Let me start by stating the obvious: it’s a difficult thing for pastors to cancel a worship gathering. In fact, we begin our Sunday gatherings with this statement:
This hour is not like other hours. This is when the people of God worship God, as a community redeemed by the blood of Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good works.
We begin like this as a way to remind our people that the Sunday hour is not like other hours. It is a special time when brothers and sisters of the faith gather to pray, sing, proclaim and partake of the gospel. It’s an hour for our weary and heavy-laden souls to find rest and renewal in the company of saints as we bow together before our sovereign King and receive His conviction, communion, and compassion.
So, to cancel a worship gathering is something that can carry a lot of second-guessing and mental anguish for many pastors/elders. With that said, here are four helpful perspectives for us to remember if we fall into the evergrowing category of churches canceling worship services due to the spread of the Coronavirus.
1. It’s Not Unbiblical To Cancel. In other words, we’re not neglecting to meet together (Heb. 10:25) because special circumstances have led us to a brief moment in our church history when the most loving thing we can do for the health and safety of our neighbors and congregations is to suspend our gatherings for a time. Equally important is making sure that we are obeying the Lord by being subject to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1).
2. It’s Wrong To Judge Other Pastors. Whatever decision a pastor/elder team comes to, let’s be gracious by giving the benefit of the doubt that the decision wasn’t easy and came as the result of prayer and good counsel. By the way, it’s just as important to consider the decision to not cancel your gathering, especially if political, pharisaical or prideful motivations are lurking beneath.
3. Our Cancelling Leads to Longing. Whether a church gathers or not, we trust that Jesus is still our sympathetic high priest and the lead pastor of all our churches. In the absence of worship gatherings, the church has an opportunity to experience a longing for that Sunday in the near future when they will gather with the saints once again. Is this not a longing similar to how we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23). Rather than fearfully white-knuckling through the downtime that our canceled gatherings bring, we can lead and encourage our people to hope for what we do not see, as we wait for it with patience (Rom. 8:25).
4. Our Longing Leads to Rejoicing. In the book of Nehemiah, when the Israelites celebrated the Feast of Booths after years of captivity, it says there was very great rejoicing (Neh. 8:17). In the absence of our worship gatherings, even if just for a short while, we experience a unique and practical longing for the day when we gather again, while imagining the rejoicing that will commence.
In the end, you’re not a bad pastor if you cancel services over COVID-19. In this unique season, God will provide you with wisdom and faithfulness as you seek His face. Allow the assurance of Christ and the riches of his gospel to be the death of any guilt, anxiety, or fear that threatens to condemn you. Be reassured by His faithfulness, and rest well.