Lessons From My Last Lockdown

The following is an email one of our staff members shared with his team. It was a pastoral reminder about our role as church leaders during this unprecedented time, and I sorely needed it.
–Pastor J.D.

With the current restrictions in place due to the coronavirus, I’ve been thinking about the lessons I learned during a two-month period of lockdown during my time in Central Asia. The circumstances were different (political violence rather than viral pandemic), but there is a lot of overlap. As I prayed over our current circumstance, a few thoughts came to mind:

Boredom, Fear, and Uselessness

Enduring a long weekend at home because of a blizzard is annoying and makes people stir crazy. But we’re settling in for something different here. The length of time these restrictions will continue, conservatively, is being measured in weeks. That length of time, combined with the cause of these restrictions, is likely to lead you to an odd combination of boredom and fear. I know, because I remember this uncomfortable combination well. For long stretches of time, I would be in our house, bored out of my mind, reading the longest books I had just because I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the house for days. But at random intervals, I would be reminded of why I was homebound, and I would be overwhelmed with a sense of terror.

As our lockdown continued, I felt a growing sense of uselessness as well. We had left everything to take the gospel to an unreached people group, but we couldn’t even leave our homes. Never in my life have I felt so powerless. All around me there was enormous need, but I couldn’t fix it.

What helped me during this time was a sermon by our very own Pastor J.D., who (without knowing my boredom, fear, and sense of uselessness), preached about Lot in Sodom. Even Lot’s very presence in the city saved that city from destruction for years. If nothing else, J.D. said, even if we are literally stuck in our beds, we can always pray. That message gave me hope in a very dark time. And it’s one that we need to believe today as well.

Church will not look how we expect for a long time. And we may alternate between periods of boredom and moments of panic. This is normal. But even in these strange times, God has something for us: We are not useless, even if all we do is pray.

Love God, Love Others

This pandemic will require a fundamental shift in how we do ministry—for weeks and possibly months. It is already forcing us to ask, “What is absolutely essential for the church to be the church?” As I have asked myself that question, our original mission statement has come to mind often: Love God, love others, love our world. Whatever we are able to do in the coming weeks, it must be centered around love for God and love for neighbor.

As a staff team, we will play a key role in reminding our people of what truly matters. Most of us have never stepped into a moment like the one we are currently experiencing. But while this situation is new, our calling has not changed. The gospel is still the most important message in the world, and we are still called upon to tell it. It is a gospel of love and faith, precisely what we need when society is filled with fear and uncertainty.

Beauty in the Ashes

We will all, rightly, be re-calibrating our expectations for what is essential and non-essential for work. In these unprecedented times, urgent matters really do matter. But I want to encourage everyone not to forsake the important work that God may want to do in you and through you in the more secret moments. Even now, there are worthy pursuits that are not related to this virus. For instance, during the darkest hours of World War II, C.S. Lewis was delivering radio talks that later became Mere Christianity, and J.R.R. Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings. While they redirected their efforts toward the important and urgent tasks of the greater good, they also had a perspective that was able to see beyond their current crisis. God may do that for you as well.

Don’t Be Alone

It is wise to practice “social distancing” during this time, but the last thing any of us needs is to become isolated. These are going to be difficult days. They will test each of us in ways we didn’t expect. (Many of us will not like what we learn about ourselves.) Some of us will be directly affected by this virus, while others of us will see our old anxieties come rushing back with a vengeance. (Oh, hi there. Where you been?) Whatever else we need during this time, we need each other. If you need help, ask for it. If you need a break, take it. If you need to vent, reach out to someone. If you’re afraid, be honest about it. And continue to prioritize rest. The emotional toll of lockdown is physically exhausting.

At some point, life will return to normal, and we’ll begin to ask what it looks like to “love one another” in that environment. In the meantime, let’s love one another well through this crisis.