A Medical Grade Covid-19 Prayer

Father,

You are our Good Shepherd and we are your sheep.  As you lead us and we look ahead, the path seems uncertain and perilously dark.  Yet, we embrace your promise that we do not have to fear because You are with us (Psalm 23).  Although you never promised we will avoid pain, sickness, death, nor the ominous shadow it casts, you do promise to always be with us and because of that, we don’t have to be afraid.

As a result, we courageously march ahead into this microscopic war with its macroscopic implications.  The toll on human life is growing exponentially and we pray for those on the front lines of this battle.

We pray for the victims, especially those in hospitals, under the compassionate and skilled care of our medical professionals.  We pray for their recovery and for their peace.  As they suffer alone and, sadly, as some die away from the comforting embrace and physical presence of their family and loved ones, may you be their comfort in their pain.  We pray for all those who will labour for their last breath, may they know and embrace Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. 

We pray for the victims in this microscopic war.  Lord, have mercy!

We also pray for all the health care workers who are caring for the sick and dying with courage and strength.  Thank you for these brave men and women who are physically caring for these individuals.  This war is such that the victims are not on a battlefield geographically far away but in our local hospitals in isolation beyond our ability to physically comfort.  It is heartbreaking!  Our health care professionals are not just physically caring for our loved ones but holding their hands for us and telling them they are not alone.

Although this is not a war of ethical ambiguity.  Whether one is a pacifist or not, the decision of whether to fight this war is clear.  Although entering this war may not be ethically complicated, the war itself is.  For health care professionals it is filled with ethical challenges and conundrums.  With very limited resources, difficult decisions have to be made.  We can’t imagine the emotional and physical strain this would cause a human who entered a profession with a desire to heal.  Would you give each of them the wisdom of Solomon and the clarity of conscience as they practice their profession with compassion.  These are perilous times with impossible decisions, and we need you, Jesus!

Protect these health care workers who will rush the front line of an unseen enemy without either the defensive or offensive weapons needed.  With lack of Personal Protective Equipment, ventilators and therapies, this is a battle like none other.  Protect them as they courageously and vulnerably fight on our behalf!

We pray for those on the front lines of this war.  Lord, have mercy!

God, we pray for a vaccine and therapies to be developed and deployed in the days to come.  For all the scientists working in laboratories around the world, give them strength, clarity, and ingenuity.  You often work through human minds and hands, so we pray that you would use their collective and cooperative ability to find the therapies and vaccines needed in this battle.

We pray for the end of this war.  Lord, have mercy!

As we all do our part to shelter at home and give our medical professionals and scientists the time to effectively care for the sick and find a cure to this disease, may you help us to endure this storm as a society.  We pray for every relationship impacted by this.  We are all broken and during times like these, the cracks in our brokenness are split wide open.  We specifically pray for all those in the scourge of abuse.  For spouses, children, and other vulnerable people in the evil clutches of abusive relationships and with nowhere to go, God have mercy and protect all those who are imprisoned in their home.  May they find rescue and protection from their abusers.

We pray for the protection of our population as we shelter at home.  Lord, have mercy!

We also pray for every student trying to figure out how to learn from home in a new environment.  We especially pray for those younger students where the curriculum and social skills don’t transfer as easily from the physical classroom to a home and virtual one.  Help our educators in this adjustment and the parents who are trying to help their children grow and develop socially and academically, all while juggling other responsibilities.

We pray for our educators, parents and kids in this season.  Lord, have mercy!

We pray for all those who are fighting the war as essential workers.  They are the vital supply line in this war.  Often barely making a living wage, these individuals are risking their own safety so we can have food, utilities and needed services during this time.  Protect them and bless them as they serve us.  May they know the impact of their sacrifice and be celebrated as heroes in a society that often overlooks their important contribution to our societal fabric 

We pray for our essential workers: bless them and protect them.  Lord, have mercy!

This will be a long and drawn-out war with many direct and indirect victims and we need your strength, perseverance, guidance and peace.  May you help us in this war and may we fight it with love and compassion.

Lord, have mercy!

In the name of Jesus, the Great Physician, Amen!

