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Why Are Congregations Canceling Service? It’s Love, Not Fear5 min read

March 18, 2020 4 min read

Why Are Congregations Canceling Service? It’s Love, Not Fear5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Obviously, we live in unsettled times. I have never personally witnessed anything like the closures and cancelations on the scale that we have seen in the last week. Of course, this pandemic impacts churches as much as any organization because the church is made up of people. Congregations have struggled to know what to do and how to respond. I have seen everything from, “We are canceling everything” to, “Nothing will change here, give me a hug!” I personally wish that the answers about the appropriate course of action were clearer, but they are not. These are not things specifically addressed in the Word. Each congregation has to make some of those decision for themselves, and their autonomous decision should be respected like we would other matters of judgment. My personal decision is not a condemnation of your personal opinion.

Unfortunately, I have seen some who seem to imply that congregations who cancel anything are doing so out of fear. As my own congregation has gone through this difficult decision-making process in the last week (and continues to do so), I want to provide some insight into what I have witnessed as my shepherds’ driving motivation: It’s love, not fear!

At this point last week (first week in March 2020), I was not at all concerned about COVID-19 and its impact. I had seen the reports, but I also thought that there was a relatively low chance of it impacting me, and—even if it did—no one was expecting anything too serious. I knew that this virus could cause some serious complications (even death) for certain demographics, but so could any number of diseases. I was not really worried about it and I thought that most people were overreacting.

On Thursday, I got a text from one of our members. It just said, “Hi West!! Do you know if we will be going to the individual-per-package for the Lord’s Supper?” That text hit me like a ton of bricks. You see, his wife is a currently struggling with a kidney transplant and is severely immunocompromised. If this virus enters her body, she could die. Then I started thinking of the names of all the people in our congregation who were in similar situations. All people I love and worship side by side each Lord’s Day. Then I started thinking about our elderly—whom you can count on always being there whenever the doors are open—regardless of the threat—even when they should not. All of a sudden, I realized that these measures are not about me at all, they are about others whom I love.

Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” That great Christian principle is really what this is about. There is strong evidence now that asymptomatic (apparently totally healthy) people are spreading this virus. Children particularly may not show any symptoms at all, yet spread it among everyone with which they come in contact.

People are not canceling school and calling off youth sports because they are primarily worried about your kids getting sick. They are primarily concerned about those at home who are so vulnerable. It is this concern for others that is the driving motivator behind canceling some of our traditional activities, even if it is a personal inconvenience. In my congregation, we have canceled all congregational activities except for Sunday morning worship for the time being (and even that is subject to change). That service is being divided by location and age to prevent unnecessary contact.

When Martin Luther was dealing with The Black Death plague, he wrote these wise words that should give us some perspective as we think about what it means to be a Christian in the face of this pandemic or any other earthly challenge. He wrote,

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

This is not about fear. As Christians, we can look death square in the eye without fear (1 Cor. 15). This is not about putting God in a secondary place in our lives. At this moment, we need God and the lasting hope that can only come through Him. We are working diligently to make sure that our faith actually grows rather than shrinks through this time of trial. Measures are being taken to ensure that God, His Word, and His fellowship stay front and center during this crisis.

Our decisions as leaders in the church were based solely on love—for God and His children. That does not mean that if you chose to do less than us that you love God any less. Please don’t hear that. Every situation and context is different. It just means that is why we are doing what we are doing.  It is motivated by a desperate love for others. A lack of fear and love are not incompatible concepts. Hear the words of 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Power and love actually walk hand in hand in all our decisions. It’s love, not fear!

Originally from Southeast MO. Westley has preached for congregations in IL, KY, and TN. He currently the pulpit minister for the Forrest Park church of Christ in Valdosta GA. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Shelley. They have two children, Evie and Deacon. Westley has a Master of Ministry and also Master of Divinity degree from Freed Hardeman University. He also has a doctorate degree in Biblical Spirituality from Southern Seminary.
  1. Tony Clay

    Thank you, Wes. This post was timely, and necessary. Elderships have a difficult job all the time, but especially when making decisions about the flock that are immediately impactful such as canceling services. Some would say they're right in doing this, others would say they're wrong. This post highlights the importance of such consideration. Thank you, again.

  2. Lennie Reagan

    Thank you, Wes. I appreciate the reminder of the proper motive we all should possess for all we do and say.

