The COVID-19 pandemic has posed innumerable challenges to churches all over the world. It seems that members of many churches will be slow to return to church gatherings—and some may never return at all.
We’ve experienced these hardships in our small, multi-national congregation in Dubai. As much as we grieve what the pandemic has cost us, I also see ways God has blessed us during this trial. Below are six ways I’ve seen the Lord at work in our church and its members.
1. New leaders have emerged.
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim. 2:2).
When the pandemic restrictions took effect and we could no longer meet as a whole church we did what many churches did . . . we Zoomed. We divided up our almost 100 members into five small groups and asked them to meet together every weekend for prayer and an inductive Bible study. An elder led each group.
As the weeks went by, each elder began to invite different men to try their hand at leading. The elders coached the men about how to think about their responsibilities and, when the time came, gladly handed them the reins.
At least thirteen other men in our church led at one point, and by all accounts they all did well. Some of them had never led a Bible discussion before. Each of them grew as leaders, and we’re hopeful that some might become future leaders in the church.
2. Our knowledge of Scripture has increased.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17)
A Brazilian couple in our church were forced to stay in their apartment together for weeks on end. The wife recognized that she had never read the entire Bible and the lockdown seemed a good time to invest in Scripture. She challenged her husband to join her as they launched into a “read through the Bible in 120 days” plan. They called others to join them. Before long, a group of seven were reading with them.
They finished the plan and shared their newfound joy of having read the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) with the rest of the church at our weekly prayer meeting.
On another occasion, a different group of women who had never met before started a Zoom study of 1 and 2 Peter. They met weekly online and discussed the passage. Last I heard, they’re targeting a new book study in the near future.
These church members recognized that the isolation brought on by the pandemic offered a good opportunity to press into Scripture like they never had before.
3. We’ve been more generous to the needy.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. (2 Corinthians 8:1–4).
A young Hindu man came to the Lord about a year ago and became a member of our church. When the pandemic hit, he lost his job as a tour guide. Almost overnight, he had no way to pay his rent and, to make matters worse, he was living in a part of the city where the virus was spreading rapidly.
One group of members who lived together decided to invite him to live with them rent-free until he could get on his feet again. He helped out by cooking and cleaning around the house.
He also committed himself to reading Scripture. After a few months, he had read the entire Pentateuch and was pressing farther into the Old Testament. He was growing rapidly and asked to lead the congregation in prayer during our mid-week Zoom prayer meeting. When his mother died suddenly from a wild animal attack in his home country of India, his fellow housemates and church members gathered around to pray for and comfort him.
Sometimes, when we all experience loss, the Spirit of Christ moves us to meet the needs around us.
4. We’ve prayed together more.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6–7).
Before the pandemic, our usual rented space only allowed us to meet for prayer twice per month immediately after our service—and even then it needed to be brief. But during the pandemic, we began meeting weekly for prayer over Zoom. Attendance proved strong. Each meeting featured a short devotional, a few announcements, and then different members led us through roughly ten prayer requests focused on our church and the world.
Young and old Christians were called on to lead the prayer. Experienced and inexperienced joined together. Each week, we signed off with hearts full of thanks for one another despite the loss of our weekly gathering.
5. We’ve been exposed to a fresh range of gospel teachers.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Cor. 3:6)
Once our weekly prayer meeting was up and running, we realized we could invite people from around in the world to teach us a particular topic or to be interviewed by us. We’ve heard reports from pastors in Brazil and Lebanon. We’ve heard from pastors of other churches in our city and neighboring cities. We’ve read books from various authors and then we’ve interviewed them.
Our church has been enriched by these believers we would never have had contact with otherwise.
6. Members scattered for God’s purposes elsewhere.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:1, 4)
Sadly, some of our members have had deep cuts in their pay. Others have lost their jobs. Many have had to move to find work elsewhere. But our church has always had a vision to send members out more equipped than when they came. We want members to participate in a gospel-preaching church and serve Christ’s body no matter where he takes them.
Even in the most difficult times, God is at work.
As Paul sat in his dark prison cell in Rome, he wrote to the Philippians with joy and praise of God challenging them to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). We should be able to do the same, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
How has God been at work in your church these past several months? It’s easy to count the losses, and it’s appropriate to lament them. Nothing can replace the weekly gathering of the local church. But are there “silver linings” you’ve missed for which you can rejoice and praise God?
This article originally appeared here.