Six Changes Resulting from COVID-19

I want to put my futurist hat on and make a few observations and predictions about the future of our world Post-Covid-19.  After reading several Covid-19 projection models in the last day or two, a couple of realities are clear.  First, this is a deadly and vicious virus!  It is not like the common flu and should be taken very seriously.  Second, this will be a long and hard-fought battle.  Regardless of what projection model you use, until a vaccine is developed, proven effective and disseminated globally, I can’t imagine any scenario (unless a miracle treatment is discovered) that would have us going back to public gatherings the way we once knew them any time soon.  If we do, we risk unleashing a new wave of infection, sickness and death.

Consequently, this virus and the needed prolonged actions we are taking to mitigate it will have massive and long-term societal impacts.  Therefore, let me unpack six changes I see happening in society and the church that will occur and accelerate as a result:

Home Architecture

Tiny homes may have made sense Pre-Covid-19 economically and with people’s active lifestyles, but with spending all of our time indoors, this lifestyle option will quickly lose its ship-lapped luster.  Larger spaces will become more the norm (within reason and economic restraint).  Additionally, open concepts seem great until families spend more and more time at home.  Consequently, the need for separate space will return in home design and architecture.

Usher in the Age of Automation

Our world was already facing the inevitable disruption of automation.  Artificial Intelligence and automation were already poised to radically change the economy and replace human involvement in manufacturing, transportation, sales, supply chains, etc.  Pre-Covid-19 we were within a decade of a massive shift in the workforce, which is now accelerated and with the public seeing the benefit of “essential services” being met by machines with no risk to this or future virus’, the once opposition that would have been present will be exchanged for widespread embrace and celebration.  People like Bill Gates and others have proposed economic systems and models for a world where machines do most of the work and the human population finds its purpose and value in other areas.  Most of these involve taxing machines and providing a guaranteed income (much like is happening in the stimulus plans now).  This was our inevitable and resisted future, but Covid-19 will accelerate the transition and our celebrated embrace of it.

The Work and Study from Home Movement

Any assumption that working from home was untenable will be proven wrong.  It isn’t perfect and all of its blemishes will be brought to light, but compared to the personal, environmental and economic advantages, we won’t go back to not primarily working from home.  Consider how fast fifty percent of our public buildings (churches, schools, libraries, corporate office, etc.) were proven to be not as necessary as we thought.  We will still need these in the future, as I believe an exclusive work and study from home experiment will prove to have some deficiencies, but we will not go back to the way it was.  Business will start to look at their office space costs, school building cost, economic and environmental impact of building infrastructures and determine that many of these are unnecessary.

Embrace the Personal with Distance

Once we are on the other side of this, I believe people will be craving personal connection.  That being said, it won’t bounce back quickly.  With a prolonged season, budget’s, habits, personal caution/protection, desires, etc. will change and people will not “return to the old normal”.  Yes, people will long for human connection, but the way they experienced it will not be the same.  People will be more hesitant to go to restaurants, publicly gather in large groups and you will begin to see masks regularly worn in public (like it is common in many parts of Asia). 

The Rise of Creativity and Context

For churches, there will come a resurgence of creativity in context.  Pre-Covid-19, most churches looked much the same.  Yes, there was difference, but our methodologies were not radically different (500 years will do that).  Post-Covid-19, that will change.  Creativity and context matter more than ever and there will be an explosion of difference.  New methodologies are emerging, and they will reproduce rather than replicate in this environment.

The Emerging Era of the Shepherd Pastor

If the CEO was the pastor who thrived Pre-Covid-19, the shepherd pastor will thrive Post-Covid-19.  Leadership will still hold a major place no doubt, but people will begin to form and gather around shepherds who know and love them.  This is the season for the shepherd pastor to know and lead their churches.  If that isn’t clear yet…wait until the dust settles and see those who have thriving churches – they will be churches where the people are known and cared for, not those who have the best-produced video and services (which have an important place but it is hard to compete in a global church production competition).  The tables have turned, and things will be different.

COVID-19 Phase Two: Next Steps

Dear Fellow Pastor,

As you enter into another week of COVID-19, I thought I would write some needed words of encouragement and some important things to consider.

