Pastor’s coping strategies during lockdown

Dr. Oyewole Sarumi

The book of Hebrew as a book of faith teaches us many things that could be useful in times like this when the places of worship shut down, To persevere in faith and endure this much, we need to practice the instructions of the writer of Hebrew by: drawing near to God (Heb 10:22), holding unswervingly to the hope we profess (Heb 10:23), considering how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), and maintaining the fact that we can still gather [virtually] thus not forsaking the coming together of the brethren in the love of Christ (Heb.10:25)

In this regard, this pandemic should drive us closer to God, as He is the only One who knows its beginning and the eventual ending. As we draw nearer to Him, we develop unwavering and virile faith which gives us hope that tomorrow shall be alright as it is in God’s hand. He has the whole world in His care! This is the moment we ought to demonstrate the love of Christ and show care through good deeds to our members and non-members especially those who live close to our sanctuaries.

The government won’t stop any church that goes to her building once or twice in a week during the lockdown to distribute palliatives. We heard that some few did, but if the churches were discerning enough, this was an opportunity to minister to people around our churches through supplies of food and groceries once or twice a week during the lockdown. Imagine if most churches do this, it will be impossible for those living around the church not to choose your church if there’s need for them as they have already been evangelised during their transition period. It was a great opportunity for the churches to do what Jesus instructed in Matt.25:35 – for I was hungry, you gave me food…. I was thirsty, you gave me a drink….

I recognized the fact the most of the church branches are not financially buoyant, but this is the time for the HQ church that always collect money from the branches to either send money down to them, or send food and groceries to the branches for distribution once or twice weekly throughout the period of lockdown. If the churches can repent, it can still be done because the issues of multiple gathering are not visible for now if we are looking at precedence of past pandemics.

The lockdown for churches is over 21 days already, and it is still not clear when the churches, schools and other places where large people gathered will receive government green light. We are not ceasing to pray to God for mercies in such an awkward moment in a century, and in our life time. Indeed, this too shall pass, but before that happens, has the church responded well and enough during this pandemic? Has the church shown leadership – giving hope and needed relief to people? Has the church seized the singular opportunity during this lockdown to evangelise using Mat.25:35-45 as a guidepost? There were spurts and struts of these, but they were not coordinated and pinpointed to fire at the target. There was too much soliloquy on why the government should close religious places, rather than condescended to fully understand the import of the epidemiology of a pandemic, we tend to scratch it on the surface and use spiritually coated words to confuse the already fearful congregants who take recluse in their homes waiting for the churches to show up.

Pastor’s strategies during lock-down

church in lock-down season

The following are some strategies that the churches can deploy depending some parameters such as church context, strength of the congregation and the demography of the church members as the case may be:

  • Split your members into groups of 12-15 and assign a leader to each group. These leaders may be your ministers, deacons, elders, associate pastors or other senior church workers and other spiritually sound members.
  • The pastor meets with all the chosen leaders once a week before they meet their members.
  • Then all leaders must connect with group members at least once a week as they are serving as the point of contact between the congregants and the local church.
  • All the leaders can connect using technology and via the many social media apps like FB, WhatsApp or text messages, voice or video modes available.
  • All leaders give necessary feedback to the pastor for follow up with those cases which need their direct attention.
  • Pastor can teach/preach twice a week to their members using any of the SM platform convenient to their members. This must be agreed first to avoid confusion.
  • Keeping the local congregation updated and informed using SMS’s, via the WhatsApp chat groups or podcasts. These, if done judicially, will congregants a sense of community.
  • Post short encouraging messages either audio, video or podcasts. There are many media platforms which can do this. Messages should be a balance between spiritual and practical. These are helpful – the sheep need to hear the shepherd’s voice (and, if possible, see him).
  • Provide links to sermons or other resources which people could use when they want to.
  • Call congregants to pray for them or just to chat – be real, be human, be available.
  • Some apps like WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. allow for conference calls. These are with or without video capability. A great way for people to connect, pray together and encourage each other.
  • Organise virtual services, prayer meetings, Bible Studies, forums, discussion groups, etc. – it is preferable to be live or real-time for impact.
  • Offer practical help and hints for families to manage this time together. This always seems better coming from their spiritual leader, rather than from one of the family.
  • Throw out challenges for people to read or study the Bible, memorise scripture, write sketches or plays, create games, etc. and send prizes with recharge cards for phone
  • Recommend a selection of books to read, and send to them online, and do Q/A and discussion groups on anyone. This will improve bonding, cooperatism and bonding.
  • Keep an online presence. While this has benefits for your congregants, it also helps to keep you occupied and busy – thus fulfilling your shepherding role.
  • Pastors to make contacts with the ‘haves’ in the church to contribute so that the church can buy food stuff and groceries for distribution to church members and people in the church community.
  • If your church headquarters can be magnanimous [as already stated above] at this time to send certain amount of money/food/groceries to the weak branches as a reachout palliatives for distribution within 500m radius of the church locality, it will go a long way to herald the church as a caring institution, while drawing some hearts to Christ.

In the final analysis, someone said that apostle Paul used the technology of his day, i.e. letter-writing to shepherd the churches he planted and also to mentor pastors while he was in “lockdown”, i.e. prison. In spite of this disadvantage, he communicated and pastored effectively his people effectively. We learnt that the word Crisis is in Chinese language contain two distinct words – Danger and Opportunity. Hence, crisis is not just a change agent, it is an opportunity to pivot, scale our activities and make it better, so it can go farther that we can!

If we keep depending on God, He will baptize us with fresh ideas as we connect genuinely with our people and non-members as this crisis is teaching us something – be your brothers keepers.

It seems the idea of church without walls that we started talking about when in theological school years ago has suddenly come upon us, and we cannot continue to reject this future as this pandemic has completely change the old way, and it must give way to a new way of the post COVID era. The Wall-less Church.

Behold the Lord comes quickly! Blessings

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