In this unprecedented season of response to a global crisis, there is a great opportunity for us to bring hope and confidence despite the shifting landscape. Christians have an advantage, not in being better than others, but in being better off. Three important elements exist in living out the difference to inspire others.
1. Faith amidst fear
Faith is not despair dressed up in fancy language. We need to help people look to the God of comfort and peace while also proactively confronting the very real circumstances that threaten the lives of the vulnerable in our communities. This includes the need for safe and responsible practices that demonstrate care and concern for others. Only then can faith truly be strong.
The advice of Daniel’s three friends, thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship before a statue, was to express confidence that God could deliver them while also acknowledging His sovereignty (Daniel 3:17-18). They, therefore, acknowledged the outcome was not within their control, declaring that, even if God did not rescue them, they were not prepared to bow to Nebuchadnezzar.
What a great balance between trust and responsibility. It helps us to be both real and relevant as we look to the God of comfort who then helps us comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Strengthening others builds on the basis of hope that is well-grounded.
2. Discipleship amidst distraction
Secondly, the current crisis gives a great context within which to be others-focused to that the discipleship mandate of the church is not distracted (or lost). It allows faith to be directed into connecting people to godly growth now more than ever.
People are looking for answers and it is too easy to allow our focus to instead be about our own needs, and our own vulnerabilities and fears. Rather than be consumed with anxiety, we do best when we focus on God in prayer and then seek His peace (Philippians 4:6-7).
Habakkuk 3:18 shows a resolute attitude during adversity, with the affirmation, “yet will I rejoice in the Lord.” In Psalm 91, God promises to be with us in the day of trouble, even when disease strikes.
Many can benefit (especially children) from those of us who are well anchored. People need meaningful answers to tough questions which abound at the moment.
Churches that thrive and survive will be those whose impact continues to be felt and not just ‘telt’, and small churches can really flourish in this space.
3. Clarity amidst confusion
No-one seems to know how long the current changes and impositions will be with us. We need calm opportunism that seizes the moment, helpfully redefines what is normal, and adjusts our sails to the winds of change.
This needs more deliberate conversation and people are certainly open to it at the moment.
In Habakkuk 2:2, the purpose of a clear vision was that the herald might run with it. We have churches full of heralds that our community needs. A compelling vision to connect people to Jesus must still reach out to draw people to it.
Many online options will mean that this compelling vision must continue to inspire people to centre their lives on Christ. If this is not strongly and relationally felt, many who are searching will be more easily drawn elsewhere.
We will see this consumer factor measured in no small way by how successfully we maintain contact and growth, and this will require great intentionality and focus.
If the ‘new normal’ demands this be done better, that can hardly be all bad! So, do you, in fact, demonstrate that this is happening?
When people begin looking at your own response to Coronavirus, what is the real difference they are going to see?!
Dr Rob Nyhuis (Executive Officer at Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania)
Monday 31 March 2020