Perspectives on a Pandemic – John Stumbo Video Blog Special Edition

March 13, 2020


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President Stumbo offers words of caution and encouragement on the coronavirus.


How does the Church be the Church in a time of global upheaval? As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, so does fear, concern—and opportunity. I’m breaking out of my monthly rhythm to share an additional message with the Alliance family today. I pray that you’ll find it helpful.

Just yesterday, I was in your inbox with my 12th-of-the-month communication, but I’m coming back again today because this is an unprecedented moment in time. Rarely does the same news headline impact so many lives simultaneously. As I speak these words, around the nation offices are gathering together to decide how their state or municipality, business or event, will respond to the virus. Like dominoes falling one at a time, governors are banning large public assemblies. Concerts, sporting events, trade shows, even weddings and funeral services are being banned, canceled, postponed, or minimized.

Due to the rulings in some states, many, perhaps hundreds, of our Alliance churches aren’t allowed to meet this weekend and [in] the weeks that follow. Meanwhile, some of the ramifications of the decisions others have made have personal impact for many individuals. Families with at-risk loved ones watch headlines with growing concern. Retirement savings are evaporating, at least for the moment. Some may lose jobs, at least temporarily. The student’s dream of a great sports season is put on hold. We can give many more examples . . . but what are we to make of such times? How are we, as the Church, to respond?

First, let me tell you how your National Office is engaged with the broader Alliance family. Second, allow me to give a word of caution. Third, I want to offer a word of hope. And finally, I’ll close with a personal reflection.

On the national level . . . here in Colorado Springs we’re seeking to assist our churches, districts, and other entities. For example: Some district conferences scheduled in upcoming weeks have had to cancel; our legal counsel is assisting these districts so that they will be able to conduct needed conference business and vote remotely. Our Envision office has 21 interns on the ground right now and 40 more scheduled to head out in the next six months. And during that same timeframe, 116 short-term teams made up of over 1,000 participants are scheduled to serve as well. These interns and teams are vital to our global work. Without them, on-the-ground ministries are hindered.

So, each situation is being given careful attention. Where is it appropriate to go? Where isn’t it? When does the decision need to be made? How long can it be delayed? We don’t want to shame anyone who chooses to withdraw, while giving good information for making wise decisions. Some denominations are canceling all events and all travel. Our approach is to not make a singular decision, but rather take each event one at a time, ask appropriate questions, and apply good judgment based on the facts of the local situation.

In recent days, some of our international events and most of our international travel has been canceled or delayed. On the domestic side, some events have been postponed or canceled. And we’re evaluating all other events on a case-by-case basis. In evaluating an event, we’re considering factors such as localized infection rates, strategic impact, projected attendance at the event, local restrictions, opportunity for remote meetings . . . on the list goes. We don’t want to be reactionary—just another domino in the tumbling chain. But we’re prayerfully weighing each decision about each event.

Alliance Benefits is investigating whether our health plan will cover COVID-19 testing. (We should know shortly.) And, be assured that we’re praying with you for God’s wisdom, protection, and grace.

Second, allow me to give a word of caution. Let’s be honest about fear. Fear is spreading faster than the virus itself. I don’t want to shame those who feel fear, but let’s look at it closely and let it lead us to the Lord. What are we really afraid of—the loss of a loved one? That’s a legitimate cause for prayer. The loss of income? That’s a real need to take to the Lord. The loss of our own life? May God free each of us from the tyranny of the fear of death. Are we afraid of another culture, another community, another people group? May we look that one in the eye and ask God to give us a different heart.

You see, fear has value and fear has a place—but that value is always disrupted when the place is given too much priority. Let me say it this way. It is right that we have fear about some things in life, but when fear leads, it usually leads us to negative places.

And so, my word of caution to us, Alliance family, is while we want to be honest that legitimate fear within our own souls and congregations have a place, let’s make sure that that place isn’t first, foremost, loudest, and strongest—but that other things accompany in that conversation in our congregations and in our own hearts: things like wisdom, good judgment, faith, hope, trusting in the Sovereignty of God. Is God fearful at this moment? I’m sorry to laugh, but it’s just . . . if we can get into His heart and understand His view then fear need not win the day or even lead the way.

Third, I’d like to bring a word of hope. I know I don’t want to downplay the significance of what is taking place across the globe. There are reasons for concerns and when, you know, national and international health organizations start using words like “pandemic,” it gets our attention.

But friends, this is a moment for the Church to be the Church. And so, I’m intrigued by what ministry possibilities arise for us as individuals and for us as congregations as we step into this opportunity.

See, fear causes us to run away. Hope, faith, confidence in God, causes us to wisely step in. What do I mean by that? If your church can’t assemble as the large congregation—millions of churches around the world can’t do so either. And so, gathering as home churches might be a beautiful opportunity for the Church to express itself in a different way at this moment in time.

But for some, this is an opportunity for their livestream kind of ministry to have a greater impact. And for those of you who normally go to church—who now are staying home and watching your service online—use that as an opportunity to invite an unchurched friend to do the same. “Hey, you don’t usually go to church with me. I’m not going to church either today, ‘cause none of us can go to church—but would you join me either from your living room or come over to my living room and join our church service?” For the unchurched, this might be the opportunity for them to experience what you experience every week, although in a different setting.

Some of our churches are opening their sanctuaries to have no-attendee services for other congregations that don’t have the livestream capacity but are giving other pastors the access to minister to their congregations by using our Alliance churches’ resources. Other churches are finding other ways for the gospel to advance, encouraging their people to make an extra effort to befriend someone.

Let me just speak frankly from a Chinese community. While the world’s natural response is to fear and avoid, just based on an ethnicity, this is our opportunity to engage, to bless—to show extra love and concern and whatever that might look like in your community. Offering hope. The gospel is brighter than ever in a moment of darkness—when the Church engages, leans in, embraces communities in hardship. That is appropriate to make sure that the people in your town that may be overlooked or feared at this moment of time would be embraced and loved.

So, rather than fortressing . . . if you are able in body and able in spirit, rather than fortressing would you use this as an opportunity for embracing? This could be, one more time, throughout Church history when the Church rises to love, bless, engage, care. Let’s rise, Church.

And then finally, a personal word. It’s ironic to me that I stand before you today on what is scheduled to be my monthly infusion. I am standing here, literally with an IV in my arm and a pole at my side as I still have an attack upon my muscular system which much be addressed through this wonderful donation of those of you who’ve gone to plasma centers. And I’m the recipient of a byproduct of that medication. I’ve asked God to fully heal me, to be done with that condition. But at this moment in time, as a friend of mine says, “You have not yet been healed, but you are being held.” It’s more than just a turn of a phrase. It’s a reality that when we truly trust in the Sovereignty of God, that when we truly trust in His care, that when we truly trust that His plans for us are good, then whether it’s an ongoing situation like mine, or whether it’s a much more significant situation that you deal with, or whether it’s just even the thought, the possibility that COVID-19 might come to your town or your home—can we be people who step forward in faith, hope, and love?

“And now, these three remain,” Paul says, “Faith, hope, and love . . . and the greatest of these is love.” Let’s rise, Church. Let’s love. There’s no way for me to be comprehensive in a video such as this . . . so much more to say. But know this, your National Office is engaged, caution is in order, hope is real—and I can’t wait to hear the stories that emerge as the Church is the Church at such a time as this.


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