  3. Duane McCrory

    Our Elders made the same decision. The teaching, preaching, and holy living examples (not to mention the monetary contributions) made by our senior members will be missed by the local church if some of our seniors succumb to this virus. It can have serious spiritual & financial consequences to the church.

  4. Larry Nickel

    Great article, Wes!

  5. Valorie Sanders

    Very well said! I appreciate this very much. My husband is an elder and it hurts me whenever he is criticized after struggling to do the right thing for the congregation!

  6. Joann

    Thank you for that insight. I believe that is the honest reason we need to cancel at times even if we are not afraid for ourselves. After all our home is in Heaven and we need not fear if we are right with our Maker.

  7. Leon Edmond

    We have several people in our congregation that travel overseas doing medical and spiritual mission work (450) and our elders felt it very important to protect our elderly ( large number) and our children. Our Sunday service is available to all on tv, and communion packets were given to all.This will be evaluated in two weeks, and the elders will make another decision at that time. We see nothing wrong with this--they are looking out for us!!!!!

  8. Corey Johnson

    A statement from your article concerns me. “Then I started thinking about our elderly—whom you can count on always being there whenever the doors are open—regardless of the threat—even when they should not.” West, what this does not consider is the possibility that they are the wisest amongst us. Something else this does not consider is taking away their right to assemble against any threat to show God we love Him and are willing to face any threat. Instead, we make the decision for them and take it out of their hands. Most of the time, these are the ones we praise and point to for an example but in this instance, we choose to take away their influence and make that decision for them. I am sorry, but that is not love but fear. You are fearing something for them that they are not even willing for themselves; if they are of a sound mind, that is their decision to make for themselves, not yours. I love you, brother, and I know that you are trying to do this out of love, but just because something seems to be love does not make it love. Taking away the wisdom of our elderly people to make their decisions is not wise.

    • Westley Hazel

      Good thoughts Corey. Something we certainly struggle with. Just want to make one point of clarification on my intention. I was not at all trying to paint a picture of the young upstarts trying to tell the older people brethren that they don't know what they are doing. I think that would actually be sinful (another article for another time). The decisions I am referring to are actually being made by our older/wise leaders. We call them elders in reference to the wisdom that only comes through their age. That is at least what I had in mind. Thanks for the feedback.

    • Adam

      Fear comes in all forms. You say he’s living in fear of the virus. I say you’re living in fear of losing your rights. Being able to close the doors and weather the storm while being optimistic of the future is courage and trust in God. Being stubborn might be more fearful. Worshipping God doesn’t require a building full of people anyway. The elderly are not left without the ability to love God and be loved on. A community of believers is important and even essential to Christianity, but it can endure and thrive in a time like this. This is temporary. The church isn’t going dormant during this time. Also, the eldership decided it together, so you have no biblical ground to stand on.

  9. Charline Chambers

    I enjoyed seeing reading your thoughts on this subject. You are a WISE-WISE young man that the Lord has blessed. THANK YOU for your inspiration on this-I totally agree with you! Gonna miss going on the Ladies Cruise with your Momma, but we will hopefully get to do another time! Continue forward❤️❤️

  10. Mark Stinnett

    Very well spoken. We needed this here in Limestone County, AL

  11. Susan

    I am struggling with this issue- closing worship gatherings- I understand the ones whom have underlying physical ailments and choose to shelter in place, however, our Lord tells us not to be afraid of those who can harm us- but those that can send our souls to hell... While we should respect our Elders and their leadership- as well as government policies, when those policies go against Biblical Teachings and Commands- I feel we need to step aside and study hard! Remember Daniel- I am a healthcare worker- so maybe I’m calloused to the true devastation effects - however, I feel the Fesr factor has overshadowed our true purpose and Eternal Home- this is but a vapor and God is in control- we should be ready to leave this present life and go on to our reward when God desires ?!

  12. Peter Crotser

    I’m glad to hear that your decisions were made out of love. However, from different people and groups we know and have seen, this is not the case in every situation. I agree with what Lincoln wrote, but we have seen the wisdom of his time more lacking than prevalent in ours. We’ve witnessed so much fear, not just of the dread illness but of political expediency, from various ones. I trust and pray that we will all examine our motives, because He is!

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