It can be difficult to truly appreciate the challenge of James to “count it all joy” as we consider the impact that COVID-19 has had on the state of our ministries over the past months. We know that we cannot afford to stop ministering just because we’ve had to stop meeting. We know that sometimes God grows things by breaking them. Still, lockdown does not seem like something to be thankful for. It can feel like an impenetrable barrier to ministry. Many of us have felt severely restricted in our ability to reach and teach and worship and influence. In some parts of the country, people have started to meet again, but we may still be weeks or months away from being back to anything that resembles the normal that we took for granted just seven months ago. Is it really realistic to think that anyone could have an effective ministry during a time when they can’t gather together in person? Paul did.
Paul must have experienced frustration similar to what we feel now, only his situation was due to actual imprisonment. After going to Rome in about 60A.D., Paul was put under house arrest and held for two years (Acts 28:30-31). But a lack of proximity and personal freedom didn’t hinder his ministry. Although he was not able to travel freely to visit churches in person, his ministry was not hindered—it was amplified! Paul didn’t stop doing discipleship or serving the church during his imprisonment. Instead of preaching and teaching in person, he wrote letters. Aren’t we glad that he did! The things he wrote at that time have influenced people for centuries, and continue to speak to the church today; people that Paul would never meet, in places he would never go. God sovereignly used Paul’s imprisonment to exponentially increase the reach of his teaching over both space and time.
Paul wrote four epistles during his imprisonment: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. These four letters contain powerful and influential spiritual truths, including:
- Salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:4-10)
- The Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20)
- All is loss compared to knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:7-11)
- Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable (Philippians 4:8-9)
- I can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13)
- Putting on love and a heart of forgiveness (Colossians 3:12-14)
- Doing everything in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17)
- Principles of repentance, forgiveness and restoration (Philemon)
Paul wrote letters because that was the most effective tool he had available to do ministry from lockdown. I suspect that if he had the option he may have also used email, or made YouTube videos, or hosted FaceBook Live sessions. Paul is a wonderful example of a minister with a message that could not be deterred by distance or deferred because of inconvenience. He should serve to provide great encouragement to us as we face the potential distraction and discouragement of our current crisis.
Like Paul, may we not be hindered by our present inability to meet in person. Like Paul, let’s not be shaken by our circumstances . Like Paul, let’s choose instead to find alternate ways to do ministry from anywhere. Who knows–like Paul–God may use us to reach people we’ll never meet, in places we’ll never go, to increase the reach of the Gospel for His glory.
Chuck Peters is Director of Operations for Lifeway Kids. Before his role at Lifeway, Chuck had an extensive career in television and video production. He is a 3-time Emmy Award Winning producer, director, writer and host. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck, and his wife, Cris, have served vocationally & voluntarily in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years. They have four amazing children: Tally (21), Tristen (20), Tyson (14) and Tate (11).