Today, Joe asks Jamie about the new normal that Covid-19 has brought. How do we continue to do the Great Commission in such an environment? And, just as importantly, how should we be praying in the midst of this pandemic?
Jamie: Hey everybody, this is Jamie Dew.
Joe: And this is Joe Fontenot.
Jamie: And we welcome you back to our podcast, The Towel & the Basin.
Joe: Yeah, and so this is kind of in the midst of COVID-19. We're all locked down essentially, and as we're recording this, it's Friday, March 27th.
Joe: And so Jamie, I wanted to just ask you some practical questions. These are issues that a lot of people are facing right now and struggling through right now, and they have to do with the church, and how do we continue to be a part of the church, how do we continue to lead the church during these times? So I wanted to start with this question; what do you think we should be braced for right now?
Jamie: In terms of severity and duration and all of those types of things, right?
Joe: That's right. Is this temporary? Should we be thinking like that? Should we be settling in? What does this mean for us?
Jamie: I think, this is just me so I preface all my comments here today, I'm not a medical expert, I'm not a medical doctor, I don't know all the stats that our leaders would have right now, but we try to stay really informed on various levels around here from the health side of it, medical side, the financial side, and what have you. I think that in a sense yes and no, people need to be prepared for the long haul and then in other ways I think it's going to get better soon. And here's what I mean; I think that ultimately there is a sense in which we probably are going to be dealing with this for quite some time. If folks are out there expecting that two weeks from now, three weeks from now, somebody's going to flip a switch and we're all going back to normal, I think that that's naive to think that that's the case right now.
Jamie: Now, at the same time, I don't know that we're going to be at this level of severity for ever, and ever, and ever. We can't, and we've got to figure out a way to start resuming business, and I think people are working really hard on that. But this is going to be with us for a long time. I mean, we hope that the heat and the temperature change is going to have an effect on this. We hope that the measures we're taking to isolate are going to have an effect on this. We hope that they are going to make progress sooner rather than later on finding treatments for COVID-19, and there's some encouraging data out there to suggest they've got at least some clues about pathways to pursue. We're just not there yet.
Jamie: But ultimately, all indications are COVID-19 we will be dealing with in some way, shape, form or fashion until we get a vaccine. And that's, fastest case scenario, 18 months from now, maybe 24 months. If they're not successful with some of these early trials, it could be well beyond that. So I don't think that we're going to two months from now, three months from now going to be in a where we just flip some switch and we just resume life as it was before that. We're going to have to find ways of picking our normals back up and our affairs back up, but to do so in very different ways.
Jamie: So I don't know exactly what that's going to look like, and this is obviously very new for everybody, and we've got to figure out ways to keep going on. But I'm hopeful that we'll be able to start, just on my end, I'm hopeful that by this summer at some point we'll be able to resume some face to face classes. Maybe not classes of 40 and 50, but maybe classes of eight and 10 and things like that.
Jamie: I'm hopeful that at some point we'll be able to get back to doing things like graduations and chapel events. But thinking about major events like sporting events where 25,000 people walk into one big building, I don't know how that will work. So anyway, all that to say, I think that there is definitely a sense in which we need to be prepared to ride this out over a long period of time. But at the same time, I don't think that that means we're going to be on sort the lockdown that we're on during these weeks forever and ever.
Joe: Right. Now, a followup question to that. We are on a lockdown. However, the great commission is still the great commission, right? I mean, maybe we can't go knock on people's doors because we're saying, "Hey, we're bringing life," and they're seeing, hey, you're bringing death. Don't come to my door, right?
Jamie: Yeah, that's right.
Joe: So maybe we need to think through our approaches and stuff, but my question is this; how should we be looking at things like discipleship and evangelism even now in these days? Should we put those on pause and just focus on survival? What should our mindset be?
Jamie: Well, we absolutely should not put stuff like that on pause. Those are the types of things, I mean that we're mandated to do those things, and it's not just that we were mandated to do them. From a pastoral side of this and just a psychological emotional side of this, that's what people desperately need right now, maybe more so than anything. So I would say look, whether you're talking business or you're talking industry of some kind, academics, but now especially the church, the church has to find a way to continue going and continue doing what it does while they cannot gather in large groups.
