Guest Post: Is COVID Bringing the Church to a Screeching Halt?

Our governments are against in-person Church attendance because congregating undermines their attempts to contain and subdue the pandemic that has thrown our world into such chaos. The Church needs not to be brave enough to defy the authorities merely for the sake of rebelling against human authorities. Neither should the Church be asleep when battles of cosmic nature are raging. Each congregation and believer need to seek out God’s will. When we know God’s will, we should be willing to lose our lives for the realization of that will; if we must heed the command to honor authorities and obey them, fine. However, we can still meet in our homes. In these small group settings, every member is indeed known, discipled, and held accountable to walk according to the calling they have received from God. Relationships flourish in small groups. Each person gets ample opportunity to exercise their gifts to build up the body in small groups. If we cannot meet in our thousands like we are used to, maybe God is drawing us back to what has worked in the past: house churches. The Bible warns that persecution will break out.

Note: This is part of a series, “Technologizing of Worship Before, During, and After COVID: Epistemology, Eschatology, and Presence, part of a larger project suggesting a pastoral response to COVID and lockdowns in the church. Read more and subscribe here.

One of the joys of teaching is seeing one’s students go out into the world and have a significant impact in their home countries and beyond.

May 2018

I’m honored to present a guest contribution by my student, Stanford Phiri. Stanford is a native of Zimbabwe, and studied for a BA in Theology at LCC International University (2018). I was privileged to teach Stanford several OT courses, and to supervise his BA thesis (on how the NT authors present Jesus as a new/better Moses). Stanford was also in my evening men’s Bible study.

Stanford & Naomi, April 2021

Stanford went on to receive his master’s degree from Regent University, while serving as a pastor of Village Church in rural Zimbabwe. He is recently married to Naomi, after several postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.

Stanford and Naomi are part of Straight Paths, a ministry team of pastors and missionaries who follow Jesus with radical abandon to his love. Straight Paths oversees the discipleship branch of Eden Ministries and has established its presence in the community outside Eden and in neighboring countries like Zambia and Malawi. Stanford specifically serves as a chaplain over the Eden Village and leads spiritual life activities like discipleship, devotions, and chapel at Eden Christian Academy.

Stanford and I have had some good conversations over the last year about ministry and church during COVID, spiritual warfare, and lockdowns. I shared my online series with him, and asked if he would share some of his own insights from working in a very different church and ministry context.

To learn more about how to get involved with Straight Paths and support Stanford and others in this work, click here

Also, click here to sign up for Stanford & Naomi’s updates—I always find them inspiring and edifying!


Is COVID Bringing the Church to a Screeching Halt?

by Stanford Phiri

The book of Acts reports on the undertakings of Jesus’ apostles carrying out the Great Commission as the Holy Spirit enabled them. As such, the book could rightly be titled “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Through human agents, the Holy Spirit spread the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome and the ends of the earth (1:8). Under divine influence, these early Christians, undoubtedly, lived in a turmoil-stricken world. We could rightly attribute their hardships to Satan’s attempts to frustrate the spreading of the Gospel. Notwithstanding the devil’s attempts to crush the Christian faith, our predecessors faithfully passed on the baton.

That we still have the Christian faith intact today is adequate proof of our forerunners’ fidelity to the Way. Nowadays, the enemy has also unleashed an identical blow against the extension of God’s Kingdom. Nevertheless, is our world’s turmoil prevailing against the Church of Jesus? The worldwide report is less than impressive right now. Perhaps uncovering the roots of the first Church might nourish our vigor and nurture our faithfulness.

