COVID-19 video update: Churches respond

The FAMiLY Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats and Greg Baker offer an encouraging update on a call with Vice President Pence, a call with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, and encouraging news about the Church’s response and reach to our neighbors during the coronavirus crisis.

Greg and Bob share news about drive-through food banks hosted by Iowa churches, an emergency food hotline staffed by TFL team members, and sister Church Ambassador Networks in other states – including Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, and Minnesota – that are following TFL’s lead in working with state governments to meet community needs:

Click here to go to The FAMiLY Leader’s COVID-19 response page.

Click here to listen to Sen. Ernst’s phone call with Iowa pastors.




U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst talks to Iowa pastors

On Thursday, April 2, Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst joined over 250 Iowa pastors in a conference call coordinated by The FAMiLY Leader Foundation.

The call included encouragement, prayer, answering pastor questions, and an update on how the federal government’s coronavirus response impacts pastors and churches.

“Since this crisis began, our heart has been to encourage churches, governing authorities, and our communities,” explains The FAMiLY Leader’s Vice President of Church Engagement Greg Baker. “That’s what we wanted for Sen. Ernst when we planned the phone call. Yes, we wanted to hear about the CARES Act and how it impacts Iowa churches, but more importantly, we wanted to sow the Word of God into her, encourage her, and pray for her. We are so thankful that after Sen. Ernst wrapped up the call, she said this was an encouraging start to her day. What an honor it has been to labor alongside so many amazing churches and governing authorities.”

Sen. Ernst also shared some words of encouragement for pastors.

“I love hearing the stories of Iowans that are helping Iowans, and that certainly includes our church communities,” Sen. Ernst affirmed. “The work you do is not only important because you are able to physically assist those within your communities – running errands, checking in on people – but it is also that spiritual assistance that is so desperately needed right now.”

On the call, the senator updated pastors on federal efforts to aid Americans during the coronavirus crisis, including small business loans now available for non-profit organizations. She also answered pastors’ questions: on federal predictions about the duration of the crisis; about unemployment changes impacting churches and non-profits; and on how churches can meet community needs.

The call concluded with Pastor Dave Martin of Faith Church in Marshalltown leading the pastors in prayer for the senator.

You can listen to an audio recording of the call below:




Gov. Reynolds talks COVID-19 with pastors

On Tuesday, March 23, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds joined over 230 Iowa pastors in a conference call coordinated by The FAMiLY Leader Foundation.

The call included encouragement, prayer, questions, and sharing ways churches can come alongside state government to aid communities hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

“Thank you for reaching out and asking, ‘What can we do?’ and, ‘Here’s what we can provide.’ I can’t tell you how much that means to my team; I can’t tell you how much comfort that brings us,” the governor said on the call. “And to all the pastors on the call right now, thank you for how much you’re doing to meet the needs of your community, not only the individuals in your congregation, but those outside your congregation as well – to pray, support, and help them in this time of crisis.”

The governor updated the pastors on her approach to the crisis, on the latest testing and data, protections in place for healthcare providers, and more. She also answered pastor questions on aid for church employees and her ban on large community gatherings, including most church services.

“I was grateful to be on the call to hear the words and sense the heart of our governor as she works through the difficult decisions related to the crisis,” said Pastor Tim Lubinus, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, afterward. “I also appreciated the valuable information that I gained from being on the call that will help me as I lead others.”

At the pastors’ request, Gov. Reynolds also shared key community needs the government has identified and ways the church can help.

“You guys have been very proactive,” the governor affirmed. “There are countless stories of churches and faith communities that are donating resources and time to food banks, to delivering groceries, to childcare for our front-line workers, and the list goes on.”

The governor praised The FAMiLY Leader Foundation’s work recruiting churches to aid Iowa food banks and to provide temporary childcare centers for the families of first responders, health officials, and other essential-services workers.

Want to know how YOUR church can help? Click here for contacts, resources, and more!

She also touched on the simple, prayer-and-care needs that go far beyond the government’s ability to help.

