Erick Sanders Pastor, Bible Baptist Church, Everett, Washington
The first case of the virus in America was diagnosed when a 35-year-old man on January 19, 2020, entered the emergency room at Providence Hospital in the town were I live and serve. I have ministered dozens of times in that ER over the years. At that point, there was little concern for public safety and future spread of the virus. However, approximately a month later just 15 miles from our church’s doorstep there were several new cases at the “Life Care Center,” a nursing home southeast of us. I remember hearing the news and getting a lump in my throat.
As the cases began to accumulate in our state, I was faced with some tough decisions: Do we assemble, or do we stay home? Do we take everything online, or do we simply offer key services and cancel others? Do we go ahead with our Missions Conference that was scheduled for March 13-15? At this point there were not many churches and ministries thinking about these issues. We were in new territory and I found it overwhelming and extremely difficult to navigate.
On Sunday, March 8th, we only met for morning worship at 11am. That Wednesday I received a call from one of our members sharing that he tested positive for Covid-19. To complicate the situation, his wife worked in toddler nursery that previous Sunday. My mind began to race: what if she was infected and had now spread the virus to our toddlers! What if the new epicenter becomes Bible Baptist Church!
We had a positive case in our church, church families could possibly be exposed, and our Missions Conference was due to begin on March 13. With all of these situations swirling, decisions needed to be made.
So, let me share with you the journey of my decision-making process, so that, if you face similar issues, you can learn from my mistakes and successes.
- Seek the Lord. I know I am running the risk of sounding cliché. However, it is cliché for a reason…. prayer should be the first activity before any other planning or preparation. Prayer is the preparation for the path ahead.
- Seek wise counsel. In our situation, I reached out to the following people: A lead doctor in our church, a police officer, and a good friend that is on the Snohomish County Emergency Task Force. I presented them with the options I was praying through and they gave the pros and cons of each decision. This step was invaluable, so don’t skip it. These men gave insight and knowledge I didn’t possess.
- Model biblical submission. When I needed to make decisions about meeting or not, there was a lot of chatter from pastors about the government “interfering” in religious freedoms. I chose a different take. I wanted to use this time to help our church understand biblical submission to authority whether those authorities were civil, spiritual, or familial.
- Do what is best for YOUR church. We must be careful in looking at what every other church is doing, and not give consideration to the people God has called us to pastor.
- Genuinely care for your church family. I believe we must be careful that in the frenzy of reformatting we don’t miss the mark. Ministry is about people not programs. Ministry is about lives not livestream. Going back to the man in our church that is diagnosed with the virus, at that time he was scared, worried, and in need of hope. In those moments, we must choose human hearts over virtual views.God has given us a unique opportunity to minister. Let me encourage you to pray, serve and sacrifice for souls in this great time of need. Our world is looking for hope… we have it, so let’s share it!