other Pastors Are Doing During the Pandemic, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about my asking several pastor friends to answer questions relating to how the current coronavirus situation has affected their ministries. In that post I shared the responses of three pastors, and below you will find the responses of three others.

From the standpoint of demographics, all but one of the responses came from pastors in the general Southeastern Pennsylvania area. One comes from a more rural area of western Wisconsin. In terms of church size, one respondent is retired, two pastor churches of 150 or less, and the other three are in churches of 150 or more.

My friend from Wisconsin writes:

1) Ministry has changed drastically. Our state just issued the “safer at home” mandate or whatever (like many other states). Not only is the corporate body not able to gather for Sunday service, but now even our smaller groups or one-on-one meetings are permitted. Just the sheer reality of avoiding actual in-person interactions has a tremendous effect on ministry. We offered our first online-only worship service this past Sunday. It was weird and unfortunate, to say the least. Not ideal at all. Yet, we are certainly thankful for the unique opportunities our modern technological era can afford us. I suppose I’m glad the social distancing effort is happening now, and not say 15 years ago.

2) As of today we’re really ramping up our efforts to stay connected relationally through various digital avenues. The three of us pastors are putting out a daily “chat with a pastor” video, just a few minutes to share hope and encouragement with our church family. We’re utilizing services like Zoom and Marco Polo to stay in touch with various church members and each other. Our next elder meeting will be a Zoom video chat. We’re also trying to be consistent with calling our people to check in.

3) I suppose the creative ways we’re trying to minister could be our daily “pastor chats” and a twice-per-week podcast we’ve begun to publish. As are all of us I’m sure, we’re very open to ideas as we enter into this weird chapter.

My own pastor writes:

1) Two significant changes: A). We’ve suspended all in-person gatherings. All small groups, leadership meetings and worship services have moved to online or virtual spaces. B). Planning is more difficult. There is so much uncertainty and the situation changing so rapidly that almost all planning has become short-term. What are we gonna do Sunday? What are we doing next week to minister to people?

How wise is it to make summer plans (and investments) when we have no idea what the world is going to look like two months from now?

2) We invested in a Zoom Pro account. We’ve hosted an elders meeting, small groups, prayer meetings, and leadership team meetings. I’ve hosted Zoom meetings 6 out of the last 7 days, allowing me to connect with, encourage and communicate with dozens of our people face-to-face, virtually.

3) We’ve added two, weekly virtual prayer gatherings through Zoom to our church calendar: Wed evening and Fri mornings. I’ll take a passage of Scripture, we read it together and use the Word of God to fuel our time of worship-based prayer. Just another to interact with and encourage our people.

Broadcasting our worship services is no longer a luxury. Not being able to gather in-person has forced us to consider how to improve the recording and dissemination of our worship services. Do we emphasize intimacy and community among worshippers (via live streaming through Facebook), or lean towards production quality by pre-recording the service and posting on a more professional platform? We’re making some minor investments with gear and trying new techniques each week based on what’s working, or not.

Finally, another local pastor shares the following:

The first way that ministry changed was that everything migrated online. We immediately went to an on-line only worship service. We had a staff member and an elder who put a lot of time into making that service happen. We’ve continued to work on the technology side since then to get a better livestream. The service wasn’t very different than usual, except for the congregation being in their homes instead of in the same room. As time went on, we helped our small groups begin meeting online as well. Our deacons and small group leaders have been asked to help us check on people who might otherwise receive visits.

We’ve also moved our meetings online. One of the biggest changes for me has been that I’m home more evenings than previously. In order to communicate, our team has put together a weekly schedule for releasing various types of information. We are communicating with the congregation now more than ever. And we are utilizing video now far more than previously. The new video includes a mid-week “Pastors Chat” where two of us sit (at a proper distance apart) and talk about what is going on in the church and in our lives.

Here’s what I am taking away from these six responses:

Pastors were caught off-guard by the pandemic but have acted quickly to provide ministry to their congregation. It may not be perfect, it may have required investing in new equipment, and it may be a bit trial and error, but ministry is taking place.

If you’re reading this, perhaps you’ve already done most of what these other men are doing. Good. But perhaps you can pick up an idea or two from these men and enhance your ministry.

Thanks again to those men who responded to my request and provided information about how their ministry has been affected. If you’d like to share some ideas, please use the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

If you did not read my own post from about two weeks ago, I wrote about Pastoral Work During A Pandemic. You may find some help there too.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Is that line from Monty Python? I don’t remember.

Yesterday was supposed to be the beginning of the 2020 baseball season. If you are, like me, a fan, you no doubt miss the game. Strat-O-Matic, a company that makes both dice-and-cards and computer simulations of the major sports, began “preplaying” the 2020 season based on projected player stats. They are posting the boxscores from their games after 2:00pm each day. So if you want a little baseball, here’s where you can go.

