We are all experiencing change. Life looks different because of COVID-19. For pastors and ministry staff, the changes for the church can be hard. People can’t gather like we once did; it’s recommended that there is no physical contact, that people are 6-feet away and that people wear face coverings. These restrictions, although helpful in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, can make an entire community feel more disconnected than ever before.
But, what if the changes that coronavirus is bringing aren’t bad changes? What if these changes have caused spiritual awakening for some? What if God is teaching us to return to what is most important in our churches?
Arkansas Baptist pastors and ministry staff gathered all across the state of Arkansas for the annual ABSC Statewide Prayer Gathering. This was the seventh year these ministers gathered together to pray for revival. While the pandemic forced some logistical changes, the passion to cry out to the Lord for spiritual awakening was undiminished. Pastors were challenged to pray from a belief that God has a plan for His church during this pandemic.
With the central location being in Little Rock at Immanuel Baptist Church’s new City Center, there were live stream sites including Walnut Street Baptist Church in Jonesboro, First Baptist Church in El Dorado, Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Smith and First Baptist Church in Bentonville. Additionally, groups gathered at association offices and churches all across the state. For the pastors and ministry staff that felt uncomfortable gathering at one of these socially-distanced locations, the Prayer Gathering was also live on Facebook Live and the ABSC website. Approximately 200 gathered at these churches and association offices to participate in the 2020 Statewide Prayer Gathering.
Pastor Jarvis Smith of Second Baptist Church Helena-West Helena Park Street said, “I’ve felt the influence of God to physically attend this prayer gathering more than any of the other ones, simply because of the climate – the nonspiritual climate – that is present in our country today. The need for the people of God to not be given to a spirit of fear, but to be in awe of the power of God. I really wanted God to show up and say, ‘okay, COVID-19 is not God, I’m God.’ The prayer gathering – physically meeting – makes a huge statement that our God is first. Fear may be in the picture for those who don’t know God, but I listen to David’s words in Psalm 23, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’”
At the Prayer Gathering, many are being encouraged in a community of other ministers to seek the Lord and trust in His sovereignty. Ken Jerome from Central Baptist North Little Rock, shared that, “It’s been a reminder of how much I need God.”
Berrik Brumley, Worship Pastor at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville said, “Knowing that so many things have been put on hold or canceled this year, being able to come together for this has given reassurance that God is still working in our churches together. This has been refreshing for many pastors who are stressed or burning out. Every year, the Prayer Gathering is a great time of renewal and refreshment. I think we even have more people involved this year with the online component.”
God is still moving; this pandemic hasn’t caught him by surprise. God is still good; His character remains the same and does not change. God is still growing His Kingdom; He is seeking the faithful worshipers who will obediently follow and trust Him. In a time where burnout seems to feel normal, the annual Prayer Gathering has been a reminder that our sovereign and caring God is stirring hearts toward revival and obedience.