Jamie: I've been encouraged to see churches doing that though. So you had a little bit of resistance that first week when everybody was saying, "Oh, we're not going to do church online. We're going to do it either face to face," they sort of persisted in the face to face, or you just had some saying, "Well we just won't meet it all this week." Look, this is going to be here a while. Churches have to find a way to continue feeding their congregation spiritually and discipling them.
Jamie: I was very encouraged to see one, the number of churches that figured out some way to have a service online last week, and two, I was encouraged by the innovation on display. I mean, you had some very different approaches being taken and frankly, I think we should not be critical of any of these at this moment. Let's try to figure all these out and then over time I think we'll all just begin to gravitate naturally towards what works the best.
Jamie: I mean, you just saw people recording services and then playing them back at the worship hour. You saw churches live streaming an actual service where a live preacher went and preached in front of a camera and maybe one worship leader. You had churches doing a drive in church where all the families pulled into the parking lot, and rolled their windows down, and the preacher stood up on the back of a pickup truck with speakers and preached to the congregation in the parking lot. That was kind of cool. You had churches saying, "We don't feel like that's an official gathering of any kind," but they still provided resources for families to do it, and then record little tidbits or something like that, or they might provide some resources electronically, some documents and some discipleship material that they encouraged families to do things with.
Jamie: I don't want to be critical of any of those approaches. What I think the church has to do right now is figure out another way forward to continue discipling and feeding their people right now. And I'm encouraged by how many of them are doing that, and I'm encouraged by the innovation, the broad, diverse innovation that's taking place. That is exactly what the body of Christ should be doing right now, and I'm encouraged to see them doing it.
Jamie: And then two other things they've got, and I hate to bring this one up, but it's a real scenario, churches have to figure out pathways forward for their people to give financially and support the church, because we do need to, if you're listening to this families and individuals, we need to continue the work of God's kingdom and fueling the work of the church, so we have to do that. Churches would be well served to figure out clear and easy pathways forward, whether that's mail in your check, give online through our website, or some other means. What you have to do is make it clear and make it easy for your folks, and then encourage, communicate with folks how to do it.
Jamie: I would also say in addition, what I think the church needs to do is not just be very innovative in how they're disseminating content, whether that's a sermon or a Sunday school class. I mean, we had Sunday school classes doing Sunday school over Zoom, which is really cool to see. I mean, again, is it the same thing as face to face? No, it's not. But is it at least something?
Jamie: I have heard some people critiquing this and just simply saying, "It's not the same." Well, obviously it's not the same, but that's a perfect solution fallacy, right? Because it's not a perfect solution, a perfect replacement for what we would do face to face, it's therefore not a value. And look, I would grant, it's not the same thing as when we can do it face to face, and I as much as anybody, gosh, I cannot wait. I mean, it brings a whole new meaning and depth to the gathering of the saints. I cannot wait for that moment where we can all be together again and worship. And I think we should have a bit of an emotional build up to that moment. And when we go back to that moment, may we never lose it again. May we never again take for granted the fact that we get to be together on Sundays.
Jamie: But don't exercise a perfect solution fallacy here. In saying that, "Well because it's not the same thing, it's not of any value." Well look, it's still have some value, and it gives the church a way forward to find out how to do these things, and that's what we've got to have right now.
Jamie: The only thing I add to it is pastors, staff, elders, deacons, Sunday school leaders, small group leaders, whoever your leadership structure is in your church, I'm speaking to all of them now, in addition to content dissemination, which has been really neat to see the church step up on that, in addition to that, make sure that you're still doing everything you can to be as incarnational as possible. Pick up the telephone, call people, listen, talk to each other, FaceTime, Zoom with each other. When and where you can gather in small little groups, keeping the kinds of safety distances you need to, do it. So find a way forward to the church is what I would say. And I'm encouraged to say that thus far is what the church has given every indication it is doing.
Joe: I think going back to the issue about the money, we still need to be giving. I think that's a really important point, and I think also I think about it from a marketing point of view, which is my work and background, and you can't just ask people for money. Even with donations and stuff like that, it has to be contributing to some kind of value. And I think a lot of people were dependent on their routine beforehand, like I give on this day of the month or this week, whatever kind of thing, and I'm used to doing it and I do it, status quo moves us forward. But now we don't have that.
