August 28, 2020 : By Ryan Klinker - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
In their conversation during Friday’s virtual Convocation, pastor Andy Stanley and Liberty University’s Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser discussed churches’ ongoing decisions of whether or not to meet in-person during COVID-19, handling criticism that comes with pastoring a church, and how leaders ought to approach their role during times of uncertainty.
In his opening remarks, Nasser announced that Liberty is currently planning to send an LU Serve team to the areas already affected by Hurricane Laura, taking into account the ongoing pandemic and the best ways to serve while in this unprecedented time.
“We’ve seen how in the last few days Hurricane Laura has caused havoc in our nation,” Nasser said. “There are homes that have been destroyed, lives lost, and families torn apart, and even more. Obviously, the way that we are going to serve in this pandemic season is going to look very different, but that’s not going to deter us from going.”
Nasser also acknowledged that Friday marked the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights march in Washington, D.C., and the delivery of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, adding that the dream King spoke of is still being worked toward today.
“Although we’ve come a long way as a nation, we still have a long, long way to go to see that dream come into fruition, but I know that we are more dedicated than we’ve ever been to fighting racism,” Nasser said.
Speaking from his home in Atlanta via a video call, Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church, said his staff decided to wait until January 2021 to resume regular services due to COVID-19. Stanley expounded on this decision in Convocation, framing the rest of 2020 as an opportunity for his congregation to explore new functions of the church.
“Remaining closed for an extended period of time is not good for me personally, it’s not good for the church people, but we believe that because of what’s going on in the city of Atlanta … this is what’s best for our community,” Stanley said. “I said, ‘Let’s not focus on what we can’t do, let’s ask the question of what we can do now that we couldn’t do before so that we are continuing to be outward facing, serving the community … and inspiring people to follow Jesus.’”
Stanley mentioned his theological perspective on the issue, stating that he sees the decision to remain closed as a necessary sacrifice and a way of displaying God’s love and defending the health of his community. He also shared about a family in his congregation in which both parents died from COVID-19 in a span of four days, leaving their son to live with his grandparents.
“When it comes to a decision like this …we as the body of Christ who represent Christ in our community are to ask, ‘What does love require of us?’” Stanley said. “It’s a question of ‘What is our posture in the community and are we willing to do what’s best for others rather than what’s best for ourselves?’”
Nasser responded by speaking for those who support the reopening of churches, saying that it helps churchgoers who feel more at peace being able to gather on Sundays.
“Someone who is meeting may be saying gathering is a part of their mental health and spiritual health, there’s people who may be saying, ‘There’s something that happens on Sundays that helps me fight my battles during the week,’” Nasser explained.
Criticism from people both in and out of his congregation is something Stanley has faced in his years as a well-recognized pastor, and he explained that he approaches this conflict directly with the goal of finding the root of the issue.
“If you get defensive and you feel like you’re always being questioned rather than knowing that sometimes people just have a question, then you’ll miss opportunities to get better,” Stanley said. “Sometimes I say, ‘I feel like this thing you’re upset about is the final straw, and I’d love to hear about the other straws.’”
Andy’s father, Charles, was also a renowned preacher, and Andy briefly spoke about the lessons he learned as a pastor’s son and how he addresses this with his own children.
“I tell my kids that being my son or daughter is going to open doors, but once you walk through them, it’s up to you,” Stanley said. “Don’t resist the advantages that come with this, but understand that once you take advantage of those opportunities it’s up to your character, giftedness, preparedness, and discipline.”
Stanley then outlined his approach to his leadership role during the current times of confusion and uncertainty, defining his responsibility as being someone who can offer succinct responses without losing the human element.
“I’ve understood for many years that I cannot provide certainty for anyone, no one can, but uncertainty is why the world needs leaders. During the times of uncertainty, the best thing a leader can do is provide clarity. In the midst of uncertainty, people also need to see our humanity; people don’t really care what we know until they know that we care.
In closing, Nasser reflected on Wednesday night’s inaugural Campus Community held in Williams Stadium to allow for physical distancing and the emotions he felt being amongst the 5,000 in attendance.
“Sometimes we take something for granted that is just afforded to you all the time, and one thing I really noticed is how much I longed to be in the same environment with brothers and sisters in Christ singing, opening God’s Word, and praying,” Nasser said.
Students can register for next week’s gathering at the Campus Community homepage.