SIM UK director Steve Smith reflects on the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis to our mission through the lens of how the gospel first came to the early Christians and went out across their whole region.
MINISTRIES WILL EVOLVE
As every nation of the world responds to COVID-19, churches and mission teams also need to respond to our times with confidence and resourcefulness in faithful witness to the hope we have in Christ. The chaos surrounding coronavirus has forced all of life – businesses, schools, families and churches – to adapt to a ‘new normal’ and varying degrees of enforced lockdown. Wherever we are in the world, the communities we serve and the ministries we undertake are in uncharted waters.
Colossians 4:2-4 One of the most striking lessons from Paul’s imprisonment is how he still sought to get the gospel out to people and to make the message known to people with clarity – even under house arrest.
To be effective and relevant, our ministries, priorities and structures must be subject to ongoing evaluation and understand the times we are in – let’s use all the social and digital channels available to share the gospel hope and learn how to love each other in new ways.
PRESENT BY PRAYER
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 6, 8– The Holy Spirit showed extraordinary power in the hearts of the early Thessalonian believers through seemingly ordinary means.
As Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, the Spirit was at work in their hearts to give them conviction that the gospel is true. The way Paul prays for the church shows whose power is at work in their lives. Fill a heart with Christ’s teaching and passion for the lost, it will beat to a different drum to the world around us. This requires God to be essentially present, but not necessarily us.
Even from prison Paul persevered in prayer for believers and unbelievers alike and worked with renewed energy for the spread of the gospel and the strengthening of the church. He was convinced God is at work when people receive the gospel and when the message of faith goes out from them.
We don’t have to be physically present for this to take place – all it takes is the work of God’s Spirit through the message of the gospel. While we are wrenched from each other, let us give ourselves to prayer and expect great things from God.
TOGETHER IN CHRIST
Many individuals and families will be self-isolating together or alone during the peak of the pandemic. This provides a unique opportunity to stay close online or in-house – to build family identity and team togetherness in Christ and invest spiritually in our children, as well as in people around us.
For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. Colossians 2:5 show us that there is nowhere that God is not present, and the eternal purposes that he has realised in Christ continue to come about – even through the gravest of trials.
HEARTS OF HOPE
1 Peter 3:15 How we approach Christ in our hearts will shape how respond to our times. Jesus’ promises about his enduring presence go hand-in-hand with our involvement in the global spread of the gospel. He remains trustworthy in the eye of the storm, as much as by the calm of still waters.
In testing times, we need to give time to intentionally honour Christ in our homes, prepare ourselves to share gospel hope across barriers newly drawn, and learn to love people according to their changing needs. But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience.
This calls for great ingenuity. It’s important we do our best to minimise the spread of the virus and protect ourselves, our families and our communities. We also want to maximise the spread of gospel hope at this time of hopelessness for many who face real danger of disaster and death.
STRENGTH THROUGH WEAKNESS
In such a time as this, we are made more aware of our weaknesses than ever. This is just as true for a church-centred mission organisation as it is true of a local church on mission. God’s word is not in self-isolation. Jesus’ face radiates the light of the knowledge of God. Giving ourselves in sacrificial service – fragile as we are – this is the way of life Christ calls us to.
2 Corinthians 4:7-9 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
I pray that the love we show for the people around us will increase with knowledge and discernment – evaluating ministry priorities to best respond to our times with creativity and courage – offering fellowship online; volunteering our help for those in particular peril and repositioning resources to best serve people’s greatest need. In these and other ways, we must adapt not just what we do, but the way we do it, so that we take the best course of action to remain fruitful in Christ’s service.