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

• V.42: “They devoted themselves.To nurture their faith in Jesus and cultivate the most profound love for one another, the apostles had to exert great determination and devotion. Devotedly, they persevered. Their exertion and level of devotion equaled in proportion to the resistance they faced. Even more remarkable. For, to succeed, one must muster a force greater than their opposition. Moreover, we know the apostles did not fail; they succeeded by all accounts. With utmost devotion, they constantly continued to attend to the ministry Jesus entrusted to them. That they had to devote themselves means their ministry was not without severe trials. Without devotion, we cannot please God. Devotion relays how much we trust God and are willing to lay down our lives for Him if need be. No one has greater love than believers who devote themselves to Him who laid down His life so they can have theirs.

• V. 43: “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” Evidence of God’s grace in our congregations is a sound indicator of our being in the right place and doing the right thing. The expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth will never be without antagonism of cosmic magnitudes as this is a matter of life and death and righteousness and evil. Faced with such hostility, the first Christians asked God not for protection but boldness (Acts 4:29). If there are no signs of God’s grace in our Churches, we will undoubtedly fail to withstand; we are not laboring where God is laboring. If we, however, see His handprints in who we are and what we do, why not go all the way laying down our lives so we can live! Why not risk it all if our blood will water the seed of the Gospel!

• V. 44: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, then go with others,” states an African proverb. Over a hundred times, the New Testament mentions “one another.” When we come together, heaven kisses the earth, and the eternal embrace the mortal. It is excellent when those whose life trajectories and stories Jesus changed congregate. For the testimony of transformed lives is a sure shot of fortitude in seasons of adversity. However, isolation is Satan’s ingenious ploy for the destruction of the simple. We must allow our testimonies to shape and inspire the faith of others (Heb 10:25).

• V. 45: “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” The believers’ economic partnership and unprecedented and unparalleled generosity are not a cause but a result of their devotion and unity, personally and corporately hosting God’s presence. When we come together to hear and witness the needs and struggles of others, we move in compassion. We dawdle in meeting the needs of others when we do not understand the extent and legitimacy of their needs. So, being together is a fantastic privilege. Togetherness and proximity mean we can serve others with both our material blessings and spiritual gifts.

• V. 46: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” For the second time, Luke reiterates the concepts of togetherness, devotion, and generosity. Together they attended the Temple. Devotedly they broke bread in their homes – sounds like two meetings every day or something close. Generously and gladly, they received their food. This is discipleship. Authentic discipleship is when iron sharpens iron and one person another (Prov 27:17). How could we possibly follow the example of others if we do not know them personally or meet with them regularly (1 Cor 11:1)?

V. 47: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Discipleship alone is not enough. We need more than our brothers and sisters to help us live the transformed life; we desperately need spiritual formation. We need the Holy Spirit to form us spiritually. When God Himself orchestrates our spiritual formation and our brothers and sisters disciple us, the world cannot help but know Jesus. Ultimately, it is God who builds His Church. Nevertheless, we must make all efforts to yield to our Master Builder.

Acts 2:42-47 reveals the roots and outworking of the early Christian Church. First, the Church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teachings,” the fundamental and authoritative teachings on the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The second hallmark of the first Church was fellowship, an intimate communal spirit stemming from a personal relationship with the triune God and outflowing into a horizontal relationship with other believers. Fellowship nurtured in the Church a familial spirit and mutual economic interdependence. Third, they devoted themselves to the “breaking of bread.” Breaking bread is the classic expression for fellowship over a meal. It represents communion services celebrated in remembrance of Jesus and patterned after his Last Supper with his disciples (Matt 26:26-39). Then, they devoted themselves to prayer, ongoing dependence on God for both physical and spiritual sustenance. Fully persuaded of its vitality, the ancients exerted great effort to persist in corporate prayer. Praying together can prove to be a strenuous activity. Therefore, devotion is a prerequisite for faithfulness.

The early Church persisted through life-threatening disadvantages; they not only persevered in spite but because of the opposition. Fully convinced that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Scriptures (Old Testament), the early Church (called out ones) continued attending the Temple and synagogues for edification and worship. However, their convictions soon conflicted with Jews who did not believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. The sharp conflict forced the early believers to meet privately in their homes for prayer, teachings about Jesus, fellowship, and communion. The end of the first century saw countless Jews kicked out of the synagogues.

