Jim Denison is co-founder and the CVO of Denison Forum, an organization that blends current events with Biblical teachings. He was a pastor of a 10,000-member church for more than a decade and ministered in churches in both Texas and Georgia. He’s also just released a white paper about what life will look like post-COVID-19 called “Life After the Pandemic: And How to Prepare Biblically,” as well as a free book called “Biblical Insights to Tough Questions: Coronavirus Special Edition.” Moreover, he has the unique point of view of being a former pastor as well as a medical ethicist in a role at Baylor Scott & White Health in Texas. In this role, Denison often helps others bridge the gap between the medical community and the faith-based world. Here, he talks candidly about God’s role in this pandemic and how faith-based meeting planners can adjust to a new normal.
I think we’re all wondering how could God allow this pandemic?
That’s the biggest issue that Christians face right now. He’s all loving, all knowing and powerful. He saw it before us, and yet he didn’t [stop it]. My father fought in World War II and never went to church again. The horrors he saw, he couldn’t believe. I don’t want that to be this moment.
How should faith-based meeting planners address this with the organizations they serve?
Admit the challenge. Admit the issue [about not being able to gather]. Start there. Ask questions. Pose the question to the group. There’s no question that God can’t handle. The more we address questions we’re facing, the more we realize “I’m not the only person going through this.” They will feel a sense of solidarity with the group. We’re the body of Christ, and we’re all in this together.
Where is the hope in all of this?
What can divide the body of Christ? Anything and everything. We should be reminded that we have a silent enemy. An enemy of deception who will use whatever form works to keep us confused, angry and in disunity. My concern goes beyond a concern of disunity. When we set our hope in anything on this earth other than Jesus, we fall into idolatry.
Should we be gathering right now?
We do know that God is bigger than the coronavirus and he’s sovereign. But there’s a sin of presumption. If we go out ahead of science and reason, we are just expecting God to show up. If we’re taking some kind of risk like that, we have to be absolutely sure … like a direct call from God that he’s asked us to do that. Love God with all your mind. It’s not presumptuous to trust in God and medicine. God is using medicine in our lives.
How can these meeting planners face the future with hope?
I serve as Resident Scholar for Ethics with Baylor Scott & White Health, the largest nonprofit hospital system in Texas. I can see [this situation] through that lens. I see through both lenses. Our doctors are convinced we’ll be on the other side of this someday. We will find vaccines—there are some remarkable advancements in this. Let’s not lose hope medically and this is not the new norm medically. The new normal—from an economic and cultural standpoint—is there will be companies, groups and industries that will forever be changed.
There is also creativity and ingenuity happening. People are redesigning offices, approaching work in new ways and I have great hope. We’re entrepreneurial. There’s great hope and great promise. There are always new ways to do what you do and how to do it.
How do you think things will be different in the faith-based community going forward?
There are some great statistics like some churches that have the technical capacity they reached 8,000 people in person before the pandemic and then it was something like 1.8 million tuned in online to their service on Easter Sunday. I’m hearing 117 million people have been led to church. Some may not go in person, but planners can reach people they haven’t reached before.
For smaller church groups, let’s reach new people who want community. The day will come when they want to then join in person. For now, we are all hungry for people that know our name. There’s a new community that we can reach now. Look for neighbors the group can minister to, leave groceries for those you know need it, even in small congregations, let’s take advantage of this time to help.
How do we assist groups at higher risk of the disease?
Ministering to senior adults through technology [is amazing]. You would think that wouldn’t be the first group on Facebook and embracing new technology. We’re discovering that they’re finding new ways to get in touch together. It’s not hard to do Facebook live and other technology for your events. Seniors are becoming tech savvy in this new era. For those with other special needs—think of the homebound members of your group—technology is a way to transcend this pandemic and all to the good.
How do you partner with God right now?
We all have gifts and a unique place in this. We have a place in this tapestry. Ask yourself, “What is my unique way to serve you today?” No one in the Bible gets a five-year plan. What have I got right now? What are my unique talents? Ask that question and God will answer. Billy Graham said, “The will of God will never leave where the grace of God could not sustain us.”
How is the culture changing today and what difference does it make?
Culture is moving in a variety of directions. There are cultures like sexual morality and redefining of biblical values that are discouraging, but right now there’s unification. We’re more mortal than what we were four months ago. There were big awakenings in the years 1734, 1792, 1858, 1904-5, and now. [Great awakenings] all happened in a time of crisis. When we get so far down, we have nowhere to go but up. I am praying for that fifth great awakening. Because in other cultures he’s a king, in our culture he’s a hobby. When we make him our king is when we have the awakening.