First, I want to recognize the compounding toll of this season on your life and ministry.  If you are like me, the initial rush of adrenaline common in crisis has worn off and the endless stream of challenges remains.  Consequently, you are probably feeling a bit worn out and stretched thin.  If so:  Stop.  Breathe.  Pray.  Care (for yourself, your family, as well as your spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being).  Lead. (in that order)

I’m not sure if this is universal, but I have worked harder in these last two weeks than ever before in my pastoral career.  I want to remind us that this is a marathon, not a sprint and we have yet to approach the first giant hill in the race (we will face the first of several waves in COVID-19 in the next couple of weeks).  Thus, it is vital to take a breath and prepare as we will be stretched beyond ourselves in the coming days.

As we approach the unknown future with huge leadership challenges and pastoral care needs, I want to humbly remind you of a truth you know and have preached about several times. 

Sometimes God allows us to experience more than we can handle in our lives, and when we do, we discover that at the end of ourselves, we meet the unfiltered and endless goodness and greatness of our God.  God is with you and He will not fail!  Therefore, be strong and courageous.  Take each day, each step in the marathon ahead, with trust in God’s goodness and grace as well as the promise that He cares for you, your family, and the church you lead infinitely more than you.

Second, I would humbly offer the following to consider in this season ahead as you lead your community of faith:

  • Don’t journey these uncharted waters alone!  Any expeditionary mission into uncharted territory knows the importance of travelling as a team.  Therefore, gather some other pastors/leaders around you for mutual encouragement.  This will most likely be the hardest season of your ministry career and you can’t do this alone.  If you don’t feel it yet, you will.  You need Jesus and you need others to cheer you on!  If you feel alone and you don’t know where to turn, I’d be more than honoured to hear your heart, encourage you, and pray for you in this season (just contact me anytime).  We are all trying to find our way and the worst thing we can do is push through the fog of this season alone.  Rather, let’s be fellow sailors on this expedition together, calling, helping and encouraging each other forward through the fog.
  • We will get through this, but it will be a long and difficult journey.  I think we all need to be reminded of this hope.  This season will not be weeks; it will be months (some predict a year).  However long this season will be, it will end at some point and ministry will readjust to a new normal (whatever that is!).  I think we need to honestly face the enormity of this challenge and its implications but also be reminded, with hope, that it will not prevail, and Jesus will prove to be faithful!
  • Don’t be lulled into complacency, flatten the curve and escalate care.  We may flatten the curve of COVID-19 in some way (I pray we are successful) but that will just slow down the impact of what will affect many of us (I also pray for an effective treatment with hope but plan with a sober assessment of the current facts).  Thus, this is the time to be prepared and plan!  Have a plan to care for the sick.  Have a plan to care for those in financial peril.  Have a plan for those in relational crisis (whatever cracks a marriage or family has will be burst wide open).  Have a financial plan for your church as economic realities hit.  Have a plan for congregational and community care for your church and make yourself redundant (in order words, not having all care dependant on you, as you may get sick at some point) as well as have a plan to reach your community in this season.  These are the moments leaders are made for and when great leaders are forged!   
  • Continue to grow your online presence and invest resources (however limited) here.  Be creative, be innovative, empower younger leaders, and be willing to fail.  Although you are managing limited resources, this is the time to invest where people are.  If you are in an older demographic as a leader, have younger leaders on your online ministry leadership team and use their assessment of what is working and not working.  Be honest about your prejudices here: your perspective of what is working online is probably blinded by your age and you need younger voices to help you see what you may be blind to.

In all of this, remember the promise of Jesus to His disciples who would face great hardship and challenges as they followed Him, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

Pastors: Take heart!  This pandemic will not win.  Jesus has overcome!  These are the moments the Church was made for.  Therefore, let us collectively shine our lights in the flog of fear and uncertainty with the eternal hope and love of Jesus!

COVID-19 Church Response: Phase Two

In a previous post, I wrote about an initial plan for the church to consider in their response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and its impact on the local church.  Now that we have moved past the initial phase (the easiest phase), I thought I would write a follow-up post as we prepare to enter into phase two of this.  

Church, please listen, this is our moment!