“We have vulnerable, elderly people who are home. So reach out to them, see if they need you to pick up groceries or to get medicine for them,” she said. “I know you’re already doing so much in communities across our state. So just keep doing what you’re doing; it’s really appreciated.”

“Gov. Reynolds demonstrated the heart of a leader on our call,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The FAMiLY Leader. “It was very apparent that she was moved by the abundance and power of prayer and at the willingness of the shepherds of God’s Church to team with her as shepherd of God’s government to meet local community needs. Gov. Reynolds is leading with compassion, wisdom and diligence. I can’t think of anyone better to lead Iowa at this time.”

After the call, TFL spoke with several pastors who were grateful for the opportunity, not only to have their questions answered, but also to hear from the governor personally.

“I was greatly encouraged to hear Governor Reynolds’ heart for the people of Iowa and her deep appreciation for the prayers of Christians in Iowa,” said Pastor Marcus Bratsch of River of Life Church in Cedar Rapids. “It’s a privilege to have her leading our state and to intercede for her and for all our governmental leaders as they face incredibly difficult decisions during this time of crisis.”

“Thank you so much for setting up that conference call with Gov. Reynolds,” said Pastor Michael Demastus of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ. “It was a deep encouragement to me to hear her heart. Praying very hard for her.”

For the past six years, The FAMiLY Leader Foundation’s Church Ambassador Network has been building intentional relationships between the shepherds of God’s church (pastors) and the shepherds of government (elected officials). The goal is for the shepherds to build into each other as people, as fellow shepherds, and as partners in meeting community needs – a model that is now being replicated by Church Ambassador Networks in 10 other states beyond Iowa.

Dr. Bill Artherholt

During her tenure both as lieutenant governor and now as governor, Reynolds has kindly welcomed pastors into her office to encourage her, pray for her, as well as find ways to meet community needs together. Now, TFL’s investment in shepherd-to-shepherd relationships has created the opportunity to set up the conference call with Iowa pastors.

The call concluded with Dr. Bill Artherholt – who has been a part of every meeting TFL’s Church Ambassador Network has had with Gov. Reynolds – leading the pastors in prayer for the governor.

“We’ve been blessed for the past six years to develop a relationship between Gov. Reynolds and Iowa pastors,” explains Greg Baker, vice president of church engagement for The FAMiLY Leader and executive director of TFL’s Church Ambassador Network. “Our heart was to use this call to encourage both Gov. Reynolds and Iowa pastors. This has been a difficult time for both of them, and this call was an excellent opportunity for them to bless each other.”




COVID-19 news: TFL, Church partnerships rally to respond

Blood drives, food banks, child care – all across Iowa, churches are working in partnership with the government to meet the most pressing practical needs of people impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

The FAMiLY Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats sits down with TFL’s Vice President of Church Engagement Greg Baker to talk about how this came to be, how it’s inspiring other states, and how YOU can help!

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Devotional: What our leaders need most right now

The FAMiLY Leader’s Vice President of Church Engagement Greg Baker meets daily to counsel and pray with legislators and governors.

In this video devotional, Greg shares from God’s Word what our leaders need most during the coronavirus crisis:




TFL joins fight to combat COVID-19 crisis

Who could have foreseen just a short time ago, when employers – including The FAMiLY Leader and the Iowa Legislature – sent employees to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis, that TFL would become busier and more needed than ever?

These unprecedented times have created sudden, unexpected needs for people all across Iowa. But by God’s grace, and through the relationships our Church Ambassador Network’s pastors have built with Iowa’s governing leaders, TFL has been thrust into the epicenter of teaming with many partners to meet these needs.

Here’s just some of what TFL has been doing since this crisis began:

Daily work

Through online technology, the TFL staff has met daily for prayer and to coordinate our legislative, communication, and humanitarian efforts.

Event planning

We’ve been able to reschedule U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and author Joel C. Rosenberg to speak at the July 17 Family Leadership Summit, and we continue to prepare for Dr. Sean McDowell to be our biblical worldview speaker at LEAD, TFL’s week-long leadership training experience for teens.

