April 4, 2020

[Church services during coronavirus pandemic: To hold, or not to hold] - Paul Sungro Lee

Dear Pastor,

It is my prayer everyday that God will keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy in this worldwide pandemic of COVID-19. As this contagion has affected many around the world, I thought you’d need some manual to help guide your church members accordingly in this challenging season. Please visit here for the manual. Check if you can apply some of the contents of this manual to your church. If anything is applicable to your own setting, please feel free to use them as it was freely distributed by the Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Otherwise, you will need to come up with your own wise logistics about how to deal with the situation in the church God has put under your care.

In the 16th century when a deadly plague hit Europe, Martin Luther, a protestant reformer, wrote a letter to his friend about how church should behave in such complicated situations. I believe Luther’s principle still rings true today. Reading through his letter might be helpful for us to act balanced at this critical juncture. He wrote:
“What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely … See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God." (Luther, 1989)
Yes, this pandemic is a spiritual issue but also regards the physical dimension. I do not deem it healthy to hyper-spiritualize everything. Surely, we must reach out to those in need as much as we can but with necessary caution. May the Lord give you wisdom and love both as a godly leader of God’s Church and a good citizen of the community. Even if a pastor calls for a temporary closure of services or momentarily modifies into house church meetings in smaller units to honor social distancing policy, it is not a cowardly act. It may even be considered more courageous for a pastor to make a painful decision of temporary cease of Sunday assemblies despite knowing the expected drop of tithes and offerings. I pray for God to give each of you a gentle shepherding heart who looks after both the spiritual and physical welfare of church members.

In closing, I want to assure you that it is not the coronavirus, which will bring the world to an end. Our eternal Word of God apparently reminds us that only when the gospel of this kingdom is preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, then the end shall come (Matthew 24:14). Church is still the salt and light of the world even amid pandemic. Let us never forget who we are called to be in this challenging season.

With caring prayers,

Rev. Paul Lee (& Eunice)
International Director, EAPTC

* This letter is primarily addressed to provide strategic direction and coaching to church leaders affiliated with the Evangelical Alliance for Preacher Training/Commission (EAPTC). However, other churches that find this guideline helpful are welcome to freely use it.

Works Cited:
Luther, M. (1989). Whether one may flee from a deadly plague. Luther’s Works: Devotional Writings, 2(43), 113-38.