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Navigating Different COVID-19 Convictions

If there is one word to describe how we must navigate re-gathering amid COVID-19, it’s this: grace. 

A friend of mine who happens to be the Vice President of a prominent seminary and no stranger to the challenges in leadership recently tweeted words that accurately predict the current (and coming) landscape in homes, families, and friendships.

Charles Smith wrote: “Prediction: one of the most challenging aspects of the #COVID19 recovery will be disagreements over acceptable post-COVID social norms between friends and family. Hurt feelings will abound if we’re not careful. Extend lots of grace. Everyone is different.”

He couldn’t be more right. This reality is especially going to hit hard for pastors — starting with the dynamic between staff and leadership teams.

I believe one of the ways that the enemy will seek to divide our ranks within the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides, calling the cautious people “soft,” labeling the optimists of being “reckless.” More than that, the enemy especially loves when we cement ourselves in political corners; adding opinionated fuel to the already tumultuous fire of conflict.

Things can get ugly — very quickly.

This is a new frontier of ministry for an entire generation of leaders. We must recognize the challenges and begin to determine how we will face COVID recovery before it erodes valuable relationships.

Navigating our varying COVID convictions is a non-negotiable for any leader who desires not only a physically healthy organization, but an emotionally healthy one too.

We’re Going to Be Different

The pastoral staff I am a part of is one example of taking differing approaches to COVID quarantine and ministry, and that’s okay. Our different approaches have even become helpful because we can diversify our ministry efforts like different members of the body should (1 Corinthians 12:12). Further, we are sharpened in our ability to love one another regardless of unique circumstances. One of our pastors has vulnerable family members and works exclusively from home. One had a baby during the crisis and needed others to carry the added load while he went on paternity leave. Another can serve more openly in the community right now, while another endured unexpected back surgery and is mostly bound to bed during recovery time. It takes a great deal of sensitivity and understanding to navigate how each member of our team is approaching the scenario. It will continue to require such understanding as we approach re-gathering with friends, family, and our church. The reality is, we are all a unique blend of experiences, vulnerabilities, preferences, tendencies, and talents.

Perhaps you relate to one or more aspects of the following COVID-19 profiles:

Cautious: Those who primarily work from home, follow every aspect of CDC regulations, and prefer to stay conservative about their re-gathering plan.

Confident: Those who don’t wear a mask, spend greater amounts of time with people outside their home and don’t mind tight proximity, obey the law but don’t necessarily worry much about going the extra-mile with precautions, lean towards re-gathering now regardless of the news, and some think this crisis may be blown way out of proportion.

“Cauti-dent”: Those who find themselves doing and feeling a little bit of everything in both the cautious and the confident profile.

There are certainly a few more profiles that could be added here, including those who have strong opinions about churches holding services online instead of gathering physically, obedience to government instructions, and conspiracy theories about numerous aspects of the crisis, but those views do not necessarily help us navigate re-gathering.

It’s Okay to Be Different

The temptation is to look at these profiles and let your opinion dominate your perspective.

For highly confident optimists, others are much too conservative. Perhaps, some would even accuse others of living by fear and not faith — which can be true of all of us at times.

For cautious types, confident optimists may be too relaxed as the “what ifs” begin to creep into their minds. They think, what do we gain by re-gathering so quickly? Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

As the spiral of opinion leads you downward, you must formulate a game plan that takes you upward. It’s okay to be different! To have a healthy family, a healthy team, and a healthy church there must room for different opinions and experiences. These differences often stretch us and help us grow together and learn from each other. We need to respect one another and realize that everyoneis navigating a new frontier.

A healthy relational ecosystem allows for “different,” and even leverages it to help us make decisions.

Attitude Determines Altitude​

You may have a healthy culture in your church, organization, or family. Conversely, you may be seeing tension rising and anticipate this issue being a major challenge. Whatever the case, your attitude is going to determine your altitude. In other words, whether or not you lead yourself and others above the fray and towards a higher perspective depends on attitude.

Here are 4 attitudes for COVID-19 re-gathering that will strengthen your ability to navigate differing views and approaches:

1. Optimistic people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me hopeful about the future and enables me to embrace uncertainty as opportunity.

2. Cautious people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me sensitive to the needs and concerns of others and enables me to make prudent decisions.

3. Different gifts and approaches make us all more effective. Pride demands that everyone do things the way we demand. Read 1 Corinthians 12 and celebrate different gifts.

4. People matter more than my opinion. Being in healthy relationships with people is a privilege that requires me to love others above myself. When I am highly opinionated, I can needlessly hurt others.

Choose Love

In the end, these attitudes prepare our hearts and minds to do one thing above all else: choose love. Preserving valuable relationships and developing healthy teams, churches, and families is more important than winning arguments, or being (more) right.

Look, when this crisis begins to wind down, there will be plenty of people who got some things right, and plenty of people who got some things wrong. There will be those who blew things out of proportion, and those who didn’t take things as seriously as they should’ve. Some will take longer to come back to the office, others will rush in (or are already there).

