As the Great Pandemic’s flood waters are slowly receding, a new kind of decision making crisis is emerging for ministries everywhere. The underlying question: how do we deal with freedom?
In March 2020, we faced a different question. As governments put into place restrictions intended to curb the spread of covid-19, the question was how to deal with limitations. Rarely in our nation’s history had the church had to face limitations on its gatherings. Our churches – and we as church leaders – made decisions about our approach to these restrictions.
Today, as we are coming out of the crisis (God willing), a new challenge faces us. What will we do with our freedom?
“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up,” Paul cautions us in 1 Corinthians 10:23. So, how do we use our freedom to build up? How do we know what is helpful?
Let me offer 2 guiding principles that have been the guardrails for my decisions throughout the pandemic and continue to help me moving forward.
- Obey the rules. Not a popular position, I know. But here is my case for obeying the rules: it protects our integrity, it protects our witness, and it protects our ministry. It protects our integrity by holding us to a standard. If we decide that we are above the authority of the law or the authority of the governing officials, it is a slippery slope to deciding that we are above the authority of the commands of Scripture. If the law requires you to disobey the direct command of Scripture, then disobedience is necessary. The authority of God is above the authority of man. But if the rules are consistently applied and do not require disobedience to God, then we must follow them to maintain our integrity. Our integrity in turn protects our witness with outsiders and our legal compliance protects our ministry from the consequences of disobedience. Obey the rules.
- Use all your freedom within the rules. The mission God has set us on has not changed because of any pandemic. We are to go into all the world making disciples, being representatives of God in every part of society. This mission has not changed, and so we must use all our freedom to move the mission forward without destroying our opportunity to do so by sacrificing our integrity, our witness, or our ministry. Holding back when the opportunity is open will reduce your opportunities in the future.
As you look forward to the day that the pandemic flood waters are fully receded, where do you hope your church will be positioned going forward? Will you be left without a footing because you chose not to follow the rules or because you chose not to exercise your freedom within the rules? May you as a leader be both “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16.)
Biblical references from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).