Joe: And so I think it would probably be helpful for a lot of churches to also show why these tithes and offerings actually still matter. You know what I mean? Help the people see that. And that might take a little bit of work to think through that, to make it processable, but I think that'll go a long way in helping people see, "Oh yeah, my tithes do matter because even though I'm not there, they still matter."
Jamie: Well, money is always a hard thing for anybody to talk about. And pastors especially, that's a bit of an awkward... I know pastors get the reputation is only talking about money, but believe it or not, if you're not a pastor and you're listening to this, believe it or not, for most pastors, that's a very uncomfortable and awkward thing to talk about, because they know exactly how you feel about hearing it. But I think, so there's ways around that though. You don't have to just be straight up, "Hey, you need to make sure you give." It can't be just crass and blunt like that. Their case has to be made and the rationale has to be made.
Jamie: But I would say that's true even outside of the COVID-19 crisis. That's probably true just in general. As a people, we have not always done the best in helping our folks understand why we give, and what we're doing with it, and what this funds, and helping them see the bigger picture that their piece fits into. Let them see the work of ministry. Let them see the counsel that is given, the evangelism that's done, the lives that are changed, the people that are discipled as a result of people giving in those ways, and call people into it, in every way, not just financially, but in every other way too. We need to be calling people to pray for these efforts. We need to be calling people to give their time and energy into those efforts and resources. And so make the case broadly for people investing in kingdom work, is something I probably need to be doing a much better job of even outside the COVID-19 crisis.
Jamie: So anyway, I just want to encourage folks in that way. This is a time to find a way forward to do things that are as at least as normal as can be, or at least that replicate normalcy. So I mentioned a minute ago, there's another good example of this that I've seen recently and we're going to actually start doing some of these things around here at NOBTS and Leavell College.
Jamie: In addition to people doing Zoom Sunday school classes, do a Zoom prayer gathering and get everybody on a Zoom call. And is it the same thing as being face to face around a table? Well, no, not the same thing, but it's still at least something, and it's a good thing that the people can be doing. So do a Zoom prayer gathering. Want to do a Wednesday night prayer meeting? Okay, so keep doing it. Just do it over Zoom, or one of the other platforms that you have available. We're going to start doing that stuff here on our campus.
Jamie: Normally, for instance, the faculty here at NOBTS and Leavell College gathers every Tuesday through Friday mornings to pray. It's not a mandatory thing that they do per se, but it's a customary thing they do. And folks would be surprised at the number of faculty that come to this. I mean, it's the majority. They come, and it's a 7:45 every Tuesday through Friday during the semesters, and it's real quick. Somebody shares a quick word of devotion, everybody lists out their prayer concerns, we pray, and we move on about our day. And it's a really good, healthy thing.
Jamie: Well, when we had to transition from face to face to online classes, those prayer gathering stopped. And I said to our team yesterday, "Those have to come back. We've got to figure out another way to keep doing them." So what we're going to start doing is every Tuesday and Thursday in the chapel slot at 11 o'clock, our faculty's going to gather over Zoom just to pray together.
Jamie: And so why can't Sunday school classes do that? Why can't churches do that? I just think those are the types of things people need to be doing. And we're going to do it next week with our students. So the more things you can do to continue the normal, that's our pathway forward. I don't know how long we'll have to keep doing things over the internet. But what I do know is the work's got to get done and there are ways to do it. There's more than one way to skin a cat. So this is a time for people to throw off hesitancy and try to be innovative to accomplish.
Jamie: It's interesting, and I have a lot to say about this, and I don't intend to, but it's interesting from my seat, the academy, and by that I mean seminaries, colleges, universities, about 15 years ago when online education really took off, when that happened, the professors of the world tried to say, "How do we figure out a way to take what we do in a classroom and just dump it into an online class?" And what we quickly learned is you can't do that. So what you have to do is you have to start from the end and work backwards.
