This post is part of a series on Caring and Sharing Hope during COVID-19. If you haven’t yet, read the first post in the series here.
Not-yet-believers have been and will be deeply affected by COVID-19. If they’re not connected to any meaningful community, they will need care in some cases even more than believers do. It’s more rare that not-yet-believers have anyone (beyond perhaps family) who will listen to their fears and concerns. Bible sales are off the charts; a forthcoming academic article shows that Google searches for “prayer” spiked each time a new major outbreak was announced between January and March, and were at their highest point in five years on January 29, 2020. In short, this may the ripest time for harvest we’ll see for decades.
Christian leaders, let’s not lead God’s people to be reactive, turn inward, and love only God and “the church” at the expense of the not-yet-believers who inhabit our lives and (hopefully) our prayers. What if we proactively loved our literal neighbors, the self-declared enemies of God, and even those who have persecuted us for our faith (Matt. 5:44)? Again, Christlike love moves toward people — all people — and this is a time to love people well! Let’s display and declare the good news that Jesus is better — even in a pandemic. Let’s give a defense for the hope that’s within us (1 Pet. 3:15). Let’s equip our churches and missional community members to share that deep hope, in digital conversions or across streets, with their not-yet-believing friends.
How Might You Share Hope Well, With Friends and Neighbors?
There are many ways to care for the believers in our body, but here are three common — nearly universal — principles to consider:
- Leaders can equip church members with ways to display the good news of Jesus to friends and neighbors. Even if we can’t get near them physically, we can share the love of Jesus well. We can drop off groceries for shut-in or vulnerable neighbors, and listen well (from across the street) to someone feeling sadness or fear. We can initiate a call or online chat with the co-worker who’s new to town or lonely, and offer encouragement and prayer to the friend in fear. Even online games, driveway (or balcony) singalongs, and meaningful notes help usher in peace, joy, connection, and hope. We love because Christ first loved us; we are blessed to bless others. Even simple or creative displays of care and hospitality reflect God’s heart toward people. As Christ pursued us when we were far away, so we pursue others who are still far away. Followers of Jesus have a unique chance to meet all sorts of needs; let’s equip our churches to lead out in caring well. If every Christian were to prioritize merely the people on their own block or own floor of your building, nearly every person in many cities would be well-loved.
- Leaders can equip church members with winsome ways to declare the good news of Jesus to friends and neighbors. For the many members of our churches who have an existing relationship and regular interaction with not-yet-believing friends and neighbors, opportunities to share that “Jesus is better” are not decreasing in this unique season; in fact, many not-yet-believers feel a deeper need for something lasting and true than when life is easy. On one hand, as we respond differently in the face of a pandemic than the rest of the world, people want to know the source of our hope, joy, and peace. Let’s have our defense ready (1 Pet. 3:15)! On the other hand, as we listen well to our friends and neighbors, ask good questions (like those below), and hear the things that not-yet-believers define as their identity, problems, functional saviors, and hopes, we have the opportunity to “answer each person” in a way that Jesus sounds like good news, to their unique story, emotion, and need in this moment (Col. 4:6).
- Most importantly, leaders can (and must!) equip each church member to check in on not-yet- believing neighbors and friends, on a regular basis. This can start with neighborhood apps (e.g NextDoor), work communication channels (e.g. Slack), or neighborhood/friend social media pages (e.g. Facebook groups), etc., but ideally check-in’s will become more personal and involve one person/family at a time. As church and MC leaders check in with church members via Zoom, call, text, email, etc, let’s equip all members to do the same, with not-yet-believers in their lives. Let’s prioritize the creation of ways for people who don’t know Jesus in our cities to be loved — let’s pursue and care for them, and display and declare the gospel with them. Then we can trust that we’re sharing hope with them well.
Missional Neighboring Checklist
- Challenge church members to identify 3 people they can reach out to (ideally, literal neighbors)
- Equip members for check-in calls, example in this post
- Create a tracking document to celebrate all of the gospel conversations and to continue to pray for people by name
- Respond to needs that emerge in the neighborhood (establish more robust systems when needs exceed the capacity of individuals)
What Might a Check-In Look Like? Almost the Same as a “Care Call”!
The not-yet-believer you’re checking in on may not love Jesus or be led by his Spirit, but you are! So your preparation for the call looks almost the same — with one important added preparation step.
Prepare Spiritually: Before reaching to call or video chat with a member of your Body you will want to spiritually prepare.
- Pray: Ask the Holy Spirit for filling to match the occasion (Eph 5:18)
- Stop and listen to the Spirit: Is there anything you believe God wants you/this person to know?
- AND pray for open doors and boldness to walk through them: Ask God to “open…a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” and if he does, “that [you’d] make it clear…” (Col. 4:3-4)
Ask Similar, Well-Rounded Questions as those in Part Two: The questions in Part 1 address motivations that drive every human — not just Christians. Not-yet-believers are experiencing similar emotions during this season (just with less hope); they are seeking things to worship and believe (even though those things are false and fading); they are seeking strength to make it through (but it’s often found in themselves, another person, or something that will eventually let them down). Questions from various angles draw out not-yet-believers in different ways, just like they draw out believers in different ways. So asking different types of questions, with a few nuances from above, might give you an opportunity to share a true and better hope with your not-yet-believing friend or neighbor in this season.
- Ice-breaker questions: For some calls you will likely need to ease in to deeper questions. Questions like “What are your days looking like?” or “Have you read anything interesting?” or “What’s surprised you most since you’ve had to stay home?” can start the check-in call well.
- Heart questions: “How are you doing?” or “How are you feeling?”
As they answer, affirm their emotions and potentially explain how God created our emotions for our good!
- Soul questions: “Where are you finding hope/rest?” or “Where are you finding good news?” Questions like this help us hear what our not-yet-believing friends and neighbors are functionally worshipping. The things they value, look to, or rely on, are in essence their gods (just like ours are too!) Help draw out areas of misplaced hope, trust, and worship (e.g. “I just can’t wait for the government bailout” or “I don’t think I can sleep until this all goes away.”) As God opens doors, prayerfully, boldly, and graciously share Jesus as a better, lasting, deeper hope.
- Mind questions: “What info are you relying on?” or “What do you find yourself believing/not?”
“Gospel fluency” conversations don’t just apply to believers; as stated above, in this unique time folks are looking for anything true, and might be more open than in less–urgent seasons. As people explain that they’re believing in the government, or in testing, or in “flattening the curve” (for example), God might invite you to explain ways that those things let them down, and point them toward promises of God!
- Strength questions: “Do you need anything?” Or “How can I pray for you?”
This kind of question — even prayer — applies to believers and not-yet-believers. Whether tangible (e.g. toilet paper or food), emotional (e.g. companionship or calming down), or spiritual (e.g. prayer or counsel), admitting a need of any kind requires humility, vulnerability, and honesty. It’s an admission that one cannot do life on their own. This post (rightly) claims that many Americans have a hard time admitting needs. Celebrate any admission of dependence, and explain that you believe God has given himself and the family of God to bolster weakness; offer to fulfill various kinds of need.
Looking for more disciple-making resources during COVID-19?
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