Online Pivot Next Steps

  • Another Impending Pivot – In the last week or two, churches have made an important pivot to exclusive online services and gatherings.  Good work, Church!  Let this be a reminder to us of how fast we can change when needed.  There are more pivots ahead.  One of them any day.  If you have moved your services to some form of online offering (pre-recorded or live-feed), there is an impeding pivot you need to consider and prepare for.  To “flatten the curve,” your jurisdiction will soon move to limit public gatherings to no more than 2-5 people (churches included).  Any medium to large size church is going to face a problem (they often take 10-20 people to produce their live-feed).  How will you pivot your online services to this reality?  Be thinking of this asap because this change is coming and coming soon!
  • Embrace Experimentation as Open Source – This is an exciting season for people with entrepreneurial giftings and inclinations.  But one thing I have noticed about myself and others with this inclination is that we are also prone to competitiveness.  This is a danger to the Kingdom!  As we explore and settle into our new online ministry landscape and build ministry structures for this new frontier, let’s share our designs, successes and failures.  This is not the time to hold trade secrets but the time to free trade ideas.  I am learning so much from my friend about ideas, ways of approaching problems, things that worked, things that failed, etc.  This is the season for cooperation over competition.
  • Create a Rhythm – Now that you have moved all your ministries online and have done some experimentation, I would argue that it is time to establish a sustainable rhythm for your church.  When we launched our online ministries, we went fast and hard.  This was intentional in our part (we wanted our people to know that even though we couldn’t meet physically, the church was still there for them), but now that we are launched, we are in a season of establishing a sustainable rhythm.
  • Where is the Laity? –  If you are like the church I lead, we launched our new ministry structure fast and did so as a staff team (it allowed for this), but the next step is to empower our volunteers (many of whom have more time than ever before) to take leadership in this area.  If our online presence reduces the role of volunteers, we have failed.  We failed because it is not our job as pastors (Ephesians 4:12) and also because it doesn’t leverage the democratizing power of the internet.
  • Reject Comparisons – If you are like me, you would have started to compare yourself and your church to others on Sunday.  We are all on display and it can be demoralizing.  This is a fool’s game!  The bad news is that there is always someone who is a better communicator than you, a church with better production value than you, a church with better music than you, etc.  The good news is that people, especially in this season of COVID-19, don’t care!  They know you, trust you and I believe this is the season of the shepherd pastor as opposed to the CEO pastor.  Therefore, do your best, avoid unnecessary barriers or distractions for people but, also, reject the need to compete with others and embrace the posture of the servant-hearted pastor who loves and cares for his/her sheep.  People will follow you if you do!
  • Celebrate Success – As you move online, you can begin to be demoralized.  We have great expectations and reality can have a way of confronting that.  For example, you host an online prayer meeting and only two people join.  You are disappointed, expecting more, but forgetting that you didn’t do that ministry before and, in reality, you just had three people gather for prayer that wouldn’t have before.  In addition, be honest about success, the matrixes have changed, and online analytics are confusing and deceptive (Not all video “views” are considered equal).  You are not comparing apples to apples, but apples to pomegranates, and pomegranates are a complicated fruit.
  • Find Your Bearings – The first phase of COVID-19 has been a season of so many pivots I’m starting to feel dizzy. As is the case with any dizziness, stop, fix your eyes on the constant (Jesus), and find your balance again. Remember: “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)
  • Embrace Critical Reflection – In the coming days, I will be writing more about online ministry and the potential and perils it creates.  This is actually my area of academic specialty and I have written extensively about it (see my book, “Age of Kings: Pursuing God’s Heart in a Social Media World as an example).  I want to offer myself as a resource in the coming days to help us process this shift and all it will become (it has consequences and opportunities few people are considering as they implement with pragmatic panic).

Care Systems

If you have not worked on a building care system for your church to meet the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to be.  Drop what you are doing and get on this today!  In the coming weeks, people in your church and in your community will begin to get sick (and some will die) and your usual system and process for caring will buckle under the stress.  This is our moment, church, don’t think you will be able to casually walk into it, prepare and plan and do it today!  As an example, at Westlife, we have recently built two arms of care (congregation and community) that mirror each other but are scalable and robust enough to grow as need escalates.  Additionally, as you plan for this, consider the community God has placed your church in.  As a result, be open to the ideas of others and the leading of the Spirit and find creative and contextual ways to love and serve the community God has placed your church in.  Your context needs to be considered, but if you are relying on your existing systems to handle this, I plead with you to reconsider and get to work recruiting, planning and structuring care to meet the impending need.

