Current Events

Mission in the Age of the Coronavirus

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This week the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 virus (commonly called the Coronavirus) is officially a pandemic. Over 100,000 people have been infected worldwide, and over 4,000 people have lost their lives to this disease. Here in the United States, we have over 1,000 cases of the virus. The stock market has tumbled. The hospitality industry is cratering. Our government is rushing to contain the virus and manage this crisis.

Here in New York City, where I live, we have over 50 documented cases of the Coronavirus. The National Guard has been mobilized to New Rochelle, a suburb just north of the city. Two public schools temporarily closed this morning. The sidewalks have a little less foot traffic, and the subways have seemed eerily empty.

“God is the sovereign King, and he is in control. There’s no need to panic because Jesus is alive.”

Amid a pandemic, what are Christians to do? More specifically, how does this affect our public witness? I don’t have all the answers, especially when it comes to the scientific and medical issues. I’m deferring to local experts, who are updating New Yorkers on a regular basis. But I do know that our mission is still to bear witness to the lordship of Christ – even in the age of Coronavirus.

remembering the truth

I’m urging our church to remember three truths. First, God is the sovereign King, and he is in control. There’s no need to panic because Jesus is alive. Second, we must take care of one another. Rodney Stark notes that the Christians in the Roman Empire had higher survivability rates when the plague struck, in part because they cared for one another.[1] Third, we must care for our neighbors.

It’s this last point that might be the most difficult. We instinctively care for our own. As a husband and a father of three young children (with one more on the way), I understand that instinct. But it’s this idea of caring for our neighbors that is central to our mission.

Jesus famously told us to love God, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). If we love ourselves well during a pandemic, we will take precautionary steps. We will wash our hands. We will sanitize surfaces. We might work from home.

loving our neighbors

What about loving others in the age of Coronavirus? How can we help our neighbors, many of whom are unsettled and fearful at this moment? Some are nervous because their retirement has just been postponed due to market losses. Some are fearful because they have an underlying condition that puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus.

I’m convinced that Christians cannot turn inward in this moment. Now, more than ever, our neighbors need us. This is going to require creative approaches to mission. Perhaps we can give away mass amounts of sanitizer. Perhaps we can deliver groceries to the vulnerable.

Last night our church sponsored an art event. It was originally designed to build community around the arts. With the crisis unfolding around us, the event took on new meaning. We saw people who did not know one another come out in public and discover community. When you self-isolate or self-quarantine, you begin to crave genuine human interaction. That’s the opportunity before the Church. We can reach out to our hurting, vulnerable, and lonely neighbors.

crisis and opportunity

I don’t know what the future holds. I know there are risks in all of life, and there are risks involved in living on mission. That is why the history of missions is replete with stories of those who never came home or who buried their families on the mission field. What I do know is this: Jesus promised to be with us when we live a life that bears witness to him (Matt 28:19-20).

In the age of Coronavirus, our neighbors are looking for hope. Let’s show them that we’re not afraid, because we serve a God who used to be dead but is now alive. Our neighbors are also looking for community. So, let’s show them a church that lives like a family by taking care of its members. Finally, our neighbors want to know that someone cares about them. God certainly cares for them, and we can demonstrate that with our actions on their behalf.

The Coronavirus presents us with both a crisis and an opportunity. It is a temporal crisis that will no doubt pass. It is an opportunity to bear faithful witness to the lordship of Christ, which has eternal implications. It will require both courage and creativity to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel amid a pandemic. But that’s exactly what we’re called to do. Even (especially) in the age of Coronavirus.

[1] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 73-94.

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Stephen Stallard

Stephen Stallard is the Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He served in NYC for eight years, where he planted a multicultural church. Stephen earned a PhD in Applied Theology from SEBTS. Trained as a missiologist, he enjoys exploring a rich diversity of cultures. Stephen is married to Sonya, the love of his life. They have four children: one girl and three boys. Stephen's hobby is making hot sauce.

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