Speaking into the culture

Bob Vander Plaats published an op-ed, “Even in pandemic, a hopeful ‘new normal,'” in the Des Moines Journal; and talking with pastors and government leaders helped TFL’s Greg Baker to compile a column, “7 ways Christians can help in the COVID-19 crisis,” which has been shared on social media and reprinted in area newspapers.

Meanwhile, the immensely popular YouVersion Bible app for smartphones and tablets has made If 7:14’s “The Daniel Difference” 5-day devotional one of its featured Bible reading and prayer plans for the coronavirus crisis.

Bringing together the governor and pastors

Through years of building relationships between pastors and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and her staff, TFL was able to secure a teleconference call with the governor and over 230 Iowa pastors. The governor answered some of the pastors’ most pressing questions, and the pastors in turn encouraged and prayed for the governor.

The governor also shared three of the most urgent needs facing Iowans during this crisis: Food banks, blood drives, and child care, particularly child care for emergency and essential-services workers. TFL and the pastors of the Church Ambassador Network have already begun working in partnership with government agencies and community organizations to assist in meeting these urgent needs.

Reassigning staff to community aid

Multiple members of the TFL team are bringing together churches and Gov. Reynolds’ administration to meet community needs. Greg and the Church Ambassador Team and community partners like Pastor Al Perez and Serve the City are recruiting churches across the state of Iowa to be a volunteer force to distribute food, give blood, and provide child care. Ashley is coordinating details. Darla is equipping the churches. And Katie is answering the phone for central Iowa’s emergency-food hotline. With churches as Christ’s hands and feet in time of need, we anticipate helping Iowa food banks increase their distribution by over 500,000 pounds of food.

Mentoring and learning from other states

TFL’s team has also been in frequent contact with the states of TFL’s The Daniel Initiative and our partner states in the Family Policy Alliance, looking to learn and share “best practices” among states. We’ve been able to encourage and guide other states’ Church Ambassador Networks to partner with state governments in meeting local needs, while we’ve also learned from other states how to refine our efforts in Iowa.

Many of these efforts are just beginning, as the needs of Americans become more and more acute.

But here’s the encouraging and inspiring takeaway: We are seeing years of building relationships between ministers of God in the Church and ministers of God in government bear tangible fruit in a time of need.

“We never anticipated this pandemic, but it has provided us the moment that these relationships would not only be sorely needed, but would also provide needed relief,” says Greg Baker, TFL’s vice president of church engagement. “We are grateful God has prepared TFL for just such a time as this. We are grateful for our governor’s willingness to reach out to churches. And we are thankful beyond words for the pastors and churches who have joined us in this journey.”

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Even in pandemic, a hopeful ‘new normal’

The following commentary by Bob Vander Plaats was first published in the Des Moines Register.

The coronavirus has profoundly shaken my daily routines, like it has for many of us. But through my faith, I have found this “new normal” actually gives me hope for our future.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I were dining in Arizona. We were enjoying friends, food, and the desert warmth, a thousand miles from home. But after arriving at the Mesa airport for our return flight, our 23-year-old son texted us that he was out of toilet paper and the box store near his Minneapolis residence was out of stock. This was our first sign of the gravity of the situation.

While waiting at the airport, a lady showed up at our gate masked and gloved. She looked pale, and she was obviously fighting a respiratory illness. The other passengers noticed, and all were silently wondering if she’d be their flight companion. One gentleman couldn’t resist and asked the question, “Are you all right?” She told him she had been to the doctor and tested negative for the coronavirus. While those who overheard were relieved, no one was in a hurry to give her a congratulatory embrace.

Since our return flight, our linen closet has been stocked with toilet paper, our church services have convened online, and our office meetings are conducted via Zoom. Our uniquely gifted son, Lucas, is confined to his group home with no allowance for visitors, including us, his parents. During this time we also await anxiously the arrival of our first grandchild, whom we will likely meet for the first time via Skype. While we are grateful for technology and our modern means for coping with this declared pandemic, our new norm is anything but normal.

