A year has passed since the first declaration of lockdowns in the U.S. and around the globe – an action that nearly shut down the entire world economy. In some ways it seems like it started just a short time ago. But in many ways, it seems like it has gone on forever. As in all things, we must ask ourselves what we learned from this situation. What lessons will we remember; what warnings will we be on the lookout for in the future; and what items will we add to our “never again” list? We need to be prepared not just in “the years to come,” but over the course of the next few months. In particular, what are the key lessons learned for Pastors and faith leaders? How do Pastors need to lead in light of what we have experienced over the last 12 months?
When the lockdowns were first announced, right at the top of the list of leaders who had their mettle tested were…Pastors. Why? First, because they are trusted local leaders in their community. And in times of crisis and disruption, people look to leaders that are closest to them. Those who can immediately make a difference in their lives because they know them personally in comparison to an elected official they have never met in a distant capitol building.
Secondly, government leaders decided – in their flawed wisdom – that church gatherings were not “essential” to society. You heard that right. The first liberty that is enshrined in our Bill of Rights (and some have argued persuasively that it is the liberty that serves as a guarantor for all other liberties) states that Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. By making these unconstitutional decrees, government officials in cities, states and at the federal level have started to chip away at the foundation of American society. There is no doubt about it, PASTORS are THE frontline defense against such oppression.
In order to comply with government’s coercive commands, officials declared places of faith must follow “science” to be safe. “Believe in Science,” “Trust the Scientists,” “Be Led by the Science.” These are all mantras that we hear over and over again. But remember this – scientists do not always agree with one another. There are always competing scientific views and what often happens is the “science” that is promulgated is often impacted by strongly held ideological or political belief. Whenever you are trying to discern an issue, whether on a personal, social, or political level remember this axiom of life: “The mind justifies what the heart has chosen.”
Power is an intoxicating elixir. What we saw in many cases across the nation were political leaders exerting power in unprecedented ways. The nature of power and politicians is “if you give them an inch, they will take a mile.” The real problem is that once you acquiesce to the power-grabs of governing officials they are very reluctant to give up that control. Coupled with their mindset that you never let a serious crisis go to waste, you have a real powder keg on your hands. It gives them an opportunity to do things they would never think possible under normal conditions.
Early on, we were told a singular mask would be the solution to the pandemic – then it became two. For most of 2020, we were told that it was crucial that everyone keep six feet of distance between them and others – yet some medical journals emphatically state that merely three feet is as effective. And above all levels of hypocrisy, some politicians were silent when protests and violence ravaged communities, but were quick to act in shutting down places of worship…all in the name of “safety,” just to name a few.
So let us be clear what happened here: “science” was only truth when it was convenient or fit a specific narrative. The playbook has been made clear, and it’s up to us to stop it.
Thankfully, we can point to a number of instances of exemplary leadership by Pastors who answered the bell when faced with the coercive commands of government officials. Pastors who have showed us how to keep our Churches open and flourishing, even in the midst of a national public health crisis. Here are a few that stand out:
Pastor Charles Clark of Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin, New Jersey
Pastor Charles Clark took a courageous stand when the governor of his state decreed through executive order that Churches were non-essential. The stay-at-home directive prohibited them from meeting in-person in their normal manner. Pastor Clark stated, “We are not breaking the law by going to Church.” He followed up by explaining they would keep the doors of the Church open and would take all health and safety precautions above and beyond that which businesses and organizations were doing that were deemed essential and were allowed to remain open, including social distancing, deep cleaning, and temperature checks at the door.
Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, California
When Pastor John MacArthur was faced with menacing mandates from his state’s governor and county officials, he wrote a thorough theological case on why it was the Church’s duty to remain open, appealing directly to the Bible itself. The Church and the county filed dueling lawsuits and, in the end, MacArthur won the legal fight to hold indoor services.
Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in the city of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada
Pastor James Coates was recently jailed when he refused to adhere to the onerous orders issued by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health on how they were to conduct Church services. Pastor Coates is still in jail and his case goes to trial this coming May 3, 2021.
In addition to the Pastors above who have faced heavy oppression and jail time for leading their flocks in a time of crisis, we also want to highlight examples of the many Pastors throughout America who, while not harassed, continued to preach and conduct Church services. Day by day they led their congregations through massive disruption and uncertainty. These men have proven themselves to be earnest Pastors. Biblical, balanced men who love their Church members and communities. Here are a few that stand out:
Pastor Billy Ingram of Canaan Baptist Church in Covington, Georgia
Pastor Ingram has led Canaan Baptist Church since 2014. Under his leadership they engage in strategic and systematic ministry to the counties surrounding the Atlanta area.
Pastor Josiah Kagin of Grace Baptist Church in Kettering, Ohio
Pastor Kagin was called to be the senior pastor in October of 2015 after serving for seven years as assistant pastor. He is passionate about leading lost hearts to Jesus and discipling new believers.
Pastor Tim Cruse of Shining Light Baptist Church in Monroe, North Carolina
Pastor Cruse has led Shining Light Baptist since 1990. He has expanded their outreach and discipleship efforts including a children’s home, an academy (K-12), and radio ministry.
So, what should we be doing as Pastors, faith leaders, and citizens? The events of the last 12 months are proof that we need to take a stand and make our voices heard in the public square. We must continue to devote a portion of our time to engage politically as agents of salt and light. We must protect our rights on a local, state, and national level. And we must implore those we love and lead to join with us and do the same.