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Ministry leadership during a pandemic

By Sam Doerksen

Who would have known that words like “self-isolate” and “social distancing” would become part of our vocabulary in the way that they have? It has not only become part of our vocabulary; we are living it out. I couldn’t have imagined that it would have felt wrong to shake a person’s hand while standing close enough to touch them. Even more so, that it would be a global experience!

How the world can change – and so quickly!

At any time in our lives, we need to know who to trust. The psalmist says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:1-2). We say we cannot know the future, and this has definitely been proven lately.

Loneliness in ministry

Under normal circumstances, ministry can be lonely. Even before the pandemic broke out, I heard pastors comment that they are lonely even while they work with many staff and congregants. We can be surrounded by people and yet still feel alone. Being in close proximity with others does not necessarily relieve loneliness.

Now that we are required to self-isolate and social distance, though, our loneliness is taken to another level. Part of this is due to the fact that we are working out of our homes or offices where we no longer have the freedom to interact with people face to face, as we’re accustomed to doing.

We can recognize that the Holy Spirit is with us. We can trust that God has not left us completely alone. Yet, it is easy to feel that we are the only ones doing ministry. However, we are not unique. There are times in history when ministry leaders have also felt this way.

One such example is found in the Old Testament. In the story of Elijah, after the victory he has showing that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel is the true God, he becomes afraid and runs for his life (1 Kings 19:3-4). He is alone. No one is with him. Later in the story he is by himself and physically alone: “I am the only one left.” He uses this line twice in 1 Kings 19 (verses 10 and 14). The Lord, however, tells him that there are actually “seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him” (verse 18). As the story continues, we see how God continues to use Elijah in the Kingdom work. Even in the times when he was physically alone, God was with him, speaking to him in a “gentle whisper.”

Rethinking how we gather

Ministry has been a challenge in the last number of months. Meeting together as believers on Sundays used to mean greeting one another with a handshake, perhaps a hug, and worshipping together. In my lifetime, we have always met together on Sunday mornings. With COVID-19, though, this has all been taken away. We are now hoping that we can meet in smaller groups even though there are still some restrictions. (I don’t know about you, but it just feels wrong to me!)

However, I am amazed at how many churches have pre-recorded or live-stream services, praise and worship singing, Scripture readings, and shared prayer requests through the prayer chains or prayer groups. You have been working hard!

I know that in our church our pastors do a great job of keeping the Sunday morning encouragements going, as well as sending a weekly letter to the people who attend our church. I don’t know of anyone who was taught in college or seminary what to do in this type of a global situation, but we are learning to adjust.

I am thankful to those of you who are continuing to share the Word of God through whatever means you can. After all, we all need to be encouraged. So a great big THANK YOU to you for your faithfulness! May God bless you richly. I am so glad for all the ministries that continue to make resources available to others, many at no cost.

What draws us together

In that sense, we are not alone. We are a team and what draws us together is the Lord. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is so important to us that we search for ways to encourage one another. I often thought of teamwork as in the local church team, or the churches that make up the conference, but this has taken it to another level!

The apostle Paul talks about this type of teamwork. Actually, the word he uses is partnership. This is a good word. He did this without the internet. Instead, he had messengers deliver the letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. Most likely he sent some instructions with the messenger for the people. It reminds us that whatever work we do, however we serve here, we do it in partnership. What a blessing! This partnership isn’t just with us at Focus on the Family Canada, but goes beyond these walls or “bandwidth” if you will. I am very glad for the means that we have to keep in touch electronically, but I am someone who is encouraged by relationships. People give me energy and I miss being together with other believers.

So what brings us together? The Gospel, the Good News, as I mentioned before.

Consider Philippians 1:1-7. Partnership in the Gospel. Families working with families. Paul, while in prison, chooses to look at the work that is being done as a gift of God. Paul uses the words “joy,” “thankful” and “partnership” all while he is in prison. Interesting, is it not? I would encourage you to take some time to read the book of Philippians – it’s only 4 chapters. Paul mentions that he (the Lord) who began a good work in you (in all of us) will bring it to completion.

Paul wants all to work together for the purpose of the Good News! Whether in prison, as he is when he wrote to the Philippians, whether wealthy or poor, regardless of social status, God works through us all for his honour and glory!

I would love to hear some the ways you are ministering to those you serve, along with how you have been encouraged in this time. Feel free to email me at [email protected] with those stories. Maybe there is a story that you would like others to hear or read. May we be encouraged – and encourage one another – that we are not alone.

I would encourage you to check out our website where we have numerous resources available for you and your family. You can also visit FocusOnTheFamily.ca/COVID-19 to find resources to help families in your church during this time of social distancing and self-isolation.

 

Sam Doerksen and his wife, Pauline, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.