Heart Matters: Georgia Pastor Champions Health, Justice
By Carl Stagner
It’s a no-brainer for Pastor Jason McClendon. Why wouldn’t God’s people be the first on the scene in crisis? Especially facing dual crises, shouldn’t the church be best positioned to take back what hell has stolen, ready to serve one another in love by the power of the Holy Spirit? The pastor of Community Church of God in Macon, Georgia, knows these are not times for the body of Christ to retreat, but transform culture as the salt and light Jesus says we are. No one should be surprised, then, to hear that Jason McClendon has taken bold steps to address COVID-19, as well as an insidious virus of another kind—racism.
Over the course of the pandemic so far, Community Church of God has partnered with the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank to distribute food in 49 counties. An estimated 60,000 pounds of food was scheduled to be given away on the first Saturday of June alone. The church has also partnered to provide every child of three local elementary schools with ten free books in the wake of school closures. Among a wide variety of additional ways Community Church of God has sought to serve their neighbors during the coronavirus crisis, one of especially laudable and unique efforts has been testing for COVID-19.
“Two months ago, when we had to close our churches,” Pastor Jason recounts, “I made a decision to be tested for COVID-19 because I knew ministry was not going to stop and that I would, by necessity, continue to interact with people. I called downtown and learned that, at the time, you had to have symptoms. I didn’t meet any of those, but 80 percent of cases were asymptomatic.”
Jason’s inquiry was a bit discouraging, but it would set the stage for what would happen next. One of his cousin’s called him with information that a friend had recently purchased a lab and was hosting drive-up clinics, but with very little community participation. That’s when Pastor Jason McClendon had an idea. “People trust their pastor,” he explains. “They may not trust a big corporation offering COVID-19 testing, but they trust their pastor. If the pastor in a community says we need to get tested, the community may listen. Well, to date, our work has resulted in 15,000 tests—that’s more than the number of tests administered by the local public health department.”
Drive-through testing at his home church seemed too small of a vision for Jason McClendon. He knew it wasn’t really enough, and he knew that God could do so much more. “Shame on us if we keep this to ourselves. It’s time to partner, to collaborate. I started calling pastor friends in the city and in the county. This has grown!”
Pastor Jason has helped initiate and lead at least a dozen different COVID-19 testing clinics in the city and beyond. The work has been so successful that he wants to encourage, and even train, other pastors and churches to do similar work. “Contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get you set up with a road map and game plan to engage your community during the pandemic. I believe we can get our communities tested, but the church is going to have to stand up. What we start now we will have the ability to keep going even when the pandemic is over. No doubt about it, people will remember what we do for others during times of crisis.”
As if the COVID-19 outbreak wasn’t enough, the racial injustices ongoing for generations, but reaching a boiling point in recent weeks, have again given platform to God’s people to demonstrate the Way of Jesus. Alongside others from the Macon congregation and broader community, Jason McClendon has seized every opportunity to march peacefully for racial justice. Raising awareness of racial inequities, systemic racism, and the injustices that plague society are but another extension of Pastor Jason’s heart to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly” with God (Micah 6:8). One successful example of the church’s efforts was partnering with three local college students to organize a peaceful march for human rights, which attracted an estimated 2,000 participants. Jason explains, “Black people aren’t trying to take over. We want to march for justice. We want to be accepted and live in harmony.”
Pastor Jason is sure to make an important clarification, too. “Remember that we, too, believe all lives matter,” he explains. “But we say black lives matter because we simply want to be included in your ‘all lives matter.’”
So, what should white pastors and church leaders do? Many are asking the question, and recognizing that posts of solidarity on social media aren’t enough. Jason’s response is both insightful and practical:
“It would be great for Caucasian pastors to partner with an African American church. Take the posture of a student and learn from their experience. In a time when so many churches are adding second campuses, what if you partner with a local African American congregation, instead? The financial resources we have are not the same. There is inequity and disparity of income. Partnership could really make a difference. Then learn from us, continue the conversations, and be willing to suffer the microaggressions with us. We can reach more people for Christ and our witness will be more authentic, with exponential possibilities, by us coming together. It would take us back to our core, that we would ‘reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one.”
It didn’t take a crisis to develop the love that Jason McClendon and Community Church of God have for people. The present crises have only revealed their hearts. “It’s in the darkest times that the church should shine the brightest,” Pastor Jason concludes.
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.