What Other Pastors Are Doing During the Pandemic

Over this past weekend I sent an email to some pastor friends. I asked them if they would be willing to answer the following questions:

  1. How has your ministry changed over the last few weeks because of the Covid-19 virus and any restrictions that your state has in place?
  2. How are you staying in touch with your congregation, youth group, etc.?
  3. Have you developed any creative ways to minister to your people during this time.

I appreciated the responses I received. Some responded to all three in a paragraph and others responded individually. With minor editing, here are their answers. Perhaps you will be encouraged by what they are doing, and you may pick up an idea along the way.

First, a retired pastor friend in New York State wrote this:

First I pray about all the smaller things I use to overlook when I was the lead pastor (my bad). Then I call several hurting people each week. I text several folks each day. I do daily blog to my kids at 8am by text. I do a short weekly blog to folks with the goal of giving encouragement.

I have 75+ people who read the blog, and some of them forward it to others. I also decide daily to go on purpose to meet people I do not know. I hope to do 5 a week. I use a unique approach, “Hi! I’m (name). I saw you doing…” What ever I thought may help. I start a short conversation and hope it works. In addition I try hard to give big tips at restaurants and friendly words. Several of those now get my weekly blog. That is my old guys ministry to all ages.

The following comes from a pastor serving a smaller church over the long haul:

Glad to share a few thoughts. Like other churches, we are not meeting physically, so I have posted my sermons on You Tube (a first for me), and the advantage is that more people are seeing them than would normally hear my sermon in church! Church people and others are sharing the sermon with friends, so my ministry of the Word has greatly increased!

We are using zoom to have prayer meetings and hopefully our small groups. (My wife and I will also be teaching ESL on Zoom)

We are doing a lot of calling of church people and others, and people are appreciating it. I send out 1-2 e-mails to the whole church each week, and invite them to share their joys, needs, and prayer requests. A number are doing that.

My challenge as the solo pastor of a small church is that most of the changes are falling on me, so I have had to learn a lot of new technology in a short time. I have been on my laptop and phone a lot, so much so that my wife has had to remind me to take some time off.

All in all I would say that so far this has been a good time of the church coming together, and of God giving new opportunities to spread the gospel!

This next section was written by a youth pastor who, along with the Senior Pastor, is also working to meet the needs of their church body.

COVID-19 has drastically impacted our ministry, in addition to all ministries within our local community, state, country, and globe. Initially, our private school closed for two weeks but, as COVID-19 is spreading, we have been issued an additional two-week closure. Our church ministries further followed suit as we suspended all services, programs, events, and activities. This decision is currently in place for a couple more weeks, yet we remain in waiting. The uncertainty can drive one to insanity or it can drive one to Jesus…the Author, not of confusion, but of love, joy, peace, contentment, and most certainly great gain.

We have gone completely virtual when it comes to ministering to our local body. Our Pastor has been preaching live on YouTube each Sunday morning. He and I have gone live on Facebook during the week, and I have recorded and posted brief devotionals.

Additionally, I have been gathering with my students via Zoom. At our last gathering we had fun catching up on the latest stay-home details, a devotional from James 1, trivia, and even an indoor scavenger hunt. These are definitely strange times but our Sovereign Lord rules and reigns over all.

Prior to the stay-home order from Pennsylvania’s Governor, we put together “Operation Fill-a-Basket”. This was an opportunity for us to drop off non-perishable food items to our facility (in a safe, healthy, and distant manner), followed by deliveries to those in need. This proved to be an effective way of ministering to many in need.

All-in-all, technology (YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram alike) has proven incredibly effective throughout this time and cell phones may not have ever been enjoyed as much as they are now. Phone calls, emails, and personal text messages remain as key avenues of ministry for us.

I have two other responses, but will put them out tomorrow in an EXCLUSIVE weekend edition. 🙂

I appreciate the contributions of each of these brothers. Maybe they affirm that you’re doing what you can, and maybe you get a new idea or two. God bless you as you serve the Lord and his people!

More Tools of the Trade

Because I gave last Monday to something other than the normal links to helpful articles, I have quite a collection of good stuff that I want to share before too long. I’m working on a post for Friday that I hope will be some encouragement to you as you pastor through this pandemic period.

You may have men in serve in non-staff positions of leadership and have the opportunity to preach on occasion. Tony Merritt, Jr. has an article that will be helpful for them, and probably for everyone who preaches.

Many people struggle with anxiety and depression, and pastors are not exempt. Scott Sauls shares his experience and some help.

Every church is probably struggling – or will struggle – with keeping ministry going. Phil Newton addresses some help for those who are pastoring small churches.

Jared Wilson talks about what the coronavirus deliberations reveal about the way we look at the church.

Tim Patrick has a podcast on planning sermon series. Hopefully you do advance planning, and his will be helpful.

This is something for your family: Lifehacker, a productivity site, gives information on how you can tour 500+ museums and galleries from your own sofa.

Most pastors have already decided how to deal with whether or not to hold worship services in light of the Covid-19 situation. However, some may face some pushback by well-meaning people. Ronnie Martin has some encouragement and counsel for you.

