What Have We Learned During the COVID Crisis?

Ten Presbyterian Ministers Respond

Considering Christ’s Incarnation Anew

by Jake McCall

1. What has been the greatest challenge for you as a minister during this crisis?

So much of pastoral ministry involves being physically present with your people. Whether it’s visiting with them in their homes, having fellowship meals with them, or holding their hand beside their hospital bed during times of difficulty or pain, these important moments have been missing or diminished. As much as we have tried to bridge these gaps with phone calls and Zoom meetings, we have not found adequate replacements. This has made discipleship more challenging and outreach to our community more challenging.

2. What do you think you and your congregation may have learned through this crisis?

I believe we are still learning, but it is my prayer that we are learning the irreplaceable importance of togetherness and connec-tivity. Most of us value and uphold the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ, but it may be important to consider it anew. Our Lord found it necessary to dwell among us ––to live with, work with, eat with, and minister with the people that God gave to him. The apostles followed this example as they continued incarnational types of ministry as they began establishing Christ’s Church in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. As we continue the ministry of Christ today through His Church, I believe much of our calling revolves around deeply knowing the flock that we minister to from within.

3. What do you see as the greatest challenge facing your congregation in the future?

Out of necessity we have developed paths of connectivity that have allowed us to remain physically separated from one another. I have noticed that many have celebrated online atten-dance and equate watching a video sermon with the communion of the saints. While I believe it was an important step to think outside the box over this last year, I believe we have to recognize that isolated ministry efforts are not a long-term solution. The next few months will be an important time to emphasize that these efforts were not a replacement for the physical gathering of the church but simply a bridge to get us beyond the devastation of COVID. It is clear that a lack of church fellowship and community has caused spiritual, mental, and emotional challenges. These are things that I have noticed in others and experienced myself. I have also seen how re-entry into Christian fellowship has been a source of renewal for struggling people. I am convinced that welcoming and encouraging people back into the life and presence of the Church will need to be a top priority, rather than continued emphases on technological alternatives.

4. What good do you think might come from this crisis? 

This has been a sad and difficult year for many people. In the midst of the sadness of COVID, our country has grown in its division and worship of politics. My prayer is that the true Church will understand its true calling to extend the benefits of Christ to the people and places that God has given to us. And in so doing, I pray many that were once far-off will be brought near and will find refuge and hope as they meet Jesus and his grace in and through the local church.

5. What have been the best sources of encouragement for you during this crisis?

My best sources of encouragement have been times of prayer with my family, a few friends, and Session. I have also recognized that God has proven that He will continue to use the ministry of the Word and Sacrament to equip and build up the saints. We have had to adjust and at times pray through new ways to administer these means of grace, but God has continued to faithfully use them for our church. When you go through a unique season of uncertainty like this one, it is difficult to know how to move forward and discern God’s direction. Therefore, I have been greatly encouraged to read about some of the experiences and perspectives of those that have gone before us, especially those who have lived and ministered in the name of Jesus Christ during unprecedented times of difficulty and suffering.

Jake McCall, D.Min., is Senior Pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church (ECO), Birmingham, Alabama

Richard Burnett
Richard Burnett
The Reverend Richard E. Burnett, Ph.D., is the Executive Director and Managing Editor of Theology Matters.


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