Joshua Phoong—Ipoh, Malaysia
We are living in a time unprecedented in its volatility and uncertainty. The overwhelming force of the pandemic, which has raged beyond two years, shows little sign of abatement. This monumental threat to public health has disrupted daily life, wrought sociopolitical and economic havoc, and caused untold misery. With many countries imposing widespread restrictions on movement and urging residents to limit physical interaction during this period, we have been forced to reconsider and adapt in almost every aspect of life—the way we work, socialize, and most importantly, the way we worship and carry out the Lord’s mission of propagating the gospel.
Lockdowns—notably, the unpredictability of their recurrence—may appear to render evangelism impossible. How can we preach when we cannot reach? How can we plan when things change at the drop of a hat? But nothing is impossible with a willing and receptive heart and with God’s inspiration through the Holy Spirit. Instead of resigning ourselves to inaction, we must proactively adapt our long-held traditions to overcome physical barriers, changing how we conduct services, care for one another, and how we pastor and evangelize. Specifically, in the context of world mission, we must boldly empower and revitalize the church to “[g]o into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).
The work of the gospel must never cease or stagnate. In the new normal of living with the pandemic, we must work even harder to make disciples of all nations. What does it take to do so?
FORWARD-THINKING WITH RENEWED CONVICTION
For a start, we must understand that mission work has to continue irrespective of any changes in environment or circumstance. Our Lord instructs us to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19–20). The apostle Paul reminds us that this mission must remain the foremost priority, and we have to be ready to preach the gospel, in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2).
To date, the True Jesus Church has tended to rely on personal invitations—to the church or family services—as a means of introducing the truth to our friends. While this was effective in the past, present COVID-19-mitigation measures, such as countrywide lockdowns, have disrupted such an approach. Nevertheless, continuing to fulfill the Lord’s charge to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom (Mt 24:14) is non-negotiable. We must, thus, formulate new strategies and proceed with renewed conviction. Charging ahead to propagate the gospel requires several things.
First, we must embrace change and reskill ourselves to suit the current circumstances. We must become all things to all men so that we may save some (1 Cor 9:22). Through God’s guidance, the church has actively deployed new digital methods and various tools to maintain our connection with believers and spread the gospel of Christ to the broader public. Through these, we can hold regular virtual services, religious education lessons, seminars, and training quite seamlessly.
However, we must not become complacent. In our hyperconnected world, billions of people use social media and various online platforms to stay connected. So, we must keep up with and explore the full potential of these platforms. As creatures of habit, there is a natural inclination for speakers to rely on the same presentation strategy. When told to adapt from in-person to a virtual format, we minimally tweak what we have always done. This is insufficient. We have to rethink and redesign our online engagement strategies.
In-person, meet-and-greet sessions are critical in spurring one another in love and good deeds for our mutual encouragement (Heb 10:24–25). However, in light of the varied restrictions on congregating physically, the church must adopt a flexible and hybrid approach, switching seamlessly between physical and digital. Technological formats and solutions evolve very quickly. We must constantly refine our online engagement approaches to find the most effective ways to connect with members and truth-seekers alike. Examples of initiatives to be piloted or strengthened include:
• New platforms: online evangelistic platforms and virtual forums to engage people and encourage discussion on relevant topics.
• New structures: internet evangelism teams and community outreach volunteers (COV) to reach different target segments.
Staying Steadfast in Faith
Second, even as we learn to use new tools, we must never lack spiritual preparation. We need to remain steadfast in faith. We need to deepen our understanding of different geographical, environmental, and societal contexts. These attune us to the needs and specific circumstances of the people to whom we are reaching out. However, increasing our knowledge of the Bible, the doctrines, and the truth is even more critical as these help us better expound the Scriptures (2 Tim 1:13–14).
We also need to pray incessantly (1 Thess 5:17), not only for ourselves as individual parts of the body of Christ (Rom 12:4–6) but also for the spiritual health and development of the body itself—our church as a whole.
Prayer is also crucial in ensuring that we remain faithful to the truth. Despite our need to be nimble in our gospel outreach strategy, we must never compromise our doctrines. Our core message must remain unchanged. We are adapting to how we deliver our message to reach a new generation of believers. This requires us to constantly examine ourselves and ensure that we hold firmly to the doctrines and truth.
Third, we must seize every opportunity to advance the truth. This includes taking advantage of new challenges and trials. On an individual basis, tribulations hone our spiritual resilience (Jas 1:3; 1 Pet 4:12). As a church, trials unlock new opportunities. To illustrate: the disciples’ dispersal from Jerusalem, driven by intense persecution (Acts 8), was the will of God as it allowed the apostolic church to spread the gospel to the four corners of the earth. Without this abrupt, tumultuous event that displaced members of the apostolic church far and wide, the spread of the gospel would have been geographically stunted.
Do not be tempted to think of lockdowns as opportunities to withdraw and rest. With believers waiting only for “favorable conditions” to preach, slow growth and complacency are often fertile seedbeds for doctrinal perversion. Do not fear the present adversity. Learning from the persecution of the apostolic church, cherish the opportunities that present themselves amid tribulations. Trust that all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).
God gives wisdom to face trials to all who ask (Jas 1:5). Forging ahead, we can ask Him to provide us the strength and wisdom to recognize new opportunities in the face of adversity, to adapt our legacy approaches to the changing circumstances, and make the most of every opportunity He provides (Eph 5:15–16).
CONCLUSION: SAME GOSPEL, DIFFERENT APPROACH
Faced with the constant barrage of reports on COVID-19 infections and deaths, it is natural for us to be afraid and discouraged from carrying out our Lord’s commission. But if we love propagating the gospel and place our trust in God, not deviating from His path, God’s love will find a way. We are only His vessels. Let us be diligent, innovative, tenacious stewards who faithfully keep His word and preach it to the nations!
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart. (Gal 6:9)