by Pastor Leon Scoggins
I heard someone say, “In times of crisis, true leaders are revealed.” During this COVID-19 pandemic, that statement couldn’t be more true. As a lead pastor of a church – Life City Church in Stockton – my faith has been stretched like never before.
When I first got wind of the possibility of our church shutting down due to the current pandemic, I was completely against it. Being the youngest pastor in my city, and possibly in all of Northern California, it gave me pride in taking a stand for the church to stay open.
My heart was that no matter what, the church should be open. In my five years of pastoring, I have never missed a Sunday. The church is supposed to be the place where people who are sick can come and be healed. It is the place where we gather to exercise our faith no matter what the world is saying.
And although those things are true and accurate, it was accompanied by ignorance on my part. I was ignorant to how COVID-19 was spreading and the affects it had on our community. I was ignorant to how the people I pastor can contract the virus at a higher rate than any other race. This information was everything I needed in order to make the decision to close our building for this season.
Seeing leaders like Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ have a different outlook on the church reopening, I’ve seen a huge split in the church and amongst pastors over our perspectives on whether we should keep our church buildings open or closed. It breaks my heart as a young pastor to see division amongst many that I’ve looked up to in the past.
I have the utmost respect for many amazing leaders in our community. Being born and raised in Oakland, I looked up to a lot of pastors and leaders as a kid such as Bishop Bob Jackson. I admired their preaching styles; I hoped to dress like some and wanted a big church like others.
But soon after I became a pastor, all of that went out of the window. Our job as pastor isn’t really about preaching great, having a big church or even a nice suit. It is 100 percent about the care, love and spiritual development of PEOPLE. Which means it’s our duty to make sure that no matter what, we are leading in a manner that protects the people that God has entrusted us with.
After realizing and remembering my commitment to people, it was a no brainer to close our church building to start church online. With me being 24 years old, not only am I blessed to have millennials in my church, I have almost every age demographic, young and old, who’s a part of our church.
This online transition wasn’t hard for anyone because early on I’ve always taught my church to know from scripture that the church was never the building, but has always been the people of God gathering. Which means if we gather at our physical building, the park, or even on Facebook Live, we the people will be the church.
The church building is similar to the plane assigned to the president of the United States, Air Force One. Although we know the plane as Air Force One, the plane is only considered Air Force One once the president is on the plane.
Same with the church building: It doesn’t become the church until we as believers occupy the space. Our church has had its fair struggles where we were forced to have church in a parking lot at one point due to building complications. It was moments like that which showed Life City Church what was really important – not the building but our personal relationship with God.
My generation stands on the shoulders of Bishop Bob Jackson and others before my time. This is the moment I believe the church should take a stand in unity keeping the care and heart of God at the center of the pandemic.
Lastly, speaking of the president, this past weekend headlines around the world showed President Donald Trump calling for churches to reopen because we’re “essential.” Although God is very essential, I believe that jumping the gun on our preference to gather physically at this time isn’t essential.
In my opinion, the church shouldn’t be guided by the government. In fact, we are supposed to lead the government – hearing and making every move according to what God is saying as it relates to the safety of the congregants of our church.
We live in a country where our president has harmfully suggested that we “inject disinfectant chemicals” into our bodies to get rid of coronavirus. If you ask me, I’m taking my next steps from God only. I believe that God’s intentions were never for us to focus on going to church but rather being the church.
As for my church personally, no matter when the government says we can go back into the church building, we will continue to have church online until God instructs us otherwise. If the members of my church return and are exposed to this virus as a result of my premature decision to reopen, when this pandemic is really over, I possibly won’t have a church to come back to due to preventable fatalities.
This is not a matter of having a lack of faith. It is actually a matter of faith. Faith to creatively make a way for people to gather safely and grow spiritually – while at the same time, seeing us overcome the nightmare of a pandemic.
Pastor Leon Scoggins, 24, who preached his first sermon at the age of 7, grew up in the Center of Hope Community Church in Oakland, pastored by Bishop Ernestine Cleveland-Reems, and received his license to preach at Providence Baptist Church in Richmond at age 16. A graduate of the Oakland School for the Arts, he has performed as a percussionist on stage with Ledisi and more. He currently pastors Life City Church in Stockton and can be reached at PastorLeonScoggins@gmail.com or Leon Scoggins on Facebook and @LeonScoggins on Instagram. This story was partially made possible by the Akonadi Fund #SoLoveCanWin.