Practicing Spiritual Connecting While Social Distancing by Robert Kellemen

With the coronavirus (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.

Let’s all practice spiritual connecting even while social distancing.

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 coworker in biblical counseling, Pastor Paul Tautges, shared the following on his Facebook feed today:

“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’ (Col. 2:1). 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

The preceding context in Colossians 1 shows the intensity of Paul’s ministry from a distance. Paul (the Apostle, not Pastor Paul Tautges!) 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” (Col. 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, because of 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 1,000s of people from all over Europe seeking his comfort and counsel.

Rather than practicing social isolation, Luther practice 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.

The Intentionality of Personal Presence—Even When We Are Not Physically Present

Consider just one example (out of over 3,000). Ambrose Brendt had studied in Wittenberg and received his master’s degree, and thus was well-known to Luther. Brendt’s wife died in childbirth and her newborn son died with her. Luther writes to his friend, grieving with him, giving him permission to grieve, and offering encouragement to hope:

“I am not so inhumane that I cannot appreciate how deeply the death of Margaret distresses you. For the great and godly affliction which binds a husband to his wife is so strong that it cannot easily be shaken off, and this feeling of sorrow is not displeasing to God…since it is an expression of what God has assuredly implanted in you. Nor would I account you a man, to say nothing of a good husband, if you could at once throw off your grief. 1

Then, toward the end of his letter of spiritual consolation to Brendt, Luther adds this crucial reminder: “Comfort yourself with the Word of God, the pre-eminent consolation.” 2

My 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 via Skype; I’ve mentored pastors from around the world via Skype; I’ve counseled 100s 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?”

I’ll respond every time, “No.”

Then I’ll typically expand my thinking! I weep with people over Skype. I grieve with people over Skype. I explore scriptural hope together over Skype. I challenge and “care-front” via Skype. I affirm God’s work in people’s lives over Skype.

Once you get over an “techno-phobias,” there’s no reason that Skype or Zoom or 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, For Church Services, For 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 bit, it became one of our more intense and intimate group meetings. I’m sure some of that is because of the times we’re living in. But much of that was because our two leaders (shout out to Lloyd and John) both modeled Paul-like and Luther-like ministry from a distance. We shared out hearts together, we read and studied Scriptures together, we 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. 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. Call

My parents are 90 and 89. Facetime scares them. But they LOVE phone calls.

5. Learn People’s “Communication Language”

People talk sometime about “love languages.” We should learn to adjust to other people’s preferred communication language. As I mentioned above, Facetime with my Mom causes her stress 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.

5 Ways to Pursue Community While Social Distancing

The following additional suggestions come from a reader of RPM’s Truth and Love blog, Hannah Carr.

1. Use Facebook Groups, Zoom, WebEx, etc. for Interactive Teachings, a Book Study, or Small Groups

A moderated group format is ideal so folks can daily post prayer requests, things that make them laugh, encouraging truths, needs, tips for schooling at home, etc. Jointly pick a book and have an online discussion. Publishers such as Crossway are allowing public readings of their materials so long as all the credits are given (such as author, illustrator, etc.). Contact each publisher for details.

2. Organize Online Devotions/Devotionals

Include questions to discuss and prayer prompts, match folks together to pray, and memorize Scripture together. Have folks share their testimony live.

3. Match People Who Live Alone to a Group of 3-to-4 People

No matter the age, anyone who lives alone can easily spiral from all of the anxiety and loneliness. Be proactive in engaging them and making sure they don’t feel forgotten. Check in on them via phone, text, or video chat. Pray with them. As part of this, make a list of at-risk people. This can include anyone who lives alone, or someone who already struggles with loneliness, depression, or chronic illness. Make sure they are checked in with daily.

4. Brainstorm Proactive Plans for Benevolent Care

Those whose jobs are closed for the next 8-10 weeks (or lost) will soon face real financial hardships. From Acts 2 onward, the church has stepped up to meet financial needs.

5. Organize Childcare

If allowed depending on “shelter-at-home” regulations, see if those in low-risk categories can potentially provide childcare for those who must go into work when school or childcare is cancelled.

Join the Conversation

What are additional practical ideas for practicing spiritual connection while practicing social distancing?


1 Quoted in Kellemen, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life, p. 69. Original source, Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 62.

2 Ibid., p. 69 in Kellemen and p. 63 in Tappert.


Anxiety: Anatomy and Cure | $4.99 | The Gospel for Real Life series
Grief: Walking with Jesus | $9.99 | 31-Day Devotionals for Life series


5 New Releases Today!

We are excited to release 5 new titles today!

