The pandemic has caught many of us off-guard and its impact on the world at large is unprecedented. With all the monumental progress we’ve made in science and technology, we’ve never expected a calamity of such proportion to strike us in our lifetime and shatter us the way it did.
The new normal that we have to deal with is not so normal after all. The irony of the word ‘social distancing’ is evident in that it has truly socially distanced people from each other. It has pushed people apart and has created a crippling fear in the hearts of people. It has affected many families who are heartbroken, having lost their loved ones to Covid-19.
Many others have lost means of livelihood as businesses have gone broke or companies have shut down. Others have lost homes or depleted their finances, resulting in despair and panic. Many others have seen untold suffering, pain and toil and some have encountered it themselves and barely escaped.
The post-pandemic reality is such that we live different lives—very different from how things were before. Engaging and thought-provoking workplaces have become danger zones, pleasurable activities such as meeting family and friends has become a burden and to even get basic essentials to get by is proving to be challenging.
The pandemic has had a massive toll—on family life and relationships, on work and worship too. It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that the pandemic has affected individual and corporate spirituality. The pandemic-induced lockdown has affected the church and her believers in more ways than one. Social distancing has led to spiritual distancing as believers are pushed apart from each other, albeit not by their own choice.
Government regulations and lockdowns meant that churches could not gather physically. Many churches conducted their services online and members had to use their electronic devices to connect with the church body. Relying on technology to make that human connection possible is not ideal. Whilst this option was unavoidable, the meeting together of the local assembly of believers as mandated in the Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) was missing and the ramifications of this is huge.
Pastors and church leaders have struggled to keep track of their members besides taking on the insurmountable stress and anxiety of having to deal with deaths, suicides, depression, addictions, conflict, abuse, loneliness, etc., among their church members—all of which have become rampant with the onset of the pandemic. Church members have become physically, socially and even emotionally distant from the rest of the local congregation and their local under-shepherd. Sometimes, the shepherd has lacked accountability himself and has knowingly or unknowingly distanced himself from his flock. One can expect that if the shepherd himself is wayward, the sheep would also be scattered.
Because of this pandemic, church members have become elusive and cut themselves off from the community of faith as a result of which fellowship is disturbed. More than anything else, it is the aspect of accountability that has suffered greatly. Accountability, whether that be to one another or to the church leadership, has taken a back seat. Their spiritual health has deteriorated. In the same way, the pastor(s) have also experienced a dearth in terms of accountability when it comes to the use of their time, member care, pastoral concern, prayer, discipline, etc.
So, how can church members and their pastors(s) get back on track? Here are some practical suggestions on how accountability can be restored in the local church among believers, beginning with the pastor himself.
Re-establish the practice of spiritual disciplines
Encourage yourself and others to re-establish any spiritual disciplines that have been lost or waylaid. Disciplines such as prayer, fasting, meditation, fellowship, journalling and stewardship have a pivotal and formative role to play in the shaping of one’s faith and growth and maturity. As the pastor of your flock, it is imperative that you maintain and grow in these disciplines yourself. These will help you draw closer to God in your walk of faith and help keep that vertical relationship active and vibrant.
Restore mutual accountability between members
Accountability has suffered greatly in recent times, so it’s time for church members to grow in that area by restoring accountability and that would work best if done in small groups. If a church member can be accountable to someone he/she is closely journeying and fellowshiping with, that would help keep their spiritual walk on track and keep them from straying away from the church and the Lord himself. Mutual accountability is necessary since we are in a covenant relationship with each other in the local church.
Reinvigorate the fellowship of believers
Encourage fellowship between believers by urging them to pray for one another, enquire of each other’s well being and grow in love and compassion for those who belong to the family of God. We are to be channels, not reservoirs of God’s blessings, otherwise we stagnate and become putrid. So, motivate them to channel God’s divine love through themselves to others. Encourage generosity, kindness, love and compassion among believers as was characterised in the early church that we see in Acts 2:42–47.
Revive the preaching of God’s word
The word of God is pivotal to the health and well-being of the church. If the word of God is not preached faithfully and regularly, the body will lack spiritual nourishment and wither away and die. It is absolutely crucial for the pastors/elders of the church to keep teaching the Bible faithfully and ensuring that its practical outworking is echoed in all facets of church life and ministry. The word of God is powerful, transformative and life-changing. The word encourages, edifies, builds up and comforts and we need it to strengthen us even more so in times like these.
Reveal the truth of the Gospel
The pandemic has been disastrous to the faith of many. Because of which, many are perplexed and despondent and even giving up on all matters of faith and turning their backs on God. As people who believe in the one true living God, allow the truth of the Gospel that is revealed in Jesus Christ, to be shown to those who don’t believe in Him yet. Pray for the unreached. Plead with God for healing and restoration. Pursue the lost so they can experience the love of Christ through your life and testimony. There is no greater time than now for evangelisation of the world. May the Lord use the trial of this pandemic amongst others to strengthen and purify his Church so we can emerge stronger and more committed to serving and fulfilling His purposes in our generation.