Theocentric Therapeutic Preaching: Good News During the Covid-19 Pandemic

The global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all areas of life
including the worship practices of local churches. It caused
trauma, breaking connections, and shattering assumptions about
the safety of the world and (for Christians) assumptions about
God. Forced to take their worship and ministry online, church
leaders continued to support the wellbeing and spiritual
development of their congregants, including through their
preaching. This research analysed the online worship services of
three churches during the first weekend of Aotearoa New
Zealand’s March – May 2020 Lockdown. It drew on Neil
Pembroke’s work on divine therapeia, exploring the theocentric
and therapeutic messages that preachers communicated to their
attenders. Each church demonstrated an integration between the
theocentric and the therapeutic. The theocentric related to God’s
character and attributes (particularly God’s love, attentive
presence and faithfulness), and activity and power. The
therapeutic was expressed by lamenting and acknowledging
pain, offering words of comfort, and inviting response, including
in care for others. For each church, the goal was towards human
flourishing: shalom, or well-being even amid difficult
circumstances. Three implications for the Church are evident.
First, churches can be encouraged to include space for pain and
lament alongside their talk about God. Secondly, the human
need for personal agency might healthily be expressed in service
towards others. Thirdly, the hopeful sense, experienced by many,
that perhaps our church, community or world could be better
post-COVID ought to be encouraged and explored. Suggestions
for further research are also made.