Life is very different for most of us right now. The COVID-19 pandemic is running its course throughout the world. And it has had a global economic impact because of quarantines, business shut-downs, job loss, and most tragically of all, sickness and loss of life.
The world’s response to the pandemic has been an odd mix of fear, hope, confusion, contentiousness, and heroic service by so many. As the scientific community looks for effective treatments and vaccines, politicians debate the efficacy of shut-downs and sheltering-in-place.
We are just over a decade past the “Great Recession” of 2008–2009, but the economic fallout from the pandemic may be worse, and the unemployment rate is approaching what it was during the Great Depression. Governments are working on “re-opening” plans and mitigating the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
The Church in Economic Difficulties
Because the church is “in the world,” we participate in the economy along with everyone else. The current economic storm has also affected the church and individual Christians—we are not immune to the economic hardships caused by the pandemic (Matthew 5:45).
Church buildings have closed their doors and taken services online, and some are experiencing financial challenges, or will in the months ahead. Some Christians have lost jobs and businesses, while many others have seen their assets or incomes reduced.
In the World, But Not of It
The pandemic and its harmful health and economic effects are (and should be) of significant concern to the church, not just because they affect us, but also because we must think and respond in a God-glorifying way (John 17:14–15). An excellent way to describe how God has called the church to respond is in Matt 5:13–16:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
The church is called to be both “salt” and “light” amid difficult economic times.
The Church in Economic Difficulties as “Salt”
In difficult, contentious times such as these, our social discourse can deteriorate. Simple disagreements are amplified, and hyperbole becomes the order of the day. Anger and bitterness characterize the dialogue rather than respect and calm.
The church can be “salt” in such times. We can “season” any conversation and improve its flavor by being charitable, reasonable, whimsical, and wise (Proverbs 15:18, Romans 14:19, Ephesians 4:5).
Non-Christians understandably ask hard questions about something as catastrophic as a pandemic. If God is good, why did He allow this? If God is merciful, why doesn’t He stop it? Where is “your God” in all of this?
The “problem” of evil and suffering is something that both Christians and non-Christians have to grapple with, especially during times like these. And the church has reasonable, if not complete, answers to the tough questions presented by economic hardship.
The church gets its answers from God’s Word. We know that economic distress and the hardship, suffering, and loss that it brings are a part of the fallenness and brokenness that sin has brought into the world (Romans 8:19–23).
Christians also know that God sovereignly allows these things, though for reasons we don’t always understand (Isaiah 46:9–10). We believe that He will use the pandemic and everything caused by it for His glory according to His eternal purposes.
But why He has allowed this, and how He will use it, remain mysteries. The church doesn’t have all the answers, but it has the answer: Jesus Christ (John 14:6). We can use this as an opportunity to share (and live according to) the gospel in order to lead the lost to repentance and faith (Matthew 28:19).
The Church in Economic Difficulties as “Light”
The church can also shine the light of love in a dark world. Not only as those who speak the truth of God’s Word in love, but also as those whose love is shown in “deed and in truth” and not word only (1 John 3:18).
In contrast to the world’s tendency toward selfishness, greed, and hoarding, the church can put the bright light of sacrificial generosity on display, following the example of the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians 8:1–5.
As stewards of all that God has given to us, we can be “rich toward God” as we serve and give to others from grateful hearts (1 Timothy 6:18, Hebrews 13:16). We need to care for ourselves and our families (1 Timothy 5:8). But we also want to serve God and others rather than just ourselves (Galatians 5:13).
Another way that the church can be “light” is by ministering the truths and wisdom of God’s Word regarding money to others, both inside and outside the church (Proverbs 2:6).
During difficult economic times, interest in financial matters increases. It may be an excellent opportunity to serve others through stewardship classes, budget coaching, and help with other personal finance issues. Some will need career coaching and help to find work.
An economic crisis amplifies other personal and family problems—marital, relational, etc.—and it provides opportunities for gospel-care and counseling. Help can be given to those both inside and outside the church. Such a major crisis may cause those outside the church to realize their need for Christ. Churches may want to partner with other churches and ministries in their community to help address these needs.
Difficult economic times remind us that we are all dependent on God for all things. We need to trust Him completely. The church can model trust and dependence on God as we call out to Him in prayer for help in this time of need, putting our faith and trust in Him (Hebrews 4:16).
In short, in a struggling earthly economy, the church puts its hope in the “eternal economy” of God.