  1. Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord: Lessons from the Apocalypse by James Montgomery Boice
  2. Does God Care How We Worship? by Ligon Duncan
  3. Esther & Ruth: The Lord Delivers and Redeems, A 13-Lesson Study by Jon Nielson
  4. Hebrews: Standing Firm in Christ, A 13-Lesson Study by Jon Nielson
  5. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Paperback Edition) by Benjamin B. Warfield
April 1st New Release

Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord: Lessons from the Apocalypse by James Montgomery Boice

272 pages | Hardcover | $27.99 | SAMPLE CHAPTER | Mobi: $24.99 | ePub: $24.99

About

As you look to the future for Christ’s return, learn how to live now for his glory. 

James Boice was known in his pastoral ministry for offering clear, practical, and biblical instruction. Never before published, this dynamic work on Revelation 1–6 gives his final thoughts on the church and on worship, as well as on facing trials in the light of heavenly realities and Christ’s return. What does Christ expect of his church on earth? How does he desire his people to worship him? What hope does he give for his people when they suffer? 

Includes a foreword and an afterword by editor Philip Graham Ryken.

Endorsements 

“Jim Boice’s final series of sermons at Tenth Presbyterian Church before his untimely death and promotion to glory cover only the first six chapters of the book of Revelation, but they are a marvelous synthesis of exegesis and theology, of doctrine and life. Read this book for your own well-being, to lead yourself into adoration, to hunger and pray for righteousness that springs from the gospel of grace. Then distribute copies to your friends for their well-being, too.”—D. A. Carson

“Dr. James M. Boice’s commentary on Revelation is like a theological GPS that helps the reader to navigate the challenges of understanding the Bible’s most apocalyptic book. Thankfully, he stresses Jesus’s saving work as the central point of Revelation, downplaying charts and predictions in favor of highlighting Jesus as the triumphant Servant, victorious Lamb, and reigning King at the center of all history. Brilliant, biblically rich, and a true blessing.” —Doug Logan Jr.

“These studies on the book of Revelation were the last sermons in the fruitful ministry of James Montgomery Boice. They also represent the height of his expository prowess. Dr. Boice died with a supreme anticipation of the glories he so remarkably describes from Revelation 4 and 5 and with an optimism for the church due to the sovereign reign of her Lord. Anyone who benefited from Boice’s long and faithful ministry will find this a must-have volume. Those who have not yet studied under his skillful hand will find these studies in Revelation a stirring introduction to one of the great pulpit ministries of the twentieth century.” —Richard D. Phillips

“Any Christian who has ever turned to the back of the Bible to ‘see how the story ends’ or has puzzled over the bizarre and sometimes disturbing images in its final pages knows how strange Revelation is—and how deeply our hearts desire to know what it means. Dr. Boice’s clear and compelling expositions of the Bible’s famous last book became one of his last gifts to his beloved congregation. . . . Now, for the first time, these marvelous messages are appearing in print for the blessing of the wider church.” —Philip Graham Ryken


Does God Care How We Worship? by Ligon Duncan

96 pages | $12.99 | SAMPLE CHAPTER | Mobi: $7.99 | ePub: $7.99

About

Does God care how we worship? For thousands of years, believers have answered with a resounding yes! Ever since the days of Cain and Abel, God has emphasized right worship, and it’s clear that careless worship can have serious consequences.

Worship consciously regulated by God’s Word is a distinct characteristic of the Reformed church. Yet today many churches do not understand that both the Old and New Testaments have much to say about appropriate worship before God. Ligon Duncan lays the foundations of the regulative principle in worship, providing full biblical support as well as historical context. He also answers objections: Is this “right worship” essentially European? Is it flexible to different churches and contexts? Is it really still applicable today?

Endorsement

“Does God care how we worship? Indeed he does, and Ligon Duncan’s practical explanation of biblical principles for public worship will help pastors, musicians, and other churchgoers to find greater enjoyment in the God they love to praise.” —Philip Graham Ryken


Esther & Ruth: The Lord Delivers and Redeems, A 13-Lesson Study by Jon Nielson

120 pages | $9.99 | SAMPLE CHAPTER | Mobi: $7.99 | ePub: $7.99

About

The Old Testament narratives of Esther and Ruth feature women and men who act boldly and ultimately receive God’s blessing. So does God help those who help themselves? Actually, he helps those who don’t deserve it! See how our gracious God rescues his own and prepares them for Christ’s coming.

