Americans are coming to Jesus in droves during the Coronavirus pandemic – praise the Lord! Even though we can’t meet in church buildings, online evangelism ministries report significant increases in ad clicks, Gospel presentations and professions of faith since COVID-19 began. Google searches for “fear” and “prayer” have skyrocketed, leading millions to web sites and resources about the hope found in Jesus Christ.
Faith in science and human intellect is being called into question by its inability to eradicate the virus or get ahead of its mutations. University professors teach there is no knowledge outside of what can be scientifically proven, but the pandemic undermines their arrogance by proving how much exists that we do not understand. College graduates, who considered themselves “enlightened”, now find themselves wondering whether their faith in man rather than God was misplaced.
As in the story of Jesus calming the storm, elements outside of our control can only be acted upon by an outside force. Jesus’ disciples did not realize He was a superior reality for which the wind and waves were simply no match. Today, non-believers who once viewed earth and humanity as the ultimate reality now face unemployment or illness – which no one in the world can rectify. They are forced to seek intervention by a superior power in this inferior realm.
The Church in America is also being revitalized by this crisis. Articles abound today echoing what the Lord has led me to write about for five years. Pastors wish they had better equipped members for the tremendous evangelistic and compassion opportunities presented by the pandemic. Church leaders are pledging to challenge congregants to take personal responsibility for the Great Commission in their neighborhoods rather than simply inviting people to church.
We pray that efforts to reform the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit is not just temporary in case disaster strikes again, but a permanent shift to glorify God in good times and bad. However, our concern is that church will resume business as usual once a vaccine is discovered. We also dread secular society inevitability touting the triumph of the human spirit when this is over – proudly proclaiming “together we did it!” How quickly we forget our helplessness and cries to God in the face of impending doom and then take full credit for a miraculous and narrow escape!
Instead of a return to life as we knew it before the pandemic, we want see millions more like Jeff and Sarah transformed eternally and giving all glory to God…
Jeff is a millennial who grew up in youth group. He’d profess to be a Christian but was put off by the self-righteousness and hypocrisy he saw in church as a kid. Now, he’s unimpressed with the surface-level performance orientation of services he’s attended – which as a CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) are few and far between. Jeff has no issue with Jesus but hates “religion”, seeing it as man-made conventions that have little to do with God. Therefore, besides prayer before meals on special occasions, his wife and children have limited exposure to faith and no indoctrination in church.
It wasn’t until COVID-19 that Jeff finally got in touch with GRACE (“God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense”). Before then, he bought the misconceptions that church is a place you go on Sundays and only those in pastoral ministry truly hear from God. He never realized that the Holy Spirit lives in every believer. Knowing about Jesus had never translated into knowing Jesus. But when he became ill with the virus, suddenly things changed – Christian friends reached out sincerely offering help and prayers. His own prayers became earnest and heartfelt – and the Lord answered. As he recovered, reflecting on the believing doctors and nurses who risked everything for his sake, he got a glimpse for the first time that there actually were authentic disciples in the world. He saw people who were ready to die, assured of their salvation – when Jeff certainly wasn’t.
Jeff committed his life to Christ and has a personal relationship with the Lord, not just a church. He is hearing from God as he studies Scripture and talks to Christian friends. Jeff now closely observes and humbly marvels at what God is doing all around him – and wonders how He missed it before. He feels responsible for leading others to Jesus and knows it’s a sin (of omission) to abdicate evangelism and discipleship to pastors. Jeff is searching for a church and has attended several online in the past few weeks. He won’t be satisfied with one that doesn’t help him make up for lost time with his kids – demanding a youth group that measures success in terms of disciple-making rather than engagement in activities.
Sarah is in her mid-20s, well-educated and just started a promising career in marketing for a restaurant chain. She had always been an overachiever in part because she wanted to please her neglectful and unsupportive dad. In her mind, her father was one of many good reasons to not believe in God. If her own dad didn’t love her, how could some abstract Being she’d never met? Intellectually it also never made sense that one religion had the inside track on the road to God. Her college had reinforced her belief in Scientism, which explained away the need or existence of a Creator. Sarah’s EGO was “Edging God Out”.
When the Coronavirus pandemic forced closure of her company’s restaurants, Sarah’s position was eliminated and she was laid off. Sarah was disillusioned and isolated. Safer-at-home orders left her with few social outlets and plenty of time to think. During one of her lonelier moments on Easter Sunday, she reconnected to a high school friend on social media. They exchanged numbers by DM, talked the next day and Sarah was shocked to learn her friend had become a Christian.
Sarah raised her patented list of objections, including how a loving God could allow a pandemic to occur and why Christianity was so exclusive. Hearing that 11 sane individuals would never “die for a lie” did seem like a convincing argument that Jesus actually rose at Easter – while the bones of those who founded the other world religions still remain in the ground. But the light went on when Sarah’s friend spoke of the love of her Heavenly Father, saying we can know that God loves us because the Father decided to have a 2nd child (mankind) knowing it would kill His first Son. That’s a decision none of us would have made and evidence of a love Sarah had never experienced with her earthly dad – a love she craved. As her friend persistently reached out to Sarah, answering her questions, Sarah’s faith in human intellect began to fade, watching the medical community’s and government’s inability to resolve the COVID-19 crisis, heal those dying and get her job back.
Like 95% of those who come to faith, Sarah was led to Christ by a personal relationship with an evangelistic friend. She wasn’t saved in a church. She couldn’t attend weekend services during the pandemic – at least not in person. Like nearly everyone else, the key to reaching Sarah was the availability of a Spirit-filled companion with whom she could confide her fears, worries and doubts. The Lord brought Sarah a friend to explain that she is the daughter of her Heavenly Father who has reserved a seat for her at His table. The challenge now becomes what church will take Sarah in and help her become all she can be in Christ. Or will she land in a church that quenches her newfound enthusiasm with attempts to engage her in loyalty-building activities?
It’s Your Turn…
Is the pre-pandemic “Church as We Know It” prepared to disciple the throngs of new post-pandemic Christians? Or will COVID-19 bring revitalization whereby church leaders become less building and event-centric, realizing they must do a better job of preparing members to lead their friends, family and neighbors to Jesus?