I was definitely a skeptic of Covid-19. SARS, MERS; I heard about it all before. You don’t feel like it’s going to touch your own backyard. It really wasn’t until some of my concerts started getting canceled and my business manager called me saying, “don’t panic” — and when someone tells you don’t panic, that’s the first thing you do — that I started freaking out. For a good 24 hours, I was in panic mode, but the best and easiest way to take care of my mental health, my holistic health, is to adjust and adapt to these new normals. The quicker you adjust, the easier it is to deal with all this chaos.
Now, due to social distancing, my family and I get together and take part in a virtual church service. To still have congregations come to church is irresponsible. That feels more self-serving than it feels like pastoring, shepherding, and caring for people. That goes back to Jesus talking about, what good does it do to pass a man who’s hungry and say, I’m going to pray for you? Feed the man. What good does it do to tell people to gather together in a building if they’re all sick and going to spread this virus?
I don’t think finances are every pastor’s motive, but I do think that it’s a motive check. Church, specifically in America and the West, has become a business. Instead of it being a service onto people, it’s become about the business of the church and making sure that your building is functioning. I’m not against you having a mortgage or a staff, but that’s not the purpose of the church. The worst-case scenario for a lot of them is that they lose the mortgage. They lose being able to support the staff. They lose the tithes and offerings that are consistent with people showing up. It’s not to say that those are bad things; it’s just not the intention and the purpose of the church in the first place.
The thing about the church is that it’s not this homogenized group of people. A lot of people will see the actions of one particular pastor or group of church folk and say, “See, look at the church.” In reality, there’s a lot of conflicted and divided views. God has given us human ingenuity and wisdom to exercise. That allows us to think through things, to meditate, to take care of our health, to follow protocols, to be sanitized, to stay at home.
I’ve seen Renovation Church in Atlanta and Fellowship Monrovia Church in L.A. do a phenomenal job at pivoting, adjusting, and creating online virtual groups for people to connect using tools like Zoom. I’ve seen people take advantage of doing youth groups, creating videos, and sourcing things that are already online. Obviously nothing’s going to replace that physical contact, but we have to look at this as a season. This is not the way life is going to be. This is the way the season is going to be.
Church, specifically in America and the West, has become a business. Instead of it being a service onto people, it’s become about the business of the church and making sure that your building is functioning.
Until the experts (not the president) tell us Easter is a safe time to start congregating again, we should just follow protocol and be precautious. It’s fair to say Donald Trump is not an expert on any of these particular things. If you don’t know for sure, then I wouldn’t give people that false expectation and false hope.
We have to remember there’s nothing wrong with tradition, but there’s something wrong with traditionalism. Tradition is honoring things that have happened over a period of time. Traditionalism is making them a law — and there’s no law that says you have to be in a pulpit, that you have to preach in front of all these people. Sometimes God shakes up our traditions or traditionalism to make us pivot and figure out ways to serve folks because ultimately the role of a pastor is to serve the people and to take care of them. Sometimes you’ve got to figure out new ways to do that. Personally, I think it’s a healthy challenge because you don’t want smooth sailing as a follower of Jesus. You want there to be some rocky roads. The goal is not to say, God, get me out of this. The goal is say, God, get me through this. Give me what I need to get through this.
The Bible tells us to encourage each other as long as today is today. You don’t even realize how far encouraging texts or FaceTimes go, and if we have the time now, we can just be an encourager. You can start asking people, “What can I pray for you for?” and begin to compile a prayer list and start praying for people. If you’ve got the extra income or the ability to do so, then the people who are struggling in certain areas, ask them if you can pay for their groceries. Ask them if you can send a delivery their way for something that they need. Encourage your pastor. Send them a note, an email, or a DM, and let them know how much you appreciate them and what they’ve done.
There’s a million ways that we can start being the hands and feet. I personally got involved with an organization called Love Beyond Walls in Atlanta, where they were delivering sinks outside so that homeless people can wash their hands with soap and water. That was just one way to take a step toward serving people. Just keeping people’s spirits up in the midst of a dark season.
I was holding on to my song called “Set Me Free.” I felt like it was self-serving to drop it during the midst of all this chaos, but I was encouraged by other people to put it out anyway, just to encourage people and let them know that God is with us in the dark times and He’s near the brokenhearted. He’s near those who are going through trials. And I’m working on an album titled Restoration. I think we’ll need some restoration when this is all said and done.
For millennials, Gen Z, this is our season to shine. It’s a great time to grow because your twenties and thirties are where you begin to employ a lot of wisdom, and now you probably have about eight weeks with more time than you’ve ever had. It’s a great time to develop some character issues, some self-reflection. Learn a new trade. Learn Spanish if you always wanted to. Study a whole book in the Bible. There are so many things you can do to come out on the other side of this better and stronger.
I hate the potential of great loss for anybody and obviously hope that’s no one’s reality, but it’s going to be necessary for us to have a plan to navigate that. A storm is going to come in our lives, and we’re going to sink or swim. I would pray that we would prepare ourselves to swim. You’re going to have to go through hell, but allow that fire to forge a new you. You’re going to think on a greater wavelength because you’ve experienced such hell and such loss, but mostly you’ll survive it, and you won’t have the option to be who you were before. If you never know trial, you’ll never know triumph. There’s going to be a time to mourn and grieve. And then after that period, we’ve got to pull it together and become stronger.
Allow your friends to know what’s going on with you. Don’t keep it to yourself. Your real friends aren’t going to shun you for saying, “I’m going through a depressive episode.” They’re not going to shun you for saying, “I’m unmotivated, I’m sad, I’m frustrated.” If your friends are going through that, just be there. Don’t try to fix them. Just walk with them through that pain, through that process and give them encouragement along the way. It’s going to be a season and it’s not going to be over quickly. God is not transactional. He’s not just going to make it go away, but he’s relational and he’s going to walk with you through that pain and get you out on the other side.
My upcoming book, I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion but Found My Faith, is talking to people about how to survive chaos — relational chaos, political chaos, financial chaos, spiritual chaos. I’m detailing how I survived a lot of these things and how I’m restored. Restoration is taking something that was broken and mending it, making it better. God has promised to restore us. You don’t get that promise without the problems. He is looking forward to us leaning into Him and allowing Him to work with us.
I’ve been praying every day, every morning, for the health and well-being of everybody. There’s a verse in Ephesians where Paul says, “Show us the depth, the width, the breadth, and the height of Your love.” I’ve been praying that a lot because when you know the depth, the width, the breadth, and the height of God’s love, you’re not dismayed by anything. You realize His love is so much bigger, and He’s with you. So I’m praying that for myself, and for everybody: God, show us how much you love us in the midst of all this. Let us lean and rely on that. —As told to Stacy-Ann Ellis