Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, I had a moment where I felt sorry for myself. “I cannot believe this is happening to me, and to our church, at this time.” We had a nice head of steam coming out of Christmas and we were eager to see the Lord work during the spring season. I wondered what other pastor had ever dealt with this. Then God humbled me.
It dawned on me that I was, of course, not the only pastor who was dealing with this issue. However, it also became clear to me that I was not the only pastor of my church who had ever dealt with a major crisis. Our church has existed since 1855. First Baptist has been here for Gadsden and Etowah County for every significant crisis since before the Civil War. What an opportunity God has given us to be here for Gadsden today and to be better prepared for crises to come. As that clarity developed, I became more excited about the privilege God had given us to love and care for our community during this time of upheaval.
Caring for the Community’s Needs
During this crisis I have repeated two verses to our church almost every time I communicate with them: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and “… love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). The COVID-19 crisis has given the Lord’s church pronounced opportunities to love her neighbors. In particular, this season has highlighted the great economic needs that are present in our communities.
Each week, as we host a food distribution at our church, scores of cars come through the line for help feeding their families. Furthermore, we have had opportunities to show love to frontline workers in our community. It has been amazing to see how impactful small acts of kindness have been during this time.
It is a profound privilege to be able to serve and love our community through helping to meet their physical needs. It is an honor to do something as simple as providing a chicken sandwich for hospital workers. The question remains, however, how will this change our ministry moving forward? For me, at least, it has given me a desire to bolster our commitment to ministering to the city.
Caring for the Community’s Health
This crisis has also given our churches the opportunity to tangibly demonstrate our love for our neighbors by showing that we care about their health. While the decision to forgo gathering for weeks was an excruciating one, as time goes on it is my prayer that our communities will see that churches made that decision not only for our own members, but for them.
It is the responsibility of the Lord’s church to set a good example in faith and good works. Loving our community through prioritizing public health is a faithful way of setting that example. This must also be considered as churches begin to regather. I am sure there will be debates at many churches over what day services restart, whether we should wear a face mask to worship, whether we should sing, whether we should actually sit six feet apart, and more. While many churches will answer these questions differently, I would only suggest that we all remember that how we handle regathering is a public witness about how we value the public health of our cities. As we seek to be the aroma of Christ in our communities, that’s an important thought to consider.
Caring for the Community’s Souls
Often when I am interviewed or have a conversation with someone outside the church, I am confronted with a common question. Essentially, they ask, “What does your church do for the community?” I usually give a quick, lean answer detailing what they want to hear: feeding the hungry, supporting essential services, providing a dental clinic, and more. Then, I say, “But that is not the main way we serve our community. The most important thing we provide to Etowah County is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
There’s no way a church can love and serve her community better than through the faithful preaching and teaching of Christ’s gospel. Perhaps in a time where budgets are spread thin and volunteers are huddling at home your church cannot provide excellent social ministries. We may be stuck in our homes, but the Word of God is not bound (2 Timothy 2:9).
Perhaps you feel like your church is offering nothing to the community. If your pastor is so much as sending out a grainy iPhone video where he is faithfully preaching from his den, then your church is doing more for your community than the churches that offer everything but the gospel. All of the other things we do or care about emanate from our passion for the gospel.
During this season, the most important thing we have done or will do is care for the souls of our city. We do this by faithfully providing a witness to the resurrected Christ week in and week out. This propagates as our people carry that same gospel to their friends and neighbors. In this way, caring for our city looks today precisely the way it looked in 1855 and the way it looked for churches in 155. By God’s grace, our church will still be loving Gadsden by preaching the gospel, no matter what crises may come, in 2155 and beyond. And one day, when the King of the universe breaks the back of COVID-19 and every disease and sickness, this is the work that will matter most.
As we look beyond this crisis, we can be reminded that it is gospel work that matters most, that transcends every era or crisis, and that lasts the longest.