With the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all learning about “social distancing.” However, social distancing does not and should not mean social isolation.
In fact, if we are creative, we can do authentic ministry from a distance. We can all practice spiritual connecting even while social distancing.
While the means in which we accomplish this looks very different, we have both biblical and historical examples of connecting at a distance.
The Bible and Authentic Ministry from a Distance
Even this blog post is a result of authentic ministry from a distance! My good friend and co-worker in biblical counseling, Paul Tautges, shared the following on Facebook recently:
“This morning, a man from another church asked me if authentic ministry can actually take place if you are hindered from meeting with someone face to face. I told him that if it can’t then the apostle Paul is in big trouble, and we wouldn’t have the book of Colossians. ‘For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face’ (Colossians 2:1 ESV). Our message remains the same, while sometimes our methods must remain flexible.”
Great insight from two Pauls: The Apostle Paul and Pastor Paul!
The Intensity of Personal Presence—Even When We Are Not Physically Present
Colossians 1 shows the intensity of Paul’s ministry from a distance. The Apostle Paul describes his gospel writing ministry:
“Christ is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29).
There’s nothing aloof about Paul’s writing-ministry-from-a-distance. It’s intense, strenuous, powerful, personal, energized—and Christ-dependent.
The Intimacy of Personal Presence—Even When We Are Not Physically Present
Paul’s ministry from a distance with the Corinthians models the intimacy we can share even when physically separated. In his past face-to-face ministry and in his current writing ministry from a distance, Paul has communicated freely and opened wide his heart to them (2 Corinthians 6:11). Then he reminds them by letter:
“We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:12-13).
Think about that. Even in writing, even from a distance, Paul is not withholding affection from those he ministers to. And even from a distance, Paul lovingly and intimately confronts them: “I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.”
Martin Luther and Authentic Ministry from a Distance
For a good portion of Martin Luther’s life, he had to be in hiding, secluded, due to the fear of being arrested and even executed for his Reformation views. Even when Luther was not in seclusion, his far-ranging notoriety led to thousands of people from all over Europe seeking his comfort and counsel.
Rather than practicing social isolation, Luther practiced spiritual connection. Luther penned over 3,000 letters of spiritual counsel. In those letters, Luther empathized, comforted, encouraged, confronted, and guided his far-flung flock.
My Own Experience with Authentic Ministry from a Distance
What the Bible and Luther illustrate and model, I’ve experienced for years. For years, I’ve provided counseling supervision, mentored pastors from around the world and counseled hundereds of people via Skype.
When people hear about my “ministry-via-Skype,” they’ll often ask, “But isn’t it difficult to connect deeply from a distance?”
Every time, I respond, “No.”
Then I’ll typically elaborate that I weep, grieve, explore scriptural hope, challenge and “care-front,” and affirm God’s work in people’s lives over Skype.
Once you get over techno-phobias, there’s no reason that Skype, Zoom, Go-To-Meeting or any other online means can’t provide the platform for intense, intimate, intentional ministry from a distance.
5 Practical Suggestions for Practicing Spiritual Connecting While Social Distancing
1. Email, Text, and Even Write a Letter
Letter writing? Does anyone still do that? Letter writing is so powerful because it’s so uncommon. Don’t like letter writing? Can’t do cursive? Send an email or a text. Connect to people with words—like Paul and Luther did.
2. Use Video Conferencing Technology: For Family, Church Services, and Small Groups
Our life group met Wednesday evening via Zoom. Did it take a few minutes to get used to? Of course. But after a few minutes, it became one of our more intense and intimate group meetings. I’m sure part of the reason is because of the times we’re living in. But much of the credit goes our two leaders who modeled both Paul and Luther-like ministry from a distance. We shared our hearts, read and studied Scriptures, and had an extended time of prayer together—from a distance.
When your church live-streams your Sunday service, join in. Sing at home. Pray when your pastor prays. Open your Bible (or Bible app). Take notes.
Facetime with your family members.
Mentor, supervise, counsel.
Share one-another ministry with a friend.
3. Minister Via Social Media
Send a private Facebook message of encouragement. Tweet a link to helpful resources. Post a Scripture verse. Ask for prayer. Ask people how you can be praying for them.
As an example, here’s something I recently posted on my Facebook page:
How could I pray for you? During this time of social distancing, I don’t want us to be socially isolated. Are there ways I can be praying for you—my Facebook friends? If so, feel free to private message me, or if you would like others to see your prayer request and be praying for you, feel free to post on this feed. I’ll start. Here’s one way you could be praying for Shirley and me… (I shared a current prayer request).
4. Make a Phone Call
My parents are 90 and 89. Facetime scares them. But they LOVE phone calls.
There are so many people living in retirement and nursing homes that may not be able to navigate or access video, but they can use a phone.
This is not only for the elderly, sometimes hearing a friendly voice can do a world of good.
5. Learn the “Communication Language” of others
You’ve heard references to a person’s “love language.” We should learn to adjust to the preferred means of communication of others. As I mentioned above, Facetime with my Mom causes her stress when trying to figure it all out. So, I adjust. Some people will never respond to an email, but they will jump on a text string in a split second. Be all things to all people that by all means you might minister to some.
Join the Conversation
What are additional practical ideas for practicing spiritual connection while practicing social distancing?
COUNSELING UNDER THE CROSS: HOW MARTIN LUTHER APPLIED THE GOSPEL TO DAILY LIFE
In Counseling Under the Cross, biblical counselor and noted author Bob Kellemen mines the riches of Luther’s letters of spiritual counsel to give readers a new understanding of how Luther engaged in the personal ministry of the gospel.