Dear Berean Bible Church Family,
We have a sizeable update to pass along to you all. I would strongly encourage you to take some time and read this entire newsletter. To start though, let me summarize the basics.
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Berean elders have decided to suspend all corporate church gatherings in compliance with government advisories. Our Sunday morning service will continue online though and will be made available for viewing with your family. This crisis will interrupt our normal flow of ministry and church life for a season. But we also believe that this crisis will at the same time provide many unique ministry opportunities, enabling our church to serve one another and witness to the lost in new ways. In all, we are resting in our God’s sovereignty, while seeking to walk wisely in these uncertain times.
In the rest of this newsletter, I will take more time to explain our decision, expound on what this means for our church, and explore the many ways we can manifest love and good deeds in the name of Christ.
Why We Are Suspending Corporate Gatherings
A lot has changed over the past week (let alone the past 24 hours) with the current COVID-19 outbreak. Local schools have closed and cases are being confirmed daily in SLO County. A mere two counties away, residents are being told to shelter in place, just one step away from a full lockdown. And our missionary friends in Spain, along with John Glass in France, are now in total lockdown. Though we may not be at that point yet, it appears that every level of our government is stressing the same message. Our federal, state, and county authorities, along with the CDC, are warning against even smaller-sized gatherings at this time. When people are gathered together, they are to avoid personal contact and maintain a 6′ minimum distance from one another. That spells bad news for our church, where we are packed into the sanctuary like sardines.
All this goes to say, with much careful consideration, we have decided to temporarily cease our corporate church gatherings. We feel now is the time to simply respect and submit to the will of all of our governing authorities. Even corporations and businesses are shutting down, at great financial loss. As the church, we can do our part as members of society to love our neighbors and help prevent the spread of this virus by abiding by the restrictions being placed on us.
You may have personal beliefs and opinions about this outbreak, as I do. You may believe this is all being blown way out of proportion and that when the dust settles, the coronavirus will not have been the panic-inducing threat it was made out to be. You may even believe the situation is being politicized. On the other hand, you could be wrong and this virus could be more of an existential threat that will change the course of our world forever. We simply cannot see the future. So for now, out of an abundance of caution, the elders believe the wisest course of action is to submit our desire to keep gathering to our governing authorities who say we should do otherwise for the sake of public health. We believe given the status of this outbreak, this course of action is the best way we can show love to our neighbors and especially the most vulnerable among us.
What This Means for Berean Bible Church
To get a little more specific, all corporate church gatherings will be suspended for the time being. Reading the writing on the wall, there is a very high probability that our time off will continue through the end of April. We wish we could give you a firm timeline here, but we can’t. This situation is truly day to day. Know that we will resume meeting as soon as we possibly can and we will update the church regularly as this fluid situation changes. But for now, the men’s breakfast, women’s fellowship night, and membership classes will all be postponed. Growth groups may meet one last time this week, but thereafter will also formally take a break.
But please do not get the impression that just because we are taking a break from our corporate gatherings that we are taking a break from being Christians or from being members of Berean Bible Church! To the contrary, we are planning many creative ways to continue the work of service and ministry during this unique time. In a way, the social distancing measures that force us not to gather may at the same time force other beneficial ministry opportunities to rise to the surface. Don’t forget, the church is not defined as a Sunday morning ritual. The church is the body of Christ: those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We are still here, life will go on, and no, this is not the Tribulation. So I want you to seriously consider how you can exalt God, edify believers, and evangelize the lost in new, creative ways during this time.
From our end at the church, you can look forward to a few highlights:
For starters, we will be recording our weekly Sunday service, making it available for you to watch with your family on YouTube or Facebook. At first, we will pre-record. Later, we may livestream. But you will have every opportunity to still praise God with the church in spirit while also being encouraged by the exposition of God’s word. I will be giving many special sermons in the coming weeks to help us all trust God through this crisis, yet also amplify our witness to the world. We would encourage you to still set aside a regular time each Sunday with your family to gather for Scripture reading, prayer, and the viewing of our Berean service. Look out for an update in a few days on when and where to access this Sunday’s service recording.
