Ministering From Afar
The past two and a half months have been some of the most challenging months of pastoral work I have ever experienced. The ever-changing atmosphere of our world, rising tensions, mounting pressures, the daily toil of “normal” life today is taking a toll on everyone.
To pastor, lead or evangelize in today’s climate is a new challenge we are each facing.
How do we do church today? How do pastors lead a congregation now? What does sharing the gospel or evangelism and outreach look like in a “no touch,” social-distanced world?
When the COVID-19 shutdowns began, I remember thinking this would be fun, almost like a mini-vacation. I would be home most of the day, I wouldn’t have to see anyone face-to-face, and I would have more time for reading and home projects. This could not have been further from the reality that was about to unfold.
My daily workload went from in-person meetings and Bible studies to hours of digital meetings and workshops on how to help others use the technology my husband and I had chosen to use for work and church. Most people were very gracious as I talked them through how to use Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, etc. I found myself chuckling occasionally as I felt a bit like a parent, explaining the same thing a million different ways, hoping one of them would help people would figure out how to do things. I also found myself amazed at how most of the older members of our churches embraced the use of new technology and worked hard to join the digital events throughout the week.
Meeting electronically has been a wonderful blessing — a blessing I wouldn't have thought of before this whole pandemic began. I tend to not use technology too much, seeing more detriments then advantages. However, through this time the use of technology has been a true blessing. Being able to continue to meet with church members for Bible studies, gatherings, prayer meetings, Sabbath School and church has kept us together. Imagine how separated and distant we would feel without it! As I am meeting digitally with people, I appreciate the virtual connection we enjoy, but I still find myself wondering if I am actually doing effective outreach and evangelism.
Much of what I do is work with the church body in forming ways to do outreach to our local community. I truly enjoy meeting with people, the personal aspect of ministry. I organize events such as weekly Friday evening collegiate meals and Bible studies, children’s Bible studies, participation in our local fair, Vacation Bible School, and booths and floats for different events. Faced with today’s 6-foot-distance reality, how am I to do much of my work? How do I encourage and facilitate evangelism and outreach in a world where we can’t be physically together? Will I be able to reach anyone for Christ?
When Jesus was on Earth, He gave a very specific charge to His followers right before He was taken into heaven. It is a charge I believe transcends all our COVID-19 linked realities and is vital to us as ever: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19–20, NIV)
Through this time I have thought often of these verses and how they relate to sharing Jesus with people amid a pandemic. I have come to the belief that God can work even during these challenging times. God can work even when we aren’t doing the traditional evangelism and outreach. In fact, I have seen how God has moved in mighty, unique ways to reach people even more effectively than before the crisis.
God has opened so many doors for outreach and evangelism to even broader audiences than before the shutdown. Weekly digital meetings and services are being watched all over the United States and in countries around the world. Idaho's Moscow Church stepped out in faith and has been helping others through the mailing of medical supplies, food and personal products to people and churches in Alaska. This ministry, begun during the shutdown, will continue after and has blossomed into an exciting outreach ministry. I have been able to spend more time doing Bible studies because I am not using time driving to the appointments. More often than usual, I have found myself calling to check in with church members. We’ve been having midweek digital worship services/prayer meetings and having a larger attendance than ever before, back when we were meeting in-person. This pandemic has forced us to brainstorm and implement new and innovative ways to meet, both digitally and in-person.
These times haven’t been easy, and I certainly would never wish our current challenges on anyone. However, I have seen God come through in new and exciting ways. I have seen people grow individually in relationship with their children and spouse. I have seen people spend more time in Bible study and prayer because they finally feel they have time. I have seen doors open where before they were shut. Conversations have happened surrounding God and spiritual things that would never have happened before.
Jesus commanded us to teach people about Him, who He is and what He desires for our lives. Jesus is with us during this time and is working to bring about the salvation of many. If we are willing to step out in faith and journey with Him, no matter our circumstances, He will make a way for people to hear about His love and the salvation them.
Don’t give up on sharing Jesus, even if the technology is new and the (virtual) platform a little shaky.