Since COVID-19 invaded the world, different people have said different things. While some people believed it is a sign of God’s anger against the world, some believed it is an attack from Satan. Some even believed that it is a sign of the end times. There is another group of people who believe it is scientifically motivated as a conspiracy of man against the world created by God. This implies that different people have different perspectives related to the emergence of COVID-19. At the same time, the church needs to be reminded about the missional purpose of the church.
In his book A Light to the Nations, Michael Goheen speaks about the missional identity of the church from the biblical point of view. He links both the Old and New Testaments together in addressing the missional goal of the church. According to him, the purpose of the church should not only be seen in terms of geographical expansion but also as a role model for the pagan world. The good news of the Gospel should be taken by the church to all corners of the world as commanded by our Lord (Matthew 28:17-19). The question then arises – how should the church relate to the outside world amidst a pandemic? This article is intended to focus on how the church could carry out its purpose of evangelism, discipleship, and integral mission in a time like this.
According to the World Health Organization, “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease. It is a serious respiratory sickness in people associated with a large market in Wuhan, China.” By implication, coronavirus is not necessarily a strange virus in the world, but this particular one was newly discovered and was first discovered in a 55-year-old individual from Hubei province in China on November 17, 2019. In most developing countries of the world, especially Africa, there has been a serious argument about the reality of COVID-19. In December 2020, when Western countries were battling with the second wave of the pandemic, most people in Nigeria thought otherwise. I saw people shaking hands freely and gathering in large numbers without observing social distancing and various other precautions. They felt it was not real. Not until recently did people begin to feel the reality of the disease.
ROLE OF THE CHURCH
The role of the church is to reach out to its community in mission. Since the essence of discipleship is to engage the people around us at home, in the church, and in the world with the love of God, then mission is what every Christian does in the world by relating with people in the consciousness of God and making Christ known to everyone that comes in contact with them. According to Goheen, the purpose and identity of the church is termed “missional,” which means a geographical expansion involving taking the good news of the Gospel and Christ to unreached people groups and neighbors. The challenge for the Church here is to take up its task in the reformation and renewal of all life, rather than becoming another isolated customer center. The Church’s role in teaching, caring for the poor, and providing social connections should be shaped by the biblical story without losing its ecclesial form. Evangelism is the command to go as a reaper and sower of the kingdom of God without considering the circumstances. Evangelism is also to tell sinners of the joy that is in Christ Jesus, warning them against the judgment of God.
How can the church reach out in this period? The church should not only preach the Gospel but reach to its immediate community by emphasizing the following:
- Observing restrictions and various government rules on lockdown, social distancing, wearing masks, minimizing traveling, handwashing, and other protocols
- Having faith in Jesus Christ for protection in times like this. Drawing from various Bible passages like Psalms and Romans 8:39
- Supporting mental health
- Reducing church gatherings and social meetings
- Providing online worship service and discipleship
Integral mission means holistic mission. It is a term which describes an understanding of Christian mission that embraces both evangelism and social responsibility. We call it “the 3 or Gospel tripod stand” – a ministry of preaching, teaching, and social healing. It means that the Gospel is not complete if people’s needs are not attended to. The Church at this critical time should set the pace for showing love to the world. There is a wide scope of social concerns, which are considered to be the fourth angle of the Gospel message that the church should not close its eyes against (Deuteronomy 15:11, Luke 4:18). The Church should distribute and show adequate concern for the needy, the poor, and vulnerable people around us. We should not wait until Christmas time and the Easter period to lend support to weak and vulnerable people. The time is now.
COVID-19 AS A SIGN OF THE END TIMES
Jesus told his disciples in Luke 21:8-19 what would happen before the end will come – these are the signs of the end times. Of course, COVID-19 was not specifically mentioned in the passage, but Jesus Christ talked about pestilences. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, pestilences are “contagious or infectious epidemic diseases that are virulent and devastating.” From this definition, it can be inferred that COVID-19 is one of the signs of the end times. Jesus talked about it because of its devastating effect on the entire world. Therefore, the onus is on every Christian to intensify evangelism, discipleship, and mission because these are what must be done in all nations of the world before the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14, NIV).
SOCIAL MEDIA AS MEANS FOR EVANGELISM, DISCIPLESHIP, AND MISSION
COVID-19 has brought a new normal for the church. Social media and internet ministry are an effective way to evangelize non-Christians, disciple Christians, and introduce the love of God to our potential audience. The emergence of the pandemic has made us realize that the evolution of the internet is the handiwork of God. In light of the challenges of COVID-19, “The internet and other aspects of information and communication technology are not only about technology, they are means to the gospel, the Great Commission.” Before the outbreak of the pandemic, not many older generation pastors, especially in Africa, appreciated the relevance and importance of social media. But according to Nkem Osuigwe, the pandemic has given a new definition to illiteracy. An illiterate is someone who does not understand how to use information and communications technology (ICT) for life and ministry in the 21st century. Therefore, these are the days when Christians are expected to maximize all social media to tell the world, to teach the world, and to train the world about the love of God through Jesus Christ. The following are examples of technology through which we can evangelize, make disciples, and do mission in the time of the pandemic:
- Smartphones / SMS and text
- Electronic greetings
- Internet faxing
- Zoom and Skype
- Social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube among others.
According to Nicky Gumbel, “God has a purpose for your life. He is in control of the universe. He is able to take even bad things you have done or have been done to you and turn them for good.” The Bible says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). COVID-19 is definitely a sign of the end times as revealed by the Scripture. Christians must accept it as a challenge we have to face in the world on our Christian pilgrimage and trust God that He will keep us safe and sound from the attack of the pandemic. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV, emphasis added). Meanwhile, social media should be maximized for Christian ministries because it has come to stay. It is indeed a great means for communication in the 21st century mission frontier. Its role in contemporary Christian ministry cannot be overemphasized. Christians should take advantage of social media to fulfill the mandate of the Great Commission.
 Goheen, W. Michael (2011). A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI, USA.
 South Morning China Post, accessed on April 22, 2020.
 Merriam-Webster Mobile Phone Dictionary, 2020 version.
 Alabi, A Samuel (2014). Effective Contemporary Shepherding: A Practical Theology for the 21st Century Pastoral Ministry. Nigeria: Simplex Creations, Hamjel Arcade, 47, Alafia Street, Mokola, Ibadan.
 Osuigwe, Nkem (2020). In his speech as the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary Alumni President at the 2020 Minister’s Conference.
 Gumbel, Nicky (2020). Bible in One Year, 2020 Edition, in https://www.bibleinoneyear.org retrieved on April 22, 2020.
For Reflection and Discussion:
- What is your perception of Nkem Osuigwe’s definition of illiteracy?
- How is your church or organization using social media to engage your community?
- What steps can you take to ensure you are ministering in a way that reflects the three facets of the “Gospel tripod stand”?