This Reformed Expository Bible Study is designed for personal and group use. Each lesson connects to the rest of the Bible and holds to the same standards as the Reformed Expository Commentary series: a high view of Scripture; a Christ-centered focus; a Reformed theological basis; and an emphasis on personal application and prayer.

Endorsements

“Having benefitted, along with many others, from the excellent and accessible Reformed Expository Commentary series, I heartily commend this companion initiative.” —Harry Reeder

“I am thankful to see this development in the Reformed Expository Commentary series, allowing these excellent, pastoral commentaries to get an even wider use in the church.” —Bryan Chapell


Hebrews: Standing Firm in Christ, A 13-Lesson Study by Jon Nielson

120 pages | $9.99 | SAMPLE CHAPTER | Mobi: $7.99 | ePub: $7.99

About

How do we stand firm in faith? Throughout the ages, Christians have experienced persecution, spiritual apathy, and suffering of all kinds. The book of Hebrews captures our deep struggles and, with a message of hope and warning, points us to the surpassing supremacy of Jesus Christ.

This Reformed Expository Bible Study is designed for personal and group use. Each lesson connects to the rest of the Bible and holds to the same standards as the Reformed Expository Commentary series: a high view of Scripture; a Christ-centered focus; a Reformed theological basis; and an emphasis on personal application and prayer.

Endorsements

“Jon Nielson asks questions on the text that will make the reader think. . . . The Reformed Expository Bible Study series will help readers to understand every text in light of the whole of the Bible—as well as the person and work of Christ.” —Nancy Guthrie

“I highly recommend the Reformed Expository Bible Study series for those who desire to read the Bible through a redemptive-historical lens that will help them to draw out good gospel implications for all of life and ministry.” —Stephen T. Um


The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Paperback Edition) by Benjamin B. Warfield

464 pages | $19.99

About

Textual and “higher” criticism have decimated the faith of many and made divinity schools message-less. This is an analysis of questions asked by textual and higher criticism with the purpose of vindicating the viewpoint of an infallible Bible.


Respecting the Image in Crisis and Quarantine

Respecting others is hard enough when all is going well, but what do we do when crisis and quarantine hit us? The simple answer is: we do the same as when life is at its best—only more so. Crises do not negate our responsibilities to love and respect others. They only apply further heat and difficulty while completing the task. My wife is made in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect in how I listen and talk to her, whether we are on a date or across the room in our quarantined existence. And so is anybody else whose path crosses mine—even if they’re six feet away.

For this reason, I need to Chill—guarding my heart and lips so I do not lash out at my wife, or rage against my president or other leaders who I might judge to be incompetent, or turn heated toward the shopper who might have grabbed more TP than he really needed.

For this reason, I need to Open up—making sure I do not retreat into relational isolation, closing up and in on my own self, and making sure I have someone with whom I share my fears and anxieties and hopes and blessings and God-bestowed promises in this hour of trial.

For this reason, I need to Make time—planning moments of meaningful interaction with others, even if only by phone or video.

For this reason, I need to Mean what I say—committing to honesty with others, disclosing my real needs and expectations and disappointments, and keeping my promises to help.

For this reason, I need to Understand what I hear—lingering long enough on the phone or video call to ensure that I have heard how the other person is really doing and what they’re really saying and how they’re really struggling.

For this reason, I need to Nourish with grace—filling my conversations with blessings and divine promises and benedictions and any other words that will leave the other person with more hope and grace than when we started talking.

For this reason, I need to Initiate peace—using my extra time to evaluate my relationships and conflicts to see where I have either offended or been offended and then working to initiate contact with others to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

For this reason, I need to Celebrate others—making sure to verbally honor and thank all those who are serving in these difficult days, often under duress and in peril of infection, and to celebrate all the ways that people are coping and serving as the days of trial wear on.

For this reason, I need to Assume that I am wrong—remembering that whenever I am tempted to rage against a “stupid” politician or to argue for or against the right ways to address this crisis or to assert that this or that should be done, I am speaking largely out of ignorance. I simply do not know all the facts or have all the answers, and making believe that I do using still another Facebook rant will do no one any good.

For this reason, I need to Think the best—interpreting the actions of others in the best possible light, believing that they are trying hard to get this right, and realizing that fear and isolation can tempt people to do and say things that they otherwise would not.

For this reason, I need to Examine my heart—searching for the cravings and desires that make me willing to rage and fight and quarrel and slander and threaten in order to get them and confessing those unmet desires (no matter how innocent they may be in themselves) to be the heart-idols that they really are.

