An Open Letter to Pastors Still Having In-Person Worship Services

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

First, you need to know that this comes from a place of deep love in Jesus Christ. My intention is not to start a fight or to bash you. However, I need to have some real talk for a minute. If you’re continuing to have worship services with your congregation in your building, you’re not making good decisions. These choices are anything but faithful or loving. You’re putting your people in danger and for what? To show how devoted to God you are? If that’s your idea of faithfulness, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m a Methodist and, like any good Methodist, I believe there is credibility in John Wesley’s General Rules for the early Methodist Societies. Wesley came up with these rules as a summary of the teachings of Jesus Christ. The rules are:

  • Do no Harm
  • Do Good
  • Attend to the Ordinances of God (or: “Stay in Love with God”)

How can we justify placing our people in harm’s way? How are we doing good when we expose our parishioners to a disease that could kill them? How are we attending to God’s ordinances by taking such a big risk? The short answer to all of these is, “We aren’t.” Thinking that we are somehow immune to a disease like COVID-19 is arrogant and prideful. As I saw on social media post just this morning:

“The blood of Jesus is a vaccine against sin, not against viruses.”

COVID-19 does not care how strong your faith is. COVID-19 does not care big, small, or loud your church is. There has been a direct link to churches and the spread of COVID-19. Again I ask: Why are we being so reckless?

Pastors, we have got to love our people enough to shut this down. We have got to love God enough to not put our people in harm’s way. Doing so does not please God. Frankly, you can throw all the scripture (and I’m sure a lot of it way would be used way out of its context) you want at me but we do not please God when we mistreat our flocks in such ways. Are we not shepherds, whose jobs it is to care for the flocks that we have been entrusted with? Sometimes being a shepherd means doing what’s best for our people even if they don’t like it. Sometimes it means saying no. In this season, being a good shepherd means telling our people to stay home.

If you’re having drive up services and think this will keep the virus from spreading, well, I don’t believe you’ve thought this through. I considered doing this at Easter and then I researched it further. Upon studying, I decided that even a drive up service was not a good idea. Mississippi’s United Methodist Bishop, James Swanson, sent a note to pastors strongly discouraging such gatherings. First, depending on who you ask, these gatherings may violate shelter-in-place orders and bans on gatherings over ten people. Second, let me give you a hypothetical situation to consider:

Let’s say there are people in cars next to each other and have their windows down (reality is not everyone is going to leave their cars cranked even if there is low power FM). One of them coughs and the droplets go into the next car. Say someone walks through the droplet field when they go to the bathroom. And say any of them have severe underlying conditions. You’ve not only infected people but probably killed someone all in an attempt to be faithful.

Even if you give instructions to remain in vehicles or to keep windows up, there’s no guarantee that people will do this. And, really, what can we do to compel people to follow these instructions? Not much, and really nothing concrete.

Is this blood really what we want to have on our souls and on our hands?

I love being together as much as anyone else and I miss this terribly, but I love my people more. I want them to be as safe and healthy as possible, which is why I have indefinitely called off all in-person activities at my churches. My love for my people is why I’m taking advantage of modern technologies like Facebook Live, which I count as a gift from God, to facilitate worship and discipleship. Keeping my people away is the best way I can love them right now. This does not mean that I like making such decisions but these decisions are ones I know needed to be made.

I know you love your people too. I know you want what’s best for them. But please consider suspending in-person activities as an act of love. Perhaps you’re afraid of resentment, being undermined, or losing your job. I get it. But, as I stated above, sometimes being a shepherd means doing what’s best for our people whether they like it or not. If you decide to start using Facebook Live and I can help in any way, please reach out. You can also read some thoughts I’ve already posted about streaming here.

Do no harm. Love your people enough to tell them to stay home.