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How is your church maintaining worship and fellowship in a time of quarantines and self-isolation?

CHARLES: We’re just in the midst of coming here, making plans, and going home, so we’re still working through plans. Hearing the question breaks my heart. The reality just breaks my heart.

I woke up this morning with Philippians 1:3, where Paul says, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,” but I feel a longing and yearning for the people of the church that God has made me a part of. As a pastor, I carry a heavy heart of burden and concern that we’re not able to meet together. I hope that those who call Shiloh Church home feel that same burden. There is a mark of genuine conversion revealed in it.

We are talking among our elders and our staff about, in the vernacular of the tradition I grew up in, how to be the church when you can’t have church. We’re not able to hold our meetings, but what does it mean for us to be the church?

It makes me grateful for technology. I’ve been rejoicing for technology. Some of the things that I would complain about related to technology, I’m now thankful for because it is the primary means by which we are able to have contact and connection with the saints at our church. We’re trying to be good stewards of it and take advantage of every opportunity to connect through those means. We are streaming a service. We will not be meeting, but we will be streaming a service on the Lord’s Day. Our elders are still fleshing it out, but we are trying to have small groups connect through conference calls to make sure that those saints are still connecting to each other through the study of God’s Word and prayer.

All of our pastors and staff have a new job description, which is primarily to do pastoral care and check on the saints. We have many senior members in our church and a priority for us is to check on them, to see that all is well with them, and to see if there’s any way we can be of service to them.

For the replacement of our corporate meetings, we’re trying to be good stewards and take advantage of the technology that we have. We’re encouraging human connection by whatever means we have to mutually care for one another, which is reminding us of the importance of being the church right now. There are some people who are attracted to a church of our size because it’s easy to hide out, show up to a service, and not be required to do much. We work on that challenge of having a participating membership and making connections relationally. I think that’s in the spirit of Romans 12 as we flesh out our community of fellowship with one another.

PARSONS: I’m not quite sure how to say this, but I know there are some Reformation Bible College students here. I would hope that every man who is training for pastoral ministry, every man who is in seminary, or even those who are in ministry would be able to hear, not just what you said H.B., but how you said it. As my older brother in the faith, you’re an example to me, and to many, because you’re a true pastor. Perhaps this goes without saying, but hearing the tone in which you addressed this question, we all got to hear the heart of a pastor, not a puppeteer, not just a preacher—but a shepherd. That’s something that is often missing in our day, particularly among men who are known for their preaching ministry.

People don’t often hear the heart of the true shepherd. That is what we most desperately need and have desperately needed for some time. Too often we have made so much of charisma, communication abilities, the look, and everything else that goes with the preaching ministry. We know that preaching is one aspect of what pastors do, but we’re not, in the Bible, fundamentally called preachers. We’re fundamentally pastors or shepherds who preach.

One of the things that we both have in common between our churches is that we are doing all things in accordance with the plurality of the elders. Right now there is communication going back and forth with our pastors and our elders talking about the communication that’s going to go out to our congregation tomorrow, Lord willing.

It’s vital that we remember the importance of the plurality of elders that God has appointed to His church. It’s vital to seek wisdom and discernment among a multitude of the counselors God has appointed and to strive for a unity of mind so that we are making decisions together. This is not a time for pastors to be cavalier and independent lone rangers, doing things on their own and trying to prove that they’re solid leaders. This is a time for us to rely upon the government of the church that God has given to us—the government of the elders.

I’m going to be speaking in a little while about the importance of the role of deacons and the significance of work they are doing in the church and in the community. One of the deacons from Saint Andrew’s is seated here this morning.

H.B., thank you for reminding us of the care that we need to be taking as we strive to carefully shepherd the congregation, even as they are distributed broadly throughout our communities.

CHARLES: Just as a reminder for us, we need to be prayerful for pastors in small churches and in rural places. Streaming stuff is something we take for granted, but that may still be an issue for them. They don’t have that to take for granted and they are going to have to find strategic ways in the midst of this to be with their people, to care for their people, and to serve their people. They need our prayers.

PARSONS: Absolutely. I’ll say a couple of things related to that. We had never livestreamed a service before last Sunday, and we still had people in attendance during our morning services and our evening worship service. That will likely change drastically this coming Lord’s Day. We didn’t know quite what to do and thankfully we have the people who could make it happen and make it work.

One thing I want to say that is very important is that there might be many individuals in churches throughout the world who are joining other churches, not their own church, but other churches, via livestream. It’s important that the pastors of those churches do what they can to emphasize that those people return to their churches in the regular assembly of the saints on the Lord’s Day. I’m assuming that’s happening, but I would hope that no pastor would take advantage of this and be opportunistic, striving to steal sheep from other congregations during this time.

CHARLES: I have one more thing to add. I want to thank God for Ligonier. Going to bed last night I saw the news that, during this period, the teaching series resources have been made available for free. I’ve been trying to share the news with as many people as I can that there is sound doctrine available to serve churches that are not going to be able to serve. So, I do want to praise God for that heart of generosity to be able to serve the church in that way.

 

This is a transcript of H.B. Charles’s and Burk Parsons’s answers from the Pastoral Care in Times of Crisis panel discussion during our Made in the Image of God event and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.