No one needs reminding that life is currently different from anything we’ve known before. With large gatherings banned, in-person church meetings have been called off with no clear end in sight. As more and more states impose “shelter in place” guidelines, everyone is down to working or staying at home except those involved in “essential services.”
I want to argue that the work of the church is one of the most essential services out there right now. Public gatherings are not essential for it to happen, but the work of the church must go on. Teaching the Bible, proclaiming the gospel, speaking to people’s needs, caring for the sick and hungry and lonely, shining a light of generosity and love into a greedy, grabbing world: if anything, that work is more essential than ever when life turns upside down.
Don’t think for a moment that pastors and church staffs have been on vacation: they’ve been scrambling like crazy to carry on the ministry in adaptive ways. Most preachers never intended to become televangelists, but now they’re figuring out ways to live-stream sermons from empty sanctuaries or their office desks. They’re struggling to put together other important elements of worship and make them available in some sort of video format, knowing all the while that many members may lack the equipment or the technological savvy to access those hard efforts.
Members of the congregation and community still get sick and need care, even though visits are increasingly restricted in hospitals and nursing homes. Some members may be unable to get out, and need someone to bring them food or supplies. Challenges abound, and one can be sure that ministers are doing their best to adapt and carry on in a variety of ways.
The work of the church is essential, and that is why it’s especially essential that we continue to support the work financially. Most churches are already struggling to meet trimmed-down budgets in a challenging, Post-Christendom world. Pastors know that if snow or hurricanes cancel a service or two, the lost income is rarely made up in subsequent Sundays.
Now we’re looking at six or ten or twenty or more Sundays with no one in the pews.
The result could be absolutely devastating if church people don’t come forward and continue contributing tithes and offerings for the work of the church — for the essential services — that the church provides.
So, to the extent you are able, write your check. Put it in the mail. Wash your hands and drop it by the church office and wave on the way out. Give online if the option is available. Make it a habit and do it regularly. If you can, give extra to make up for those who have lost income. Let neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night, nor fears of COVID-19 stay you from supporting the essential work of the church. As you do, support the ministers’ efforts. Watch those online services. Participate in virtual meetings or classes through Zoom or FaceTime or other means. Call people. Stay connected. Foster community.
Be the church, and keep it financially afloat.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.