While there will certainly be adverse consequences from this current crisis, elders have opportunities to shepherd the flock of God through them and out to greener pastures. If the elders are prayerful, wise, and diligent in caring for the flock and the needs of the whole congregation, the local church may actually come out on the other side stronger and more committed than before.
The past three weeks have proved to be an unprecedented time of uncertainty for people throughout the world. Concern over the impact of the coronavirus has seized medical professionals, the elderly, those with weak immune systems, business owners, financial institutions, non-profit organizations, and—most significantly—local churches.
This past Sunday, pastors and staff members of churches worldwide livestreamed sermons and services so that the members could join in to worship in their homes. In light of our current circumstances, a number of important questions about the nature of the church have surfaced. For instance, what authority can the state exercise over the church? Is it appropriate for churches to voluntarily cancel in-person worship? What are the best ways for pastors to stay connected with and care for their members while they are sequestered in their homes? These, and other related subjects, are important for the simple reason that the church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ and should always be seeking to do what is pleasing to Him. However, there is another significant issue we must begin addressing—namely, how can the church best prepare for the time when the coronavirus is past?
The Church Will Continue
Before I provide some specific ways that the church can grow back into its worship and work, we need to know why the church will absolutely continue in the world. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church (Matt. 16:18). As long as there is summer and winter, day and night, seedtime and harvest, there will be a church in the world. No pestilence will destroy the fruit of the substitutionary, sin-atoning labor of the righteous soul of Jesus. Jesus died to purchase a people for Himself out of every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev. 7:9). Jesus shed His blood to redeem a bride for Himself. Until He comes again, there will be a church on earth. As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will” (WCF 25.5).
As the Chief Shepherd of His church (cf. John 10:11, 14; 1 Pet. 5:4), Jesus has entrusted the care of His sheep to under-shepherds He has appointed. When the Apostle Paul charged the Ephesian elders before departing from them, he said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This means that pastors must take care of the flock in this time of uncertainly with the utmost diligence and wisdom. There will be wolves seeking to attack the members of local church online and through various other channels during this time of separation. Good under-shepherds must guide their congregations with clear and loving communication so that members of local churches do not fall by the way on account of this trial. Here are a few things keep in mind: