The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted the pace of people's lives. In order to prevent the pandemic from spreading further, churches across the country are temporarily suspending public gatherings. Routine church ministries like worship services have been affected by the change. I notice that churches everywhere are supporting believers through live streaming, audio recordings, WeChat group texts and official accounts, and have gradually begun to adapt to online pastoral care with no idea of when the outbreak will end.
At the beginning of the disaster, my church was waiting and observing the changes, expecting the outbreak to end soon. The second week of February 2020, many believers started to ask for information about the possible resumption of church services. Given the current situation, some young believers suggested that churches broadcast webcast worship services. With this demand from the congregation, our ministers began to explore ways to deliver webcast services.
For the first online service, we had three rehearsals before broadcasting. Still, we encountered some technology problems during the service. The conclusion we made from the experience was: the ancient Chinese proverb is correct; "Learn until the last day of your life"! During live services, in order to prevent the infiltration of cult groups, we require believers to log in the chat rooms with their real names. There are staff who specialize in identifying and screening attendants to protect the flock as much as possible.
Moreover, my church has strengthened its WeChat public account with enriched content and a daily update, a ministry carried out by assigned pastors of the church. Even if it is quoting information from other websites, the information needs to be scrutinized by two or three pastors' before it can be passed on to the congregation.
Because there are only six full-time ministers in my church, it is impossible to serve and meet the needs of all the believers. The church has played a role in strengthening volunteers according to the location of believers. Their locations are divided into areas with each area being assigned a volunteer who is more experienced in the faith, more knowledgeable in doctrine and quite free. They work as links between believers and church. The volunteers are fulfilling their roles, contacting believers in their area by telephone so they can understand their situations, comfort and support them, and pray for them on the phone to build their confidence.
Finally, it is important to do a good job of family ministry (e.g. family services, prayers or bible study etc.). If your whole family believes in the Lord, we suggest such families do a good job in this ministry. We also encourage believers who get on well with each other to form a WeChat group of three or five in which you may have regular Bible reading, prayers, reciting Bible verses or other activities. So in this way there will be daily reading cells, a recitation plan, regular prayer arrangements and personal spiritual experience sharing.
Many believers have now learned that the verses they usually just scan over have drawn their closer attention. By meditating on those verses that are often taken for granted, they have made new discoveries. The verses which were not well understood are now getting clearer in meaning. The verses that used to be easily forgotten are now still remembered even till the next two or three days. Thank God. The Apostle Paul said it well: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
However well the network pastoral ministry does, it is still only a stopgap measure, a second choice, as it lacks the sense of rituality, sacredness and participation available from an on-site worship experience. Pray for God's mercy for this generation to let the pandemic pass as soon as possible, and let us return to normal living again. Read again the Psalm: "How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (Psalm 84:1-2)
(Note: the author is a non-ordained pastor from a church in Jiangsu.)
- Translated by Charlie Li