Why must I commit to COMMUNICATE in this hour of trial? For this simple but profound reason: every person I meet—whether in person at the supermarket, or online in a Zoom meeting, or on a TV screen giving the evening news—is a person who is made in the image of God and destined for eternity. Even as we wrestle with our mortality in the face of a deadly virus, we must remember that no one is a “mere mortal” (as C. S. Lewis said). And remembering this, we must strive to respect each and every one of them, even when in crisis and quarantine.

Timothy Shorey, author of Respect the Image: Reflecting Human Worth in How We Listen and Talk


Currently $12.21 from wtsbooks.com

When Parenting Grows Even Tougher

I’ve lived through national emergencies, but this is the first time I have parented through one. When I was a child, I looked to my parents in times of crisis. Now I have little eyes looking to me. 

What message do we want to send to our kids about COVID-19? Our kids aren’t watching the news. They are watching us. Our words, actions, and attitudes will tell our kids how to interpret this crisis. Should they be afraid? Is God trustworthy? Is he in control? Is he good? Perhaps we’ve been teaching our kids the answers to these questions for years—but now is our chance to live them out. As our kids see us scramble to reschedule our lives and disinfect our homes, one characteristic should stand out: fearlessness. Fearlessness is what sets Christians apart in times of crisis—and our kids will notice it. 

Here are three ways to model fearlessness to our children. 

  • Keep a Heavenly Perspective. While we can’t tell our kids the exact details of what the future holds for them, we can point them to the things that never change: This world is not our home (1 John 2:17). God is still on the throne (Ps. 47:8). No trial is worthy to be compared to the glory to come for God’s people (Rom. 8:18). When we’re tempted to fear what might happen to us in this life, we can point our kids to the beautiful future awaiting God’s people. 
  • Be Spiritually Prepared. Maybe we weren’t as prepared with toilet paper and hand sanitizer as we would have liked to be, but Christians should always be prepared for trials. First Peter 4:12 says that we should “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” We can remind our kids that trials are part of the Christian life and they serve a special purpose: they refine us and remind us of our hope (Rom. 5:3-4). 
  • Look to Our Source of Peace. This is a chance for our kids to see that peace does not depend on our circumstances. It doesn’t depend on the world’s economy, national leaders, or our healthcare system. True peace comes from Christ. Christ tells us, “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

What kind of world will our kids grow up in? Long before we ever heard the word coronavirus, the answer has always been the same: our kids will grow up in a sinful and broken world, but it belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 reminds us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” When your kids look to you for answers, let them see you looking to God. Their eyes will follow your gaze, and they will face the future without fear. 

Is Worry Getting the Best of You?

Times of crisis have a way of escalating our struggle with anxiety, sometimes raising it to the level of panic, and making it seem impossible for us to respond in a righteous way. What can we do when debilitating fear threatens our peace of mind and heart? Psalm 27 gives encouraging, faith-building counsel as it shows how King David responded to crises in his own life.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? . . . One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Ps. 27:1, 4)

As King David’s enemies increased, so did his anxiety. Three times in the opening verses of this psalm he confesses to being afraid (see vv. 1–3). At least six times in the whole of the psalm he identifies the basis of his fear: evildoers, adversaries, armies at war, enemies, and false witnesses (see vv. 2, 3, 6, 12). Yet rather than responding with sin, David responds in a righteous manner, with a heart that is strengthened by God-centered faith. He turns to his only help and cries out to God (see v. 7). He fights fear with confidence in God as his defender. 

How did he do this? What can we learn from his example?

Faith cripples the power of fear by reminding us of the right-now presence of the Lord (v. 1). 

David reminds himself that “the Lord is my light and my salvation” and that “the Lord is the stronghold of my life.” In fear’s grip, biblical faith doesn’t look only to prom­ises of future deliverance but to assurances of present protection. While being persecuted by enemies, David says, “God is here with me. In him I will put my trust. He is my protection.”

Faith cripples the power of our fear when our focus and affec­tion become singular in the Lord (v. 4). 

David deliberately turns the eyes of his heart away from real-life fears and toward his one, undying passion—to live in the real-time presence of the Lord. David seeks, “all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” As it was with David, so it can be with us. Gazing on the beauty of the Lord will rightly align our affections, enliven our faith, and alleviate our fears. Do you have that same singular long­ing—to seek after the Lord? Or does anxiety distract you from the Lord? 

Faith is powerful, isn’t it? It helps us to fight our fears as we find our confidence in the Lord.

[Adapted from the 31-Day Devotional for Life book Anxiety: Knowing God’s Peace