In the Face of Uncertainty: Widely Respected Pastor Reflects on Crisis, Change
By John Mattern
What does trusting God look like in the midst of a pandemic? How does church function when the primary programs, locations, and rhythms of ministry are gone overnight? What does it look like to “keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28 NIV)?
Bob Moss serves as the lead pastor of Hope Community Church in Niles, Michigan, while also holding a position with Church of God Ministries. He has served as a church planter, a large-church pastor, a state pastor, and the chair of the General Assembly. Bob has a unique perspective on many of the different and sometimes unexpected forms of ministry that pastors face. His insight is welcome, thoughtful, and valuable to many.
There is no mistaking the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the church’s life. On March 14 and 15, Bob held service at the dawn of the pandemic in the United States. He described those experiences as unsettling. Bob made sure to follow all the guidelines that were in place at that time. As the congregation gathered, Bob struggled with the question, “Should we be here?” The weight of a pastor’s responsibility combined with the practical reality that the church was not prepared to move online threw Bob off balance. He felt very insecure, frustrated, and uncertain.
Today, Bob misses standing in the lobby of the church and greeting people. He grieves the isolation many people, especially the older generation, are facing. Moss remarks, “Presence and touch are the most basic human expression of love and they have been stripped away from us.” He makes sure to call his mother at least every other day. He has had family members call and check in on him. Solitude and mortality are continually on Bob’s mind. While he recognizes that these moments are an opportunity to encounter God in a new way, Moss does not know what that looks like yet. What he does know is that God will provide. As Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
The Hope Community Church and Moss face challenges similar to many other pastors and congregations around the country. Nobody was prepared for this pandemic. There is no clear sense of the right thing to do. The pandemic is forcing churches and pastors to respond in new ways without having access to the tools and systems they relied upon in the past. These struggles are real and cannot be ignored. So, what approach should be taken? Where is the solid ground to stand on when the world is filled with fear and uncertainty?
His approach took two forms. Practically, he led the church through crafting a COVID-19 statement and strategy. Together, he and the church made plans on how to broadcast services. They divided up the families in the congregation among the staff to provide pastoral care while finding ways to empower people to care for each other. They developed unique tools for their context and situation to address as many needs as possible. Personally, Moss went back to basics. He began meditating on Psalm 23, paying careful attention to each phrase of that Psalm. Here he found reliable footing that has proved to be significant and relevant to his day to day life.
Moss’s encouragement to churches and pastors during this pandemic is simple: be real. There is an honesty in doing church at home. It’s a new kind of real that allows us to see people as they are, rather than as the carefully crafted public image that can be projected, he reflects. He also encourages doing ministry in God-inspired ways that are unique to each context, calling, and setting. Following Jesus is more important than any program, strategy, or building. God is our Provider, he is reminded. We can trust that our Provider will guide us forward into an unknown future.
Rev. John Mattern and his wife Emily pastor First Church of God in Saint Johns, Michigan. This is one of the oldest congregations in the Church of God founded 1889.
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.