The media is full of voices: a daily barrage of numbers, projections, predictions and pleas for social distancing. Many people have been distanced not by encouragement but by enforcement. The emotions of the past month have progressed from ignorance, to denial, to concern and finally to fear. One can almost feel the anxiety level increase just by consuming the news. There is a pall cast over our nation and with it has come a sense of darkness. These days are unlike any that have been experienced before by those in our congregations.
Yet the church is not without a voice in these dark days. The LCMS weathered a similar pandemic in 1918. Luther faced the devastating darkness of the plague that befell Wittenberg in his day.
But this endurance is more than just history. It is a part of who we are as God’s people. War, famine and pestilence are present in Holy Scripture. When God’s people faced these devastating events, they did it head on. And, as one looks at the response of God’s people in times like the one we face today, it is important to note that they found their voice in the midst of it all. Their voice was one of repentant faith!
The challenge that faces the local congregation today, especially in the area of stewardship, is the call to find its voice. The church has not been called to sit silently during these days of challenge. The church is to respond as the church, as the voice that is faithful to the Lord who has created us and in Jesus has redeemed us. The church proclaims what it has always proclaimed: the Word of God.
Our voice has not changed. Our voice is still marked by what Jesus has given us to say in Luke 24:47: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Once we have found our voice, we need to use it. The local congregation needs to do three things at a time like this: communicate, communicate, communicate. This communication needs to be multi-layered. Modern communication methods such as weekly emails, online videos and social media posts have made this a much easier task than the one our forefathers faced in 1918. It is necessary that there is some investment in additional broader communication as well. The postal service still stands ready to help you communicate. Letters still do work.
As we use the voice we have found, it is important to remember that we are also stewards of words. Word choice is critical. While it is easy to say that we are facing a crisis, this makes our message sound as shrill as the one coming from the media. What the church faces today in this time of pandemic is a challenge. There is a difference between crisis and challenge. Crisis creates and instills fear. Challenges give rise to opportunities to overcome!
Finding our voice in faithful stewardship of words means that we are confident in asking our brothers and sisters in Christ to keep supporting the work that the Lord is doing even in this time of challenge. Coronavirus does not stop people from hearing the Gospel and being led to faith.
In fact, as the Word is proclaimed beyond the walls of the church in new ways, the Gospel is still working!
This means that we do not beg our fellow Christians to give to the church. No, we continue calling them to repentance and the forgiveness of sins. As they receive this Good News, and respond in love, their gifts enable the church to give that Good News away to others. This is the heart of the opportunity that this challenge gives to us all as brothers and sisters in Christ.
There is ample evidence that many congregations are overcoming the challenge of responding and proclaiming the Word in the mist of “safer at home” or quarantine orders. Nearly every congregation, in one form or another, has embraced new media as they continue the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. This has been a blessing to our members. It has also put the Gospel out to a much broader audience. This meeting of the challenge has created opportunities for the work of the Gospel to expand!
This is where we find our voice in stewardship. Remember, the church has only one thing to steward: THE GOSPEL.
What we have often associated with stewardship — the giving of money, effort and presence for the work of the Church — are really only the means by which we steward the Gospel! The church finds her stewardship voice in these times when we focus not on a crisis of funding, but on opportunities given to us to share the extravagant grace which our Lord continues to pour out on God’s people, even in a time of coronavirus. This message of the love of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ is what drives out fear.
When our stewardship voice is shrill and fearful, we are harming the work of the Gospel. As the church finds her stewardship voice in this time of fear, the message of the Gospel sounds different and sweeter! God has given us this opportunity to steward the Gospel for the sake of our neighbor and His glory!
A faithful steward does not raise a shrill voice of fear, constantly seeking fulfillment of a fiscal need. No, a faithful voice of stewardship calls upon the Lord in repentance and looks to Him for the forgiveness of sins and the fulfillment of every earthly and heavenly need.
The Psalmist reminds us to pray, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1–2).
Receiving mercy, forgiveness, eternal life, salvation and everything we need for this body and life as a gift from the Lord, the faithful steward then seeks to give it away to others. As the Lord leads us to find this voice of faithful stewardship He will cause His Word to be proclaimed and God will continue to do what He has always done through us, His Church: show people Jesus!
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia Plan Services, Lutheran Church Extension Fund, Concordia Publishing House, LCMS Foundation and other LCMS entities have compiled resources to assist congregations, schools, church workers and members during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.