“In moments of crisis, people are looking for leadership,” said Ian Toh, pastor of 3:16 Church. “The first responsibility of the leader is to remain calm. Panic causes tunnel vision, which is terrible for decision-making. Strong leadership reminds people that God is in control of every situation and there is never a reason to panic.”
Toh told CT his leadership team found their role was “to teach from the Bible, minister to and encourage those who are fearful.” The process drove them to their knees, seeking divine wisdom in an unprecedented situation.
“The biggest lesson that I have learned dealing with COVID-19 is the need to be humble as a church leader,” said Toh. “There is so much that I do not know and have to learn. And that increases my desire and the need to seek the face of the Lord daily.”
As the virus continues to spread globally, church leaders around the world should be aware that their flocks are watching their shepherds intently. Signals of faithfulness will have implications long after the COVID-19 season is over.
“A senior leader once told me, ‘A leader’s action is a theological statement,’” said Rick Toh [no relation], pastor of Yio Chu Kang Chapel. “As leaders, we need to have a theological stance on all things. We need to process our fears before God and let our actions be inspired by faith and guided by sound theology. Let not disease, or earthly decree, but doctrine guide our decisions.”
While the Singaporean government has said an upgrade to the Red risk assessment level is “unlikely,” local churches have explored improvements to their video recording and live-streaming capabilities in preparation for a worst-case total lockdown scenario.
For example, the Bible Society of Singapore partnered with ThunderQuote, a procurement-related startup founded by Christians, to launch Streams of Life, a resource center listing various livestreaming options ranked by difficulty level.
In a similar vein, Singapore Bible College conducted an “Introduction to Instant Message Broadcast and Live Video Streaming” workshop, while digital-exploration ministry Indigitous partnered with church IT specialists to host a “So You Want to Livestream Your Church Service” webinar via the Zoom video conferencing platform.
Church worship and AV teams are also navigating the music licensing challenge that livestreaming presents. Many local worship groups have explicitly granted permission for churches to play their songs on livestreams without fear of copyright or licensing issues.
Awaken Generation, founded by Calvin and Alarice Hong, was “keenly aware” of how small churches could find it difficult to afford livestreaming licenses for worship services. “Given the backdrop of things, we simply felt that it was really not the time to enforce our strict rights in collecting livestreaming communication fees,” the worship group told CT. “So it was our honor to offer these songs for use.
Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) chose to suspend weekly gatherings from mid-February as an act of social responsibility. “This decision was a very difficult one to make,” said senior pastor Daniel Khong. “We were constantly checking ourselves to make sure that we were not responding out of fear, and weighing out all the various considerations. But our main church building sits in the heart of a neighborhood with a population of about 46,000 people. With how dense this area is, this could potentially become a major cluster for the virus to spread.”
“Many of our cell groups come together in homes to watch our service livestream. We deliberately end our livestreamed services early so that our cell groups can go out and pray over their neighborhood. Many have said they now feel a sense of responsibility for the spiritual well-being of their community, and some were even able to share the gospel with people they met.”
FCBC members are now on a journey of rethinking their understanding of church, said Khong. “The church today must be a people of purpose that are willing to go beyond the constraints of ‘place’ or ‘program.’”