COVID-19’s ministry disruptions are generating lasting insights.
The sanctuary was empty. But that didn’t distract Claude Alexander. He had just finished preaching from Jeremiah 8 on the temptation to despair amid COVID-19 and the hope found in Christ. As he called on musicians to sing “Lead Me to the Rock,” Alexander was visibly moved to tears by his sense of God’s presence, and worship continued another 30 minutes on the livestream. For Alexander, senior pastor of The Park Church—a 3,000-member predominantly black congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina—that late-spring worship service exemplified his surprising experience of preaching through the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have had some of the most powerful times of worship preaching in a sanctuary with no people,” he said. Preaching without a congregation became “an undistracted offering to God” without the temptation “to respond to what I’m seeing in the pew.”
As the coronavirus forced pastors around the world to begin preaching to cameras rather than live congregations, not all pastors experienced the same intensity of worship as Alexander. Indeed, some had many Sundays that felt quite the opposite. Yet a diverse array of pastors interviewed by CT reported that the COVID-19 pandemic refocused them on the God-centered nature of preaching.
Initially, the changes were at a surface level. Pastors went from scanning the room during sermons to looking at a camera. They transitioned from leading altar calls to asking those with spiritual decisions to text a number displayed on their screens. Alexander (who serves on CT’s board of directors) even found himself telling listeners to tweet their responses of “amen” and “praise …