This new normal is a reminder that we are not in control. This is why a billionaire president of the United States calls our nation to prayer and encourages worship online. COVID-19, just like 9/11, reminds us that when there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, we turn to God. It’s more than ironic that the two ships deployed to give aid to potentially overrun hospitals are called “Mercy” and “Comfort.” These two words accurately summarize our prayer for God to have mercy and for God to provide comfort.

For people of faith, we needn’t be alarmed. Wise? Yes. Alarmed? No. As believers in Jesus, our hope isn’t in this world. We are all going to die. None make it out alive. Therefore, we can live with an eternal focus and hope. Further, we can point our family, friends, and neighbors to look higher than COVID-19. Our help comes from the Lord.

And through Him, we must remember that we are often the help He sends. We should comfort those who are depressed, discouraged, and mourning. We should help and protect the weak, the disabled, the elderly, and the frail. We should exercise patience with everyone and resist retribution and retaliation. Simply put, we are called to pursue what is good for family, for neighbors, for country, for all.

And finally, we should rejoice … always. Praise God that this crisis and every crisis does not take Him by surprise, and He has it under control and will use it for His purpose. This is why we pray without ceasing. It is wise to seek Him with all of our heart, all of our minds, and all of our strength … all of the time. When we do this, we will love our neighbor — even the one who is masked, gloved, and coughing — as ourselves.

Seeking God and loving our neighbor in prosperity and in crisis would be a good “new normal.” May God hear our prayers, forgive our sins, and heal our land.

Bob Vander Plaats is president and CEO of the FAMiLY Leader, a ministry that inspires Christ-like leadership in the home, church, and government.




TFL’s Capitol Connection: An update from home, Church, AND government

“Social distancing” is keeping many Americans apart today, including the staff of The FAMiLY Leader!

So instead of the usual “TFL’s Capitol Connection” video that our team produces each Friday, we worked from three different locations to give you three, brief updates: one from my home, one from Greg Baker on what the Church can do in this time, and one from Chuck Hurley on what’s happening with the Iowa government and the Protect Life Amendment:

Bob from home

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Greg on the Church

Read Greg’s column, “7 ways Christians can help in the COVID-19 crisis.”

Chuck on the Iowa government




Coronavirus: Now is the time for the Church to step up

The FAMiLY Leader has been a trailblazer in forging biblical – and constitutional – cooperation between local governments and local churches. Both of God’s institutions, when they work together in separate roles but deliberate relationship, can meet community needs far better than either can working alone.

And now the coronavirus pandemic is pressing practical and personal hardships upon our friends and neighbors, many we may not even realize.

The FAMiLY Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats and Greg Baker discuss this incredible opportunity for the Church to be the hands and feet of Christ:

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TFL’S Capitol Connection Special Edition: Legislature suspended

The Iowa Legislature will be suspended for 30 days as a safety precaution during the coronavirus pandemic.

The FAMiLY Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats, Chuck Hurley, and Danny Carroll break down what that means for the Iowa government and what that means for our top legislative priority, the Protect Life Amendment:

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TFL’s Capitol Connection: “Gender identity” bathrooms spark confrontation

Typically, The FAMiLY Leader’s Capitol Connection highlights bills and amendments currently being debated in the Iowa House and Senate.

This week, however, it’s an old law – which placed “gender identity” into Iowa’s Civil Rights Code in 2007 – that sparked a controversy at the Capitol.

TFL’s Bob Vander Plaats, Chuck Hurley, and Danny Carroll discuss not only the nonsense over “gender identity,” which included a confrontation between students and State Troopers over which bathroom to use, but also the status of the Protect Life Amendment and in the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our planned event with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo:




TFL’s Capitol Connection: Iowans rally for Protect Life Amendment

This past week, roughly 200 Iowans gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to pray for life and passage of the Protect Life Amendment. Among those speaking was Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who again made the case for why the amendment is so needed.

The FAMiLY Leader’s Drew Zahn, Chuck Hurley, and Danny Carroll sit down to discuss what that prayer rally meant for the amendment and how some high-level meetings with government officials are continuing to build the momentum for protecting life:

Watch video from the 2020 Prayer Rally for Life here!

Get YOUR tickets for “An Evening of International Impact” with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg before the March 21 event sells out!