Resources Triage

This is a challenge for every leader and this season will be one of the hardest to lead through.  The need will vastly exceed your resources!  Going to online services and the massive hit to the economy will impact your budget, you will need to plan and act accordingly by triaging financial resources.  If you are not preparing for this, you need to be.  How can you reallocate resources and be prepared to make tough decisions? 

Additionally, how will you triage human resources of volunteers and staff?  Some of them will get sick and do you have a plan for that?  You will also, statistically speaking, get sick at some point.  How will your church respond?  This should force every church to have some kind of leadership succession plan.  This is not a drill.  I am not being alarmist here.  You need to consider how you will lead your church and manage the limited resource at our disposal for their use in this time of extreme need.

Intentional Rest

Once your systems are in place, take intentional rest before the wave of COVID-19 infection hits in the coming days.  In the church I serve, our staff have been working long hours to prepare for the next phase of this pandemic and, as part of our response plan, over the next week or two will intentionally and strategically be taking needed rest to care for themselves and their families before we escalate care to meet the impending need.

Remember

I have said this to many of my friends and I want to communicate it here.  For many reasons (the least of which are mentioned above), this will be the toughest pastoral season of your ministry career.  Let’s be ready.  This is our moment.  That can seem overwhelming, but God’s promises are true.  The need is great, but our God is greater.  Let’s go leaders, it is time to lead our churches, pick up our spiritual armour and storm the gates of hell with faith, hope and love!

An Honest COVID-19 Pastor’s Prayer

Gracious Father,

We need you! Overnight everything changed and we are lost, confused and trying to find our way. We entered uncharted waters, were given new boats to navigate (online ministry platforms) and there is a viral storm brewing on the horizon. We don’t know what the future will bring but we trust You are with us.

As such, we embrace the peace-filled promise that You have sent the Holy Spirit to comfort, lead and empower us and we embrace that truth as a precious gift. Tenaciously gripping onto that promise, we pray, not as a last resort but a first response. In situations like these, our weaknesses and frailty are laid bare and we have no other response but to desperately seek and call on you.

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

As we enter the viral storm ahead, we as church leaders and pastors need creativity in ministry. If necessity is the mother of invention, then You are its father. We need your guidance and wisdom to adopt new practices and to do so critically and responsibly. Technology is not neutral, so give us eyes to see below the veneer of pragmatism and into the heart of impact.

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

As we enter the viral storm ahead, we need to lead, plan and administrate well. This is going to be an all hands-on deck season. We need your empowerment to effectively organize the hands on the deck but also do so in ways that effectively help and not, unintentionally, hurt. Give us Your wisdom and empowerment to love and care for people in this season.

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

As we enter the viral storm ahead, we need the courage to make tough decisions. There will be many as we begin to triage limited resources in the midst of overwhelming need. We need your wisdom and empowerment to do this well.

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

As we enter the viral storm ahead, we need the energy to meet the impending demands that will exceed our capacity. With limited resources, limited experience, limited energy, we will humbly and desperately need your strength, wisdom and courage for the storm ahead.

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

As we enter the viral storm ahead, we need your peace to reign in our hearts as fear rolls in. May you grant us the peace that passes all understanding and the joy that is complete in you. The journey ahead will be difficult, but you will be with us!

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

As we enter the viral storm ahead, we need Your words because ours are not enough. We need you to give us words of truth, hope and comfort. Our human ability will be dwarfed by the enormity of the situation and we need your words of truth, comfort and hope in this storm.

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

As we enter into the viral storm ahead, empower us to courageously lead Your Church on the rescue mission you have given us. In a season where people will naturally move to self-protection, empower us to boldly lead into Your mission to seek and save the lost. For the church, this is not the time to hunker down and hide our light under a bowl, but the time shine it like a searchlight to those who are overwhelmed by fear, sharing the way, the truth and the life (abundant and eternal), Jesus.

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

As we enter into the viral storm on the horizon, we tenaciously hold on to you, tune our ears to your voice, and embrace Your promises of giving wisdom without finding fault, peace that passes all understanding, and strength for the journey. You are with us and you will not fail!

Come Lord Jesus, Come. Have mercy on us!

In Jesus name, Amen.