The recently released poll report by the ShahidiHub Research & Consulting (under ShahidiHub Africa Ltd) shows various ways in which the church has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It reveals how pastors have continued their connectedness with their members after the ban on religious gathering, as a health measure against the spread of Covid-19.
The report shows pastors/church leaders who did not transition to online platforms, followed up on their members through WhatsApp (69.29%); Phone Calls (58.05%), and SMS (50.56%). However, 13.11% expressed that it has been hard to follow up on their church members during this period.
Other ways in which pastors and other church leaders have reached out to their members include cautious home visits; provision of hard copies of Bible study/ family devotional materials to members; follow-up through the leaders of life/Cell-group (home churches), and availing to members the preaching/sermon texts with guided questions.
The survey further found out that the church has continued to spread of the good news during this period. The outstanding activities to the society during this extraordinary period include: Prayer Support [82.20%]; Counseling (personal problems, conflicts, job losses)- [64.40%]; Reaching out with the Good News [57.61%]; Helping the poor with food stuff [56.67%]; Pastoral presence during bereavement process and burials [55.50%]; Supporting the vulnerable (Elderly, persons living with disabilities) with basic needs [42.86%]; Helping deal with matters of domestic violence [34.19%]; Helping those affected by natural calamities with basic needs [21.08%]; Supporting Children Homes with basic needs [17.56%]; and, Paying Rent for those who’ve lost jobs [11.71%].
Having these statistics in mind, it is evident that pastoral care has been a necessary and urgent need during this Covid-19 season. The closure of churches did not result in the lessening of pastoral activities. In fact, it has emerged that pastors and ministry leaders have become busier during this partial lockdown period. The question then is, with the current overwhelming pastoral ministry needs, how can the church effectively dispense its pastoral duties to its members? My proposition is that laity training/equipping, and empowerment are necessary for effective pastoral ministry and discipleship.
The church needs to cultivate the laity’s ability to theologize in order to mitigate some of the pastoral challenges currently being experienced. Equipped and empowered laity will be beneficial for several reasons. First, empowered laity will compensate for the strained pastor-congregation ratio. Many churches in Kenya (especially in rural areas) experience this ratio mismatch of pastors and congregations. These churches do not have enough pastors to provide leadership and shepherding to every group in the church. In this widespread scenario, the few available pastors are already strained and overstretched.
Therefore, there is a need to empower the laity to lead, teach, and support other church roles and responsibilities. It is lamentable that some churches are not utilizing some of the resource persons in their congregation. If Apostle Paul’s analogy of the body is correctly applied, various gifts in a congregation will be fanned into flame and have a vibrant body of Christ. Overreliance on the clergy overburdens them thereby making them ineffective in the ministry. Such ministry ineffectiveness produces milk-dependent and spiritually immature Christians.
Second, empowering the laity is not only for their personal good but also for the good of their circle of friends. It should be appreciated that in Africa generally and Kenya in this case, most people get their social support from friends and family members. Seeking professional counselling has not yet found wide societal acceptance in our context. Since most counselling happens at the peer and family level, there is need to train and empower the laity in order to enhance effective social support. Their training should encompass basics of counselling.
Third, laity empowerment will strengthen believers’ spiritual growth. Emphatically, the Great Commission mandate is about making disciples. Biblical teaching is a necessity for effective discipleship making. The COVID-19 situation has pointed out the weakness of pulpit and clergy-centered ministry. Believers should be empowered to personally gain their spiritual muscles and growth from the mines of the scripture, and not over-rely on Sunday-to-Sunday spoon-feeding. However, this does not undermine the place of the pulpit ministry. If properly utilized, the pulpit offers a strategic platform for empowering the laity and promoting the priesthood of all believers.
Fourth, by training/equipping and empowering the laity, the church will be implementing the biblical principle of delegation. It took Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, for Moses to make sense of the delegation principle. Moses kept doing ministry from morning till evening to the detriment of his self. Jethro advised, “…what you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:17,18 NIV). Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy and Titus also reinforces the place of delegation in church administration (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-10, Titus 1:5). Therefore, equipping and empowering the laity will not only ease and make pastoral work effective but also delightful.
Name: Leonard Too
Education Qualification: Bachelor of Education (BED-UON)-2014; MDIV-BS (AIU)-2018; PhD Biblical Studies Student (Africa International University).
“…it is evident that pastoral care has been a necessary and urgent need during this Covid-19 season. The closure of churches did not result in the lessening of pastoral activities. In fact, it has emerged that pastors and ministry leaders have become busier during this partial lockdown period.”
“It is lamentable that some churches are not utilizing some of the resource persons in their congregation. If Apostle Paul’s analogy of the body is correctly applied, various gifts in a congregation will be fanned into flame and have a vibrant body of Christ.”
“The COVID-19 situation has pointed out the weakness of pulpit and clergy-centered ministry. Believers should be empowered to personally gain their spiritual muscles and growth from the mines of the scripture, and not over-rely on Sunday-to-Sunday spoon-feeding.”