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Exposed: COVID’s Unexpected Spiritual Impact
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:13
“COVID is exposing our cracks!” This was the exasperated confession of the friend I sat with at Starbucks. “The matters left undone, unsaid, swept under the rug or broken, are now revisiting us with a vengeance.” (my summation) It was gut-wrenching to watch my friend share his roiling feelings and deep concern over the future of his faith community. There was sin and COVID was exposing it. “And, not only that,” he stammered, “COVID is causing these cracks to erode our mission and ministry.” (again, my summation)
The poignant and salient truth is that COVID is not the root cause of any of our sins or ministry weaknesses. The pandemic simply has exerted such pressures and stress on our cracks, they can no longer be covered up or ignored. The dilemma is now acutely divisive for many churches and other Christian organizations.
Sin, Mission and Ministry
Although this revelation has the real possibility of causing disillusion and destruction, there is a significant potential for repentance, healing and renewal. Regarding sin, for example, COVID is providing the church with the space to repent of sin, seek forgiveness, restore relational wholeness and re-empower kingdom work. Consider Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses them finds mercy.” Corporately, the church which conceals its sins does not prosper, but when it confesses them it finds mercy (healing, renewal, blessing). Regarding weaknesses of mission and ministry, COVID is providing a space for in-depth assessment and re-tooling. In his book Canoeing The Mountains, Tod Bolsinger writes, “We are called to adapt to a changing world because we are called to reach that changing world.” Bolsinger wrote these words in a world without COVID-19.
God is sovereign. God has permitted COVID. Cracks in the church’s life and ministry have been exposed. What should we make of this? I am curiously drawn to the words of Paul written to the church in Ephesus: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11) Here’s my rumination: has the church failed to expose the “deeds of darkness” which COVID is now doing? Have we allowed those things that displease God to metastasize in our ranks? Are we the “sleeper” Paul speaks of in a later verse – the one who fails to bring to light to that which is of the dark? (Ephesians 5:14)
Think on this: is COVID serving divine purposes we haven’t envisioned (Isaiah 55:8)? Is COVID’s exposure of things we have attempted to ignore or camouflage similar to the prophetic voices of ancient Israel? I am drawn to Isaiah’s words about the sinful practices Israel was seeking to minimize: “What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their evil deeds in the dark! ‘The Lord can’t see us,’ they say. ‘He doesn’t know what’s going on!’” Isaiah 29:15
How to Respond
Frankly, you need to discern this with your specific community. If you do find yourself exposing cracks of one form or another, what is the way forward? I humbly submit that any response must be setting and people specific. Respectfully, I suggest:
- Do an honest and thorough reality check. Where are the cracks (sin or mission and ministry) and what people are connected to them? You can’t restore something if you don’t know what and who is broken.
- Appeal to the Holy Spirit for insight, wisdom and discernment.
- Initiate any change beginning with yourself, then your leadership, then your faith community.
- On the matter of sin, provide spaces for confession, repentance, forgiveness and healing.
- On the matter of mission and ministry, provide space for assessment, a paradigm shift and adaptation.
- Point to a new reality, a new future.
The exposure of sin or weaknesses is weighty and often painful. One can feel like a failure, experience shame and consider themselves defeated. We can’t forget about the power of grace, resurrection and hope that are ours in Christ. In any mess, we remain the beloved of God! It is wise to remember the counsel of Scripture:
- “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Romans 8:26
- “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Romans 8:28
- “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.” Romans 8:37
- “[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Romans 8:39
At the end of the day, be encouraged. God’s got you and this. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
God and Rural Saskatchewan
As has been the routine for the past few years, I found myself helping a local farmer with this year’s harvest. Because of some untimely circumstances, he needed a lot of extra help. It just so happened that I knew of someone who would fill the need. There is this gentleman that we had come to know since we’ve been in the area and he was happy to be of help. His family is acquainted with our church and has been attending occasionally. The first day we went to the field together, the farmer we were helping asked me to assist the newly acquired help to familiarize himself with the machinery and get him started in the field. While we were riding in the combine, I asked him if he had any questions (regarding the operation of his machine). He looked at me and asked, “Where do I find God?”
It seems that even when we are trying to navigate our way through unprecedented pandemic times, God has a way of drawing people to Himself, allowing space for spiritual conversations. Our COVID lockdown has allowed us new ways of continuing the mission of the church. We are reaching those who don’t come into our church building, in ways we haven’t before. Our online ministry has created a safe environment for unchurched hearts to be touched. God is working in rural Saskatchewan, even in the cab of a combine! What more can I say! Despite all the challenges that a small community and a small church faces during COVID, God is moving, and hearts are being impacted with the Gospel.
Rev. Rick Hawreschuk
Woodrow Gospel Chapel