I (Joe) recently sat down with Jamie and asked him some questions about COVID-19. Specifically, about the Great Commission. How do we as a church – practically – stay faithful to the Great Commission in such an upside-down time?
Here’s my interview, edited for space (listen to the full version on our podcast, here):
JOE FONTENOT: What do you think we should be braced for right now? Should our mindset be temporary? Or settled in?
JAMIE DEW: I'm not a medical expert, but I think that we probably are going to be dealing with this for quite some time. If folks are out there expecting that two or three weeks from now somebody's going to flip a switch and we're all going back to normal, I think that that's naive.
(Editor’s note: a few hours after we talked, President Trump extended the Federal guidelines for social distancing to the end of April, adding an additional 30 days to the previous guideline.)
We're going to have to find new ways of picking our normals back up and our affairs back up, but to do so in very different ways.
JOE: Most of us are some kind of lockdown -- whether mandatory or just recommended. However, the Great Commission is still the Great Commission, right? But we can hardly go around knocoking on people's doors. So how should we be looking at discipleship and evangelism during this time?
JAMIE: We absolutely should not put stuff like discipleship and evangelism on pause. Those are the things we're mandated to. And it's not just that. From a pastoral side of this, and even from the psychological, emotional side, that's what people desperately need right now: the hope of Jesus Christ, the message that the church brings.
So I would say, whatever your context is, the church has to find a way to continue going and to continue doing what it does, even though we cannot physically gather in large groups.
And there was a little bit of resistance that first week when many were saying, "Oh, we're not going to do church online. We're going to do church face-to-face." Or you had some saying, "Well we just won't meet at all this week.”
Look, this is going to be here a while. Churches have to find a way to continue feeding their congregations spiritually and discipling them.
I've been encouraged to see churches doing this. The number of churches that figured out some way to have a service online the last week or two. I was encouraged by the innovation on display. I mean, you had some very different approaches being taken and, frankly, I think we should not be critical of any of these at this moment.
Let's try to figure all these out, and then over time I think we'll all just begin to gravitate naturally towards what works the best.
I saw everything from people recording services and then playing them back at the worship hour; churches live-streaming an actual service without a congregation present; or churches doing a drive-in church where all the families pulled into the parking lot and rolled their windows down, and the preacher stood up on the back of a pickup truck with speakers and preached to the congregation in the parking lot. That was kind of cool.
I don't want to be critical of any of those approaches. What I think the church has to do right now is figure out another way forward to continue discipling and feeding their people.
And I'm encouraged by how many of them are doing that, and the broad, diverse innovation that's taking place right now. That is exactly what the body of Christ should be doing, and I'm encouraged to see them doing it.
JOE: Those are the good things. But what are some areas to watch out for?
JAMIE: I hate to bring this up, but it's a real scenario. Churches have to figure out pathways forward for their people to give financially and support the church. Because we do need to. We need to continue the work of God's kingdom and fueling the work of the church.
Churches would be well served to figure out clear and easy pathways forward, whether that's mailing in your check, giving online through their website, or some other means. What you have to do is make it clear and make it easy for your folks, and then encourage and communicate with your folks on how to do it.
In addition, what I think the church needs to do is make sure we’re not exercising a perfect solution fallacy. However you are disseminating content and connecting, whether that's a sermon or a Sunday school class -- I mean, we had Sunday school classes doing Sunday school over Zoom, which is really cool to see – have some grace and a realization of our own limitations right now.
I have heard some people critiquing this and just simply saying, "It's not the same."
Well, obviously it's not the same, but that's a perfect solution fallacy, right? Because it's not a perfect solution -- a perfect replacement for what we would do face-to-face -- it's therefore not a value. And look, I would grant, it's not the same thing as when we can do it face-to-face, and I as much as anybody, gosh, I cannot wait. I mean, it brings a whole new meaning and depth to the gathering of the saints.