David Prince writes about how Martin Luther wrote about how Christians respond to a time like we’re experiencing.

The ever-prolific Tim Challies asks the question, “Should Christians ‘Self Care?’ He answers yes, and you should read why.

Barry York talks about “The Back Side of Preaching.” Provocative title, helpful article.

Do you have new believers in your church who need instruction on how to pray? Here is a helpful discussion by Sam Emadi.

I find that people are cautious about the coronavirus situation, and I haven’t come across people who seem to be overcome with fear. But people have questions and different people respond in different ways. Dane Ortland writes about what we should remember during this time.

Stephen Kneale talks about the expectations people have when they change churches, and tells us that they often are not fulfilled.

I did this, and because of a fantastic congregation it worked well. But going from Associate Pastor to the Senior Pastor in the same church can be a challenge. Jason Helopoulos gives us some help.

People in churches can have some really weird ideas. Katie McCoy tells us about one that seems to be making slow inroads into “Christian” thinking.

Here’s one to share with your missionaries. Support raising is not easy. Encourage them with this article by Michelle Dein.

This article is for pastors and their people. If you want to be sure that your kids WILL walk away from church, here’s how to do it, thanks to Sam Storms.

That does it for this week, except I’d like to make one request: If you know of another pastor, especially a younger pastor, would you be willing to share this blog with them and encourage them to sign up to get the blog post or be notified when I post something? Thanks much!!

Tools of the Trade for March 23, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

We enter the second week of this strange new world. I hope you are well!

My habit on Mondays has been to post a series of links to articles that are helpful to those in ministry or can be helpful to those to whom they minister. Before I continue with that pattern, let me share some other info.

My good friend Dr. Glenn Jago is the Senior Pastor at Church of the Open Door in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Glenn told me about something he and his youth pastor, Duane Adler did this past Wednesday. I asked Glenn to write a few paragraphs describing an event he held online for his people:

There are several approaches to pursue to stay in touch with your congregation and beyond. I only want to share one particular idea with the readers of the blog, “For Younger Pastors.” It is Facebook live, and it allows listeners to tune in and add comments and ask questions.

Our youth pastor and I did our first live feed on Facebook at noon on Thursday, March 19, 2020. We preplanned our discussion and goals and identified a few topics that we were going to discuss. The rest of the time, we shared personally and then with those on-line.

I highly recommend it if you can avoid looking or acting silly. Humor is essential, but you must have a designated outcome and purpose for your time together. You need to answer the question regarding why you want people to listen to the Livestream and what you hope to accomplish. Once you determine your target and goal, then keep driving the conversation and toss it back and forth with the other person. We offered several suggestions for finding your regular life routine. We shared our personal stories to encourage them to think outside the box.

The goal is to keep the topics changing, exciting, funny, and challenging, along with words of encouragement. People need to know that they are not alone, and others are facing the same issue. However, they need to hear ideas on how they can deal with the crisis at hand. The bottom line, shepherd your people creatively.

Thanks, Glenn, for sharing that!

My friend Ron Smith is a missionary in Milan, Italy. Ron recently wrote and told me about this: “In church we are encouraging unity and one thing we are doing specifically is pairing up in “friends of prayer”. The idea is to pray for one another daily and to meet at least once a month face to face.” He went on to tell me that he speaks to his friend each day. I believe that began before they were hit with the coronavirus, but imagine how helpful it is with all that they are going through!

I want to re-emphasize something that I wrote about early last week. It is so important that you keep in touch with your seniors citizens – especially those who may be homebound or in retirement communities and nursing homes.

In many retirement/nursing facilities, common dining areas have been closed and people are having to stay in their rooms. For many that means being confined to rooms that are not much bigger than 15×20. Because this age group is so vulnerable to the coronavirus, keeping people in their rooms for the majority if not the entirety of the day is a common practice. One can only imagine the psychological impact of sitting in the same room day after day, with minimal contact with others. A regular phone call from someone in your church would be very helpful.

I try to keep my posts to a reasonable length, so let me share a few links and perhaps share a longer list mid-week.

Ligonier Ministries is allowing Connect Group Studies to be used for free during this period. This is an opportunity for a small group of people to work through a particular topic of study. It may be something you can suggest to your small groups since they likely aren’t meeting.

Crossway, publishers of the English Standard Version, has a suite of online Bible study resources the they are making available for free use for the next several weeks.

This is a thought-provoking article on what the coronavirus reveals about our society and ourselves. Thanks to Paul Miller.

Jamie Dunlop gives hope to the boring Bible teacher in this article. We all probably wonder if at times we’re putting people to sleep. A good read.

Hershael York, from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, talks about pastoral life and ministry in this article. It should provoke some good reflection.

Timothy Raymond writes about the life of the church during COVID-19.

I used to tell my congregation that my hope was that if I were to call them at 3am and ask them to define justification, they would be able to do so. Nicholas Batzig writes on the comfort that this doctrine brings.

See you in a few days!!