What will it matter if we re-gathering only to end up “socially distant” again not because of a virus, but because of our inability to love others who approach COVID-19 differently than we do?

Choose love.

***This article was originally published by “For the Church” here.

Your Prosperity Is Too Small

There was a rich young ruler who once had the opportunity to sit face-to-face with God. Like a child humbly seated at the feet of his father, this ruler had a question and knew where to go for the answer. Surely God Himself could provide an adequate solution to his longing soul. In an instant, a weighty inquiry burst forth. He asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” On the outside, this rich ruler appeared to be a cut above everyone else. He was wealthy, powerful, and seemed to be a model of morality. Eternal security was all but guaranteed, right? But there, concerning the state of the ruler’s soul, Jesus brought the sobering reality of heaven down to earth.

Jesus said, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Luke 18:22). The ruler’s response? “But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked him and said, ‘How difficult it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Luke 18:24).

Wealth is not a sin, but chasing it can cloud even the sharpest of minds. That is why in God’s economy, it is not the balance in your bank account that matters; it is the affections of your heart. God is not partial to those who are rich with pride and presumption; it is the poor in spirit that move Him.

This ancient temptation still rears its head today. There is not a more blinding, arrogant, and myopically presumptuous belief system than the “prosperity gospel.” While it promises a long list of earthly treasures to those who will succumb to its lusts, it leaves its victims spiritually bankrupt. Like the rich young ruler, the prosperity gospel appears big and bold on the outside, but when compared to the true gospel, its bleak return on investment is suddenly revealed. Those who adhere to the prosperity gospel possess a view on prosperity that is too small.

A Vicious Cycle

The wake of devastation the prosperity gospel leaves behind stems from selling a version of Jesus that overpromises and underdelivers. Instead of rightfully putting their primary emphasis on lavish spiritual blessings unlocked in Christ (Eph. 1:3-12), prosperity preachers twist Scripture to put the emphasis on temporary pleasure, promising that Jesus is a Heavenly Banker who wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy on earth. According to the prosperity gospel, Christ’s goal is your comfort. Sadly, there is no comfort to be found. Many people who make donations in exchange for the “American Dream” only end up broke. They are told to sow a seed of faith into the fertile soil of a prosperity preacher’s ministry on the grounds that it will produce a hundredfold return! The painful reality is the only people getting rich are the prosperity preachers themselves. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Is this the picture of the gospel that we see in the Bible?

There Will Be Suffering

When a prosperity preacher and a faithful preacher stand in front of Christ on Judgment Day, two very different outcomes will occur. For these two preachers, suffering will be inevitable. For the faithful preacher, he would have likely suffered on earth and will be rejoicing as Christ welcomes him into the eternal rewards and riches of heaven! In stark contrast, the prosperity preacher will have lived his best life on earth—free of suffering and peril. Yet, there in front of Christ’s throne, his knee will bow and his tongue will confess Jesus as Lord, then he will enter into eternal suffering.

Each of these preachers will suffer. When they suffer and for how long they will suffer depends on their faithfulness to the gospel here on earth. Temporal suffering on earth is but a molecular moment in comparison to infinite ages of heavenly glory. For those who trample the gospel in seeking temporal gain, the suffering that awaits them in eternity is insurmountably greater than all the royal comforts of earth combined.

Infinite Promises and Eternal Glory

The Bible repeatedly turns our perspective upward into the vast expanse of eternity. The prosperity gospel calls us into a downward spiral that leads to a desolate perspective. Jesus promised that treasure in heaven could not be destroyed (Matt. 6:19-20). Jesus promised suffering saints eternal crowns and glory in His kingdom (Rev. 2:9-10; 3:10-12). Jesus promised that anyone who sacrificed something for His sake would receive many times as much and inherit eternal life (Matt. 19:29).

In Christ’s kingdom, the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matt. 19:30). To the poor in spirit belongs the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). The infinite promise of Christ is that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33), but He has overcome it and prepares a place for us that is beyond anything the prosperity gospel can deliver (John 14:12). When suffering comes upon us, we can find comfort in the arms of the Prince of Peace (Phil. 4:6-9). Blessings, joy, riches, and comfort are now and will always be found in Christ — but not always in the ways we imagine. These treasures will not always be realized on earth, but for those who choose Christ no matter the cost, these things will be enjoyed for all eternity in heaven.

When I was living the dream as a prosperity gospel benefactor, my confidence soared. I was a “big success.” It was only when Christ opened my eyes to the one true gospel that I was set free from the chains that held my soul. It was then that I realized how bankrupt I truly was. Compared to the eternal riches found in Jesus Christ, the biggest earthy promises of the prosperity gospel will forever be too small.

***This article was originally featured in the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s inaugural issue of “Permanent Things: The Annual Journal From The Center for Public Theology.” The entire issue can be downloaded for free.