CENTRAL CHRISTIAN CHURCH
RESPONDING TO COVID-19
Like many churches across the nation, with the onset of COVID-19, public, in-person worship came to a screeching halt at Central in mid-March of this year. Our gracious God knew what was coming and had prepared our church to do online worship and ministry with excellence. He had arranged the technology, the equipment and a gifted staff to make it happen. Overnight we went from being one church in four locations to being one church in hundreds of living rooms. God is amazing!
Immediately our compassion and creativity kicked into gear to feed the hungry in our area, to support local small business, to minister to those in our region, who serve on the front-line of the pandemic. Once again, when God is looking for a church with a huge heart for generosity, Central Christian steps to the front of the line.
We found new ways to extend excellent ministry to families—parents, children, youth.
We were determined to keep our weekend worship experience at the highest level to exalt Jesus, to engage growing believers and to reach out to those far from God.
To show how clueless your pastor is: I wanted public worship happening again on Palm Sunday. As it turned out, on Palm Sunday I was at a Milwaukee hospital in emergency surgery. Our church was doing just fine online without me.
Pastors and congregations across our nation have been longing for in-person worship. Sadly, our immediate area has been hard hit by the virus. But that’s allowed me time to sit back and observe churches in other areas going public with their weekend services.
One lesson I’ve learned is: JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT SOMETHING WITH ALL YOUR HEART DOESN’T MEAN IT’S THE BEST THING TO DO!
Some churches on the forefront of re-opening had to close their doors, suspending services indefinitely, because of virus-spread and unfortunate deaths. One example of many I’ve seen is a church in Arkansas. Among the 92 attendees at a weekend service were two people, who unknowingly carried the virus. After that public worship, 35 people tested positive for Covid-19. 3 died. This church outbreak infected another 26 people in the community. 2 died.
Thankfully, this hasn’t been the case with other churches that are beginning to re-open.
With current restrictions in our city, we are still in wait-and-see mode at Central. I’ve been going before the Lord daily to find His direction. For some people this is a political issue. Personally, I don’t have that freedom. For me, it can only be a prayerful issue.
The daunting challenge of planning for in-person worship is NOT a competition between fear and faith. It is a healthy balance of religious freedom and moral responsibility. We want our church is to be as safe as possible for as many people as possible, especially for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) (ie. children and the most vulnerable). One of Central’s non-negotiable core values is: Children and teens are worth our best effort.
There are those who advocate, “Let us come back to church. We understand the risk to ourselves.” That is the opposite of the Christian faith, modeled by our Jesus, which first sacrifices personal desire, unwilling to put others at risk (Hebrews 12:2)
I’ve heard the complaint, “It’s been too long. I’m tired of waiting to get back to church.”
But the Bible indicates that waiting is an essential part of our faith. How long did Noah wait for what God promised? How long did Abraham wait for a son? How long did Joseph wait in slavery and then in prison? How long did David wait, in hiding and on the run, to be made king? How long did God’s people wait in exile? How long did Jesus wait, before coming from glory to be our crucified Savior and risen Lord? God Himself is our example for why we wait: “God is waiting, for the good reason that He is not willing that any should perish.” I think it wise to align ourselves with our God.
Consider the Holy Spirit-breathed benefits of waiting: “The LORD is good to those who wait.” (Lam. 3:25) “For Your salvation I wait, O LORD!” (Gen. 49:18) “None who wait for You shall be put to shame.” (Psalm 25:3) “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31)
So, waiting on the LORD to lead us is a good thing. But how do we find His direction?
When everything is in constant change—political posturing, government guidelines, local conditions, future projections—we will make decisions for Central based on Central’s unchanging vision and mission.
Our vision is: “To transform the state-line area into a Christ-like community!” We look forward to re-gathering for public worship, when it’s safe to do so. But presently, our church online is touching so many more new lives with the transformative power of the Gospel—Christ crucified for our sins and risen from the dead. Even when re-gathering safely is possible, we are committed to continuing our church online ministry.
Our mission is: “To know Jesus and to make Him known!” Again, our online church is providing more discipleship resources, biblical content and spiritual practices than ever before, introducing Jesus to those who don’t know Him; renewing the mind (Romans 12:2) and forming the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16) in those who do.
To provide light for the path into the future He’s prepared for Central Christian, the Lord gave me this: “Be glad for all God’s planning for you. Be patient in trouble. Be prayerful always.” (Romans 12:12)
This brief text had such a huge impact on me, I decided to dig deeper. The Greek word for “glad” (chairo) means “to thrive with exceeding gladness.” Reading the verse from this perspective, reminds me of our core value: Excellence honors God and inspires people!
The Greek word for “patient” (hupomeno) means “to persevere bravely and calmly.” As I write this document, the city of Beloit restricts public gatherings to 25 people. If we did open our church today and all members wanted to attend, we’d have to host 70 services each weekend. So, right now we persevere bravely and calmly in this time of trouble.
The third command in the text—“be prayerful always”—is vitally important right now. It is my sense that our good God is preparing a new future for Central Christian. When we do step back into our building, we don’t want to step backward into the past. As good as yesterday might have been (and it was awesome at Central), God is crafting an even better tomorrow (“No man has ever seen, heard or even imagined the wonderful things God has prepared for those who love Him!” I Corinthians 2:9). So, the main thing right now is to stay flexible and be ready to pivot into the new normal God is designing.
Until restrictions (only 25 people present, submitting to virus screening, wearing masks, social distancing) are lifted for public gatherings, I have more a sense of what we shouldn’t do than what we will do.
However, I will continue to look to Jesus. He is large-and-in-charge, who alone knows the future and what’s best for His Bride, the Church. I will continue to open my heart to His voice by opening my mind to His Word. I will continue to study current trends and eternal truths. I will continue to believe that the church of Jesus will prevail. I will stay committed to what makes Central a church, overflowing with the rich favor of God.
I am fully confident Central Christian will re-emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. My dream is that we will do public worship again, when we can do it with as many people as possible in every service; when everyone of every condition is safe to attend; when there is excellent and safe children’s ministry and students’ ministry; when there is an excellent and safe weekend worship experience with congregational singing—no masks and no social distancing. Until such a time as this is possible, let us be glad for all God has planned for us; being patient in trouble and being prayerful always.
With the uncertainty created by this week’s political battles over Wisconsin’s response to Covid19, we wanted to communicate our plans as best we can. We will continue to seek the advice of our county health department as well as professionals in the medical community with regard to any thoughts of reopening in-person worship. We have no plan to do so in the near future, but will continually reevaluate as conditions evolve. Please take a few minutes to listen to our lead pastor, David, as he reminds us who we are, how we treat the most vulnerable, and how our leadership will make decisions in these uncertain times.