Nevertheless, they continued to love and serve Jesus. With utmost devotion to spiritual disciplines and ongoing dependence on God, no wonder the Lord performed miracles through them and confirmed His Word. Coming together for worship then became a vital part of their lifestyle. Thus, the Church maintained a contagious brotherly fellowship and grew. Their numerical and spiritual growth was supernatural and rapid.

In these volatile times, the Church’s vision and mission are to a great extent muddled. When the going gets tough, and the future wanes bleak, may the past – the ancient paths – fuel our courage, inspiration, and devotion (Jer 18:15). God’s call for us to be the Church, the called-out ones, never changes. We do not need the four walls of a church building to carry out God’s mandate – love one another, for in so doing, the world will know you are my disciples (Jn 13:34-35). For, though the outworking of the mission may change, the vision remains the same. However, unless the Church stands united, devoted to sound Christocentric teachings, its members taking responsibility for each other and given over to genuine fellowship – the Church will be extinct. What will remain is a form of lifeless and powerless godliness. It does not hurt to reread others’ success stories to find inspiration and instruction when we are struggling.


There are a plethora of spiritual diseases that continue to weaken today’s Church. The Church in Africa suffers severely from what has come to be known as the Big Man complex – one man is the leader; in their absence, the congregation languishes. Power is centralized in this one figure upon whom everyone depends for spiritual sustenance. Second, gifts have ceased to be the means to channel divine resources towards human needs in love. Instead, gifts are now a means for collecting a following for the gift bearer. Those who do not operate in their spiritual giftings yet meander to the sidelines.

Furthermore, there is a spirit of religion that has beset the Church in Africa. This spirit will keep people contended with only talk and only giving the correct answers—no practice. It is the spirit of religion rather than relationship. Many people are churched and religious, but they do not have living day-to-day and moment-by-moment relationship with the Lord Jesus. Christianity is not a religion concerned with repeating rituals week after week. It is so much more than a mental accent or cognitive knowledge. We know that knowledge is useless if it is not applied. For proper knowledge leads to the right living. To then segregate these people from congregations would be to weaken their pursuit of the Lord further. Perhaps, our congregations need to go smaller and personal rather than just entirely online.

Our governments are against in-person Church attendance because congregating undermines their attempts to contain and subdue the pandemic that has thrown our world into such chaos. The Church needs not to be brave enough to defy the authorities merely for the sake of rebelling against human authorities. Neither should the Church be asleep when battles of cosmic nature are raging. Each congregation and believer need to seek out God’s will. When we know God’s will, we should be willing to lose our lives for the realization of that will; if we must heed the command to honor authorities and obey them, fine. However, we can still meet in our homes. In these small group settings, every member is indeed known, discipled, and held accountable to walk according to the calling they have received from God. Relationships flourish in small groups. Each person gets ample opportunity to exercise their gifts to build up the body in small groups. If we cannot meet in our thousands like we are used to, maybe God is drawing us back to what has worked in the past: house churches. The Bible warns that persecution will break out.

It will be easier for the enemy to destroy the institutional Church than going door-to-door to seize the worshipers when persecution breaks out. Furthermore, it is easier to decentralize power in small group settings. Indeed, the gates of hell will not prevail over Jesus’ Church. The enemy does fight against the Church. Furthermore, we must fight back in the capacities that God has called us to ensure sustained in- person-meetings. Online meetings are excellent as an addition to people that already have a vibrant prayer life and a living, intimate relationship with Jesus. In rural Africa, we cannot rely on technology. We are going underground.


To learn more about how to get involved with Straight Paths and support Stanford and others in this work, click here

Also, click here to sign up for Stanford & Naomi’s updates—I always find them inspiring and edifying!

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, living and learning in Eastern Europe…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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