Jamie: And so you asked the simple question, "What am I trying to get them to learn?" That's where we start. And then from there, work backwards now and ask a different question, what is the best way to get them to learn that in this format? And I think churches do the same thing. What would you want? And granted, it's not the exact same thing as a face to face, but it still has some value, and your people can benefit from gathering like that. So ask this question; what are you trying to get to happen in lives of people in those moments? Still, we want worship, we want formation, we want encouragement. And now build a service that accomplishes those goals. Your service online may very well look very different from what it would look like face to face, but figure those things out, and your people will be fed, and the church will move forward, and we'll resume quote unquote normal here whenever we can.
Joe: Yeah. So I have one more question about this, another question about everything that we're dealing with right now, and simply how should we be praying? The context of this is what should we be learning from this whole time?
Jamie: Yeah, so I like that question a lot. I'll hit it at the end. Let me start off with basic, obvious things we should be praying for first. First of all, pray for those who are sick. Pray for those who are well, that they would stay safe, and wise, and protected. Pray that God gets us through the crisis, all those things. Pray especially for the medical personnel, nurses, doctors that are on the front lines of all this. Tech, staff members of church, I mean these people are in.
Jamie: I mean, just last night we have some faculty here who have spouses that work in hospitals and it's a scary, scary, gnarly situation. Pray for those folks. Now is the time, and I know typically Christians can get angsty about science and scientists. Look, actually now's a time to be praying for scientists on this front every single day. Man, we need to pray that they would have speed and wisdom, that they would be able to have insights sharper than normal and they'd be able to do it quicker than normal. We need to pray for their success right now in treatments, and vaccines, and other things like that. So let's pray for those doctors and those scientists that are doing that work.
Jamie: Spiritually speaking, for all of us and to your question, what should we pray we learn from this? Here's what I'm afraid we're doing; if I've heard, and I get this completely, I feel this and my children feel this, but if I've heard it once, I've heard it probably a thousand times over this week, people just said, "I just want it to get back to normal." And I would love to be able to just get in my car and go to a grocery store and not think twice about it too. I would love to be able to go to a sporting event, or a jazz festival, or a craw fest, or something like that. I get it. We all won't normal.
Jamie: I'm afraid though that because that's what we most want, that that's what we're predominantly praying for. And so that our prayers then become simply "God, get us back to normal." The pleas of the people are, "God, get us back to normal." Man, show me a crisis in the Bible where that was the prayer of the people. Yes, it's God, get us through it. There's nothing wrong praying for that. But I just wonder, is God in heaven hearing the cries of people, "God, we just want to go back to normal"? I mean, would that persuade him to action? I just have a hard time thinking we're going to see God move in our lives if all we're praying for, for crying out loud, is the return to normal. Got to be more than that.
Jamie: I can't help but ask the question as I pray before God, "God, what do you want me to learn right now? God, how am I supposed to be being reshaped right now?" I mean, I suspect that there are patterns in my life from the normal that probably don't need to be normal anymore. I think about how things have been changed around. I mean, I'm praying more now than I ever have. I feel more desperate for God than I ever have. I'm studying the scriptures in ways that I haven't in a long, long, long, long time. I'm spending time with my children and my wife, having conversation and not just sitting there staring at my phone all the time, or going on family walks. We're playing dominoes at night. We're sitting down together, we're talking. Our family devotion time is rich right now.
Jamie: I mean, maybe what I should be praying for is that God would reshape me during time. Maybe what I should care more about is not whether or not I survive it and make it, but rather whether I come out the other side of this as the man that God wants me to be. And so I just want to encourage people, please don't pray that God would just get us back to normal. That's dinky. That's bad. And frankly, that's pathetic. We should be asking God right now to not just get us through, yes, but that God would get us through so that we would be the people he's called us to be.
Jamie: And by the way, when we look at the Bible, when God would bring his people through a crisis, it was because he was about to use them in some way. It was because he had the eschaton in mind and he wanted to do something to his people. And I'm not Moses, or I'm not David, or none of us are those figures. I'm not Abraham. But we, the church, are a part of God's providential plan for the unfolding of his eschatological kingdom. And I think what we ought to be thinking of right now predominantly is who we are in this moment and who we will be when this moment is over, and pray to that end that God would shape us accordingly.
Joe: Awesome. That's really great. All right, Jamie. Well thanks so much for walking us through that, and taking a look at that, and we'll keep at it.
Jamie: All right man. Thank you, brother. Appreciate you.