By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes
I know a man who works at a large, warehouse style home-improvement store. He shared with me a story about how to help people find what they are looking for. It seems that there is a sign in the employee break room that says: “No Pointing.” The message to the store employees is that when customers ask the location of an item, one should not merely point and say, “Over there.” Nor is it sufficient to give an aisle number and description of the location on that aisle. Rather, the employee should walk with the customers and make sure that they are able, together, to locate what the customers are seeking. Along the way, the employee might learn more about just what they are looking for. In addition, even at some small level, relationship and goodwill is built. The customers realize that they are not alone and lost in their search, rather someone with expertise and experience is traveling with them. We are in a time when people need to know that the church is not merely pointing at some far-off place and that they must go alone on the journey to that place. Rather, we go together on the journey.
No matter how we are called to serve in ministry, as a lay person or pastor, it is important to remember that we do not go alone. We are to join with one another in our mutual work for the sake of the Gospel. Examples of this are frequently found in the Scriptures. In Genesis 12, when God calls Abram to the land he would see later, he did not go alone. In Luke 10, Jesus sent the witnesses out in pairs to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near.” After the Resurrection, Jesus walked along the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his companion (Luke 24). Paul and Barnabas are sent together in Acts 13. If you are a leader in ministry, are you merely pointing or are you joining others on the journey?
The same holds true for those who are trying to find their way in the Christian faith. The last few months have turned many of us upside down. People are looking for someone to show them the way in a dark time. Many people are afraid of what the future will hold, as evidenced by panic buying and the hoarding of basic necessities. They want direction on how to navigate these uncertain times. Social distancing does not, necessarily, mean going it alone. Rather, at this important time, people around us need to be reminded that they need not go on this journey by themselves.
In times of difficulty, many people of faith have turned to Psalm 23 for comfort. Frequently, Bible study teachers and pastors point to the fact that the psalmist walks through the darkest valley rather than remain in that dark valley. That is an important point. However, notice that the comfort also comes from the fact that the Lord walks with us in those dark valleys. The Lord does not simply point but accompanies. We take solace because we are not alone.
Though the problems facing the world today are significant, perhaps even unprecedented, this is not the first time that the church has faced ministry to those impacted by a widespread illness. In the second, third, and sixteenth centuries, the church was able to minister to people in times of plague and disease. Without minimizing the human toll, it is important to remember that the church served as a faithful witness in those times. The church has the opportunity to be a faithful witness again in a difficult time for many around the world. That does not come from hoarding basic necessities or spreading panic and fear. Rather, it is demonstrated in showing the mercy given to us by Christ and coming alongside others as we walk through these dark times.
As a response to social distancing, many churches have generated a great deal of online content in the form of services, devotionals, and Bible studies. I am grateful that there has been a proliferation of these types of resources. The internet certainly needs it. All the while, church leaders should ensure that these are not just inwardly focused—merely aimed at the people who are already connected with a church. People are asking some really big and really important questions about life, death, the nature of the world in which we live. The gospel is the answer to these questions. This is a prime opportunity for us to share these answers to the world that is asking. We need to do this in a way that is not merely pointing and saying: “over there.” This is a prime opportunity to show the world the One who walks through our valleys with us.