I cannot wait for that moment where we can all be together again and worship. And I think we should have a bit of an emotional build up to that moment. And when we go back to that moment, may we never lose it again. May we never again take for granted the fact that we get to be together on Sundays.
The only thing I add to it is pastors, staff, elders, deacons, Sunday school leaders, small group leaders, whoever your leadership structure is in your church, I'm speaking to all of them now, in addition to content dissemination, which has been really neat to see the church step up on that, in addition to that, make sure that you're still doing everything you can to be as incarnational as possible.
Pick up the telephone, call people, listen, talk to each other, FaceTime, Zoom with each other. When and where you can gather in small little groups, keeping the kinds of safety distances you need to, do it.
So find a way forward to the church is what I would say. And I'm encouraged to say that, thus far, that is what the church has given every indication it is doing.
JOE: Last two questions, which are different sides of the same coin: How should we be praying right now? And what should we be learning from this new world?
JAMIE: Let me start off with basic, obvious things we should be praying for.
First of all, pray for those who are sick. Pray for those who are well, that they would stay safe, and wise, and protected. Pray that God gets us through the crisis. Pray for all those things. And pray especially for the medical personnel, nurses, doctors that are on the front lines of all this. Tech, staff members of church, I mean, these people are in.
Now is the time where Christians can get angsty about science and scientists. Look, actually now's a time to be praying for scientists on this front, every single day. Man, we need to pray that they would have speed and wisdom, that they would be able to have insights sharper than normal and they'd be able to do it quicker than normal. We need to pray for their success right now in treatments, and vaccines, and other things like that.
So let's pray for those doctors and those scientists that are doing that work.
Spiritually speaking, for all of us and to your question, what should we pray we learn from this? Here's what I'm afraid we're doing, and if I've heard it once – and listen, I get this completely, I feel this and my children feel this -- but if I've heard it once, I've heard it probably a thousand times over this week, people have said, "I just want it to get back to normal."
And I would love to be able to just get in my car and go to a grocery store and not think twice about it too. I would love to be able to go to a sporting event, or a jazz festival, or Crawfest here, or something like that. I get it. We all want normal.
I'm afraid, though, that because that's what we most want, that that's what we're predominantly praying for.
And so that our prayers then become simply "God, get us back to normal."
Man, show me a crisis in the Bible where that was the prayer of God’s people. Yes, there’s the part about ‘God, get us through it.’ There's nothing wrong praying for that.
But I just wonder, is God in heaven, hearing the cries of people, "God, we just want to go back to normal"?
I mean, would that persuade Him to action?
I just have a hard time thinking we're going to see God move in our lives if all we're praying for is the return to normal.
There’s got to be more than that.
Before we sit down to pray, we should be asking the question: "God, what do you want me to learn right now? God, how am I supposed to be being reshaped right now?"
This is for me as much as it is for anyone else.
I mean, I know there are patterns in my life, from the “normal” that probably don't need to be normal anymore. I think about how things have been changed around me recently. I'm praying more now than I ever have. I feel more desperate for God than I ever have. I'm studying the Scriptures in ways that I haven't in a long, long time. I'm spending time with my children and my wife, having conversation and not just sitting there staring at my phone all the time. And we’re going on family walks. We're playing dominoes at night. We're sitting down together, we're talking. Our family devotion time is rich right now.
So maybe what we should be praying for during this time is that God would reshape us. Maybe what we should care more about is not whether or not we survive it and make it, but rather whether we come out the other side of this as the man or woman that God wants each of us to be.
And so I want to encourage people, please don't pray that God would just get us back to normal.
We should be asking God right now not to just get us through it, but that God would get us through so that we would be the people He's called us to be.
We, the church, are a part of God's providential plan for the unfolding of His eschatological kingdom. And I think what we ought to be thinking of right now predominantly is who we are in this moment and who we will be when this moment is over
And pray to that end that God would shape us accordingly.
You can listen to the full interview on our podcast, The Towel & Basin here.
JOE FONTENOT is the marketing strategist at NOBTS, as well as an alum.