By Susan Hill
The world-renowned Olympic runner, Louis Zamperini, was serving in World War II when his plane crashed in the South Pacific. Only Zamperini and two others survived the accident. Days later, one of the three survivors died from exposure to the harsh elements while being stranded on the Pacific Ocean. For forty-seven days, Zamperini and his only surviving comrade floated on life rafts hoping to be rescued. By the time they were located, they’d drifted an astonishing 2000 miles into Japanese-controlled territory, and were taken as captives to a POW camp.
Not many of us will experience life-threatening circumstances that cause us to drift two thousand miles off course into enemy territory. But we are all at risk of spiritual drift, especially in an era of COVID-19. Spiritual drift is subtle and seldom intentional. But the reality is if we aren’t careful, we too, can find ourselves off-track.
The shutdowns and school closings caused by COVID-19 have been disruptive to our schedules, and most aspects of our lives have been impacted. The inability to meet in person for worship and Bible study, coupled with the changes in our daily schedules, has, in some cases, compromised spiritual disciplines like worship, Bible study, and prayer. Although some churches are beginning to reopen slowly, we are still a long way from our regular routines. The Bible warns of spiritual drift, and as leaders, it’s our responsibility to shepherd the flock God has entrusted to us. The apostle Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
So, as a leader, how can you navigate your group members away from spiritual drift during an era of COVID-19?
- Encourage group members to establish a new normal. All indicators point to the reality that we will be dealing with the repercussions of COVID-19 for some time. As we wait for things to return to normal, encourage your group members to establish new practices that incorporate worship, Bible study, and prayer into their daily routines. This might include an online Bible study, Zoom meetings, or creative ways to remain plugged into the local church. Make sure your group members know the “new normal” will likely look different than what they are used to, and that’s OK. The goal isn’t perfection, but to maintain a healthy spiritual life during a season that has been characterized by disruption.
- Stress the importance of staying present in the local church. Even though churches are re-introducing in-person worship services, some group members may not be able to return to traditional services due to risk factors related to COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean they can’t stay plugged in with the local church. Encourage group members to participate in online services as long as they are unable to attend in person. Also, many churches are holding traditional prayer meetings and weeknight Bible studies in an online format. These are excellent options for those who are not yet able to return to in-person worship.
- Emphasize the importance of connection. We can all agree; the last several months have been stressful for numerous reasons. Now, more than ever, group members need to be connected with other people in the body of Christ. Spiritual drift is inevitable when we are disconnected from other believers. The Bible makes it clear that God intends for His people to live in biblical community, and we are at risk when we attempt to go it alone. We’ll get through this season of COVID-19, but we need each other, and we need to stay grounded in our faith.
Some of your group members may be drifting and don’t realize it. Simply talking about the risk of spiritual drift will help them evaluate where they are. Author and theologian D.A. Carson wrote, “People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, and delight in the Lord.” As leaders, we have the privilege to help those we serve to grow in their faith and gently redirect when they get off-track.
Susan Hill is a writer, Bible teacher, and full-time editor at Lifeway. She is the author of Dangerous Prayers: 50 Powerful Prayers That Changed the World, as well as numerous devotional books. She and her husband John live near Nashville, TN with two unruly Golden Doodles.