The world is opening up,” screamed the newspaper headlines. After 18 or so months of the pandemic, my wife and I welcomed the news with gratitude and relief. We could now visit Pattiejean’s mother in Bermuda, hospitalized for 10 months.
One visitor per day was allowed, but pastors and chaplains were additionally welcome, so I entered the hospital in this capacity. The nurse told me, “You can’t see Mrs. McMahon just yet, Pastor, as her daughter is with her. But let me have you meet with her.”
The nurse whisked me to the room. “Mrs. Brown,” she declared, “a pastor has come to visit your mother. He’ll come back later, but I wanted you to meet him—this is Pastor Brown.” Pattiejean received a brand-new introduction to her husband. It was a rare moment to smile.
We have tossed around the word unprecedented with frequency during this pandemic. However, centuries ago, with year-long lockdown restrictions lifted, Noah received a brand-new introduction to his world. It was a rare moment to smile.
As we look at ways to open our churches responsibly, we can take a few lessons from Noah’s lockdown.
1. Catastrophe: empathize rather than analyze. Four million dead from COVID-19. What a tragedy. Yet, like Noah, we remain people of hope and preachers of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5). Jesus said that sin and suffering allow us to “ ‘see God work a miracle’ ” (John 9:3, CEV). Flood time is not the time to debate God’s involvement, it is the time to help God’s children. Coronavirus testing, grocery giveaways, vaccination assistance . . . Perhaps God allowed this catastrophe so that you could be somebody’s miracle.
2. Glory: give thanks and an offering to God. Noah’s first act when the ark opened was to offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, acknowledging God’s rainbow of grace. Organize a joyful service of thanksgiving for God’s blessings thus far, including first-responders and involving songs of praise, prayers of thanks, offerings of gratitude, and a word from the Lord.1—“In every thing give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18, NKJV).
3. Hesitancy: acknowledge anticipation and apprehension. When the floodwaters abated, Noah sent out a raven, then a dove. When the dove returned the second time, it had a leaf in its mouth: it was safe to open up. You may find yourself going back and forth. Use a survey to assess your church’s willingness and readiness to reopen—and be prepared to minister in a brand-new context.2
4. Apostasy: present truth to combat error. The miracle of deliverance lingered with the descendants of Noah, but it didn’t take long for apostasy to set in—enter the Tower of Babel. “ ‘As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be’ ” (Matt. 24:37). Pastors are seeing the hand of prophecy in current events.3 A Christocentric, historicist approach to prophecy will replace fanciful speculations with sensible interpretations.
5. Conspiracy: use digital platforms for God’s glory. “Others were unbelieving and rebellious, and even these did not believe alike in regard to the Flood. Some disbelieved in the existence of God, and in their own minds accounted for the Flood from natural causes.”4 Falsehoods have raged throughout the COVID-19 experience. We are in an infodemic. What can we do? Call in the cavalry—our young people! Let them use their digital creativity to combat falsehood with the truth of Jesus.5
6. Victory: stop wanting to go back to normal. “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there [the Tower of Babel] over the face of all the earth” (Gen 11:8). Now they could replenish the earth—as God had commissioned. From setbacks come springboards. Church buildings closed to the members. Church ministry opened to the world. The rainbow of grace shines again.
We cannot go back to what we had! We cannot espouse prepandemic ministry. Interaction must now replace spectatorship, and involvement must replace bystandership. Let’s give our world a brand-new introduction to Jesus. Let’s offer it a rare moment to smile.
- Cf. Noah Washington, “Gathering in Gratitude.” YouTube video, 1:28:36, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yedZPH2JEhE
- Church Reopening Survey, https://www.jotform.com/form-templates/church-reopening-survey.
- See Aaron Earls, "Vast Majority of Pastors See Signs of End Times in Current Events," Lifeway Research, April 7, 2020, https://lifewayresearch.com/2020/04/07/vast-majority-of-pastors-see-signs-of-end-times-in-current-events.
- Ellen G. White, The Story of Redemption (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1947) 72.
- See Thom S. Rainer, The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2020).