Speaking of time with your family, this season of social distancing may also translate into a time of heightened parenting, and that is a good thing. Pastor Oliver and his children’s ministry team will be working hard to email all of our regular Sunday school material to all parents. We want to provide families with all the resources they need to continue children’s ministry at home.
Fathers, this means you all have been instantly promoted to children’s ministry teachers in your homes! I hope you all are already regularly instructing your kids in God’s word, seeing that you are their primary teachers and shepherds. Children’s ministry at church is only ever meant to be a small supplement to the training you are doing at home. But our break from church gatherings is going to give you the extra opportunity to take your kids through our curriculum and devotional materials. Everything will be laid out for you. You just need to deliver it to your kids.
I hope this situation enables all of us parents and grandparents to respond by drawing nearer to our kids in training and instruction. Could this crisis perhaps even be the motivation some of you need to shift your biblical parenting into high gear? In God’s providence, this will be a season when our corporate church gathering is not emphasized. But a great good could come out of this if your family worship goes through the roof. Let’s aim for that. We will be in touch to provide you with all the supplies and resources you might need to excel still more during this time.
How We Worship, Walk, and Witness During This Time
Though not gathering on Sundays for the time being, there are many ways in which we can and must still function as a local church. These largely have to do with putting into practice all that we have been studying about the one-anothers. Literally, for the past eight months we have been exploring the various dimensions of the one-another commands in Scripture during our mid-week gatherings. Well now, in God’s providence, we have the perfect opportunity to put into practice all that we have learned.
Love one another, serve one another, care for one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, pray for one another, teach one another, comfort one another, stir up one another to love and good deeds, show hospitality to one another—just consider all the new ways you can apply these commands in our current situation! Though I am not at all happy about the virus outbreak, I am quite excited to see what God will do through this in how the church responds. This can be a time of momentous and evangelistic Christian living, which the world needs to see right now.
We are already brainstorming some creative ways we can serve one another during this time and maintain a sense of community despite physical separation. We are going to be looking for the able-bodied to form supply run teams. Those with free time and good health can stand in line to buy essential goods for our sick and senior members. Also, small service teams can help those in need with cleaning and yardwork (while still abiding by social distancing advisories). We do not want to put anyone at risk, so personal contact may still be limited. But we want to find ways to serve our needy. The same goes with members experiencing financial need. Please let us know if you have become unemployed because of this outbreak. We will look for ways to help you through. Remember, the church is your spiritual family. We are here to take care of one another.
This is really just scratching the surface. In the coming days, I will send out another newsletter giving a fuller list of service opportunities you can take advantage of during this time. Most can be done from home. Maybe you have never served at church before. Maybe this outbreak will change that. Whatever the case, I pray we can all respond with greater faith during this time of worry for the world. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16). Let this be a time where your faith, though tested, is proven and made stronger. And let that faith then translate into deeds of worship and witness.
I want to leave you on another note of grace for now. These are uncharted waters for all of us. This situation is unprecedented in many ways, at least since 1918. None of us have a guidebook for how to handle and respond to such a pandemic. Your church leadership is trying to respond with great care, concern, wisdom, and prayer. We are trying to seek what is best for the name of Christ and His church, while also simultaneously loving our neighbor and submitting to government. Please show us grace and pray for us during this time, that God would continue to give us His wisdom for decision-making.
Also, show grace to one another. Others in the church may view or interpret this situation differently than you. Some may be fearful; others may be nonchalant. But as we just learned in Colossians 3:13, let us bear with one another. Or as it says in Ephesians 4:2, show tolerance for one another in love. Though we may not gather for a time, we still can be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This is no doubt a time when unity is an essential commodity. So let us walk through these next days, whatever they may hold, together as one in Christ.