“Every pastor has become a televangelist.”
Those words from Kiley Callaway, Northfield Church of Gering pastor, reflect the thoughts of the many ministers who will be delivering their usual Sunday messages through Facebook, YouTube or other means this weekend as health officials encourage social distancing and avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people. Many churches will also have online offerings throughout the week for devotions and kids activities to encourage parishioners as much as possible.
“This is what love looks like in this season,” Callaway said, “and we’re encouraging our congregation to love our neighbor by protecting our neighbor. We’re not overreacting. We’re just being responsible and following our leaders in trying to put a stop to this as quickly as possible to where we can get back to meeting again.”
Gering Zion Church Lead Pastor Tim Hebbert said delivering his message through YouTube will be unusual for him and his congregation, but he has an idea for how to emotionally bring the people closer to each other even though they’re apart physically.
“I’m encouraging people to — and I’m going to do this in my Sunday morning sermon — pause, close their eyes, think of the people who sit in their area and that they, as I like to call it, do the ‘grip and grin’ with every Sunday, and reach out to them with a phone call,” Hebbert said. “Community is going to have to be created through electronic means.”
Callaway said he never expected to be in the situation the world sees itself in today.
“It feels like I’m in a movie,” he said, “because I’ve watched the movies when the president gets on here and starts telling America to hunker down. It moves so fast. Me and my wife were saying it already feels like we’ve been in a lockdown for a month, and it’s only been a week.”
Choosing faith over fear will be Callaway’s message to his congregation Sunday. He said the intent is not to downgrade the seriousness of the situation, but to encourage people that God is with them during this time and is in control.
“In the end, He is doing something, and in the end, He will get the glory for all of this,” Callaway said. “I call it a divine shutdown. A divine shutdown that maybe we’ve been so divided as America that maybe He’s trying to unite us again. Maybe He’s trying to get the parents to be the main discipler of faith in their home. Nobody knows yet what He’s doing and why He’s doing it or why He’s allowing it to happen, but I’m just calling it a divine shutdown, and in this divine shutdown, we’ll take it day-by-day and hour-by hour and like the Bible says, ‘This too shall pass.’ He never said how long that’s gonna take.”
Hebbert said he looks at 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God does not give us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a power of love and a sound mind.” He said he is encouraging the congregation to look at how many times the Bible says to have no fear.
Gering Zion Discipleship Pastor Wayne Mundell said this is a time to focus on representing the church, not the building, but the people.
“If you think about what’s happened worldwide, the churches are shut, the gathering place,” he said. “Now the people are out. Now they are the church. So when they calm down from this unexpected tragedy or calamity that’s happening, they’ll come to the realization of ‘What’s my purpose now?’ And that would be to share the Gospel, the salvation message of Jesus Christ.”
Through the period where congregations are not able to fellowship in the traditional weekly services, Callaway encourages believers to stay connected by other means.
“I think it is a time where people need to write cards to one another,” he said. “They need to call one another — forget the text — call. Do a FaceTime. Look at somebody’s face. Now more than ever when we need a hug, when we need the physical touch, it seems like the enemy is trying to separate us, so we have to get away from technology, get back to the voice calls, get back to the face-to-face on FaceTime, to look people in the face, to pray with one another. If you are healthy and available to help out the elderly, help out with the social distancing. Share if it comes to that we have to share. Put your guns away. It’s not the time to kill people, it’s a time to be loving and this is what love requires of us in this season, and I believe seasons come and seasons go. If anything, it should teach us something in this season.”