I, like you, (unless you are binge watching Netflix non-stop), have a lot of time to think while we are all on quarantine. One of the things that I have been thinking about is the church. Most of us have not been to a church building for a month now. We have been watching church services on line. We have been having zoom meetings with people from church. We have been getting used to a new Sunday routine. This pandemic has been a major disruptor to our whole lives and that includes how we relate to the church.
I am a verbal processor. I think through things out loud in conversation with other people. With social isolation in full effect because of Covid-19 that is hard to do. But I want to attempt to process today. That being said, I have two hopes. 1. That you realize that my thoughts are not final. I am in process. 2. That you will process with me. Join in the conversation. I want to hear what you think. Comment below and I will try to converse with you.
Sunday Morning Is More About The Gathered Community Than About Attending A Service.
I know the church is not a building. I know “we are the church.” I know that the church can still serve and be on mission without meeting together – but I sure miss being together.
The Sunday before the government told us not to come together in large gatherings I had a chance to go to a mega-church. I have never been a part of a mega-church. I have visited them on occasion but I have never called a mega-church my home. I have always been in churches that have been 350 people or less. I am not opposed to a mega-church; they have just not been what I have called home.
I drove into the parking lot and knew exactly where to go because the signage was clear. The atmosphere of the lobby was comfortable. The greeters were friendly, the coffee was good, and the seats were comfortable. The worship was excellent and professional. The sermon was engaging and powerful. The whole service flowed nicely. But somehow when I left I felt strangely empty. I feel like I had been to an excellent service but I didn’t feel like I went to church.
As I drove away I realized that it didn’t feel like church because the church is not a service to attend. The Church is the body of Christ. We are all deeply and necessarily connected. It is through relationship with each other that we grow and learn, that we are encouraged and challenged.
Now we can’t get together. We are sequestered into our homes watching a service online. We can hear the same pastors and listen to the same worship teams, we can make good coffee in our homes and sit in comfortable chairs. But if I can be honest – it still feels a bit empty because we haven’t gathered. We haven’t connected with each other. My fear is that when we can gather again is that we will go back to idle chit chat in the lobby and never really take the chance to be open and transparent with each other.
My prayer is that when the Church gets to come back together we will appreciate community. We will work harder at connection. That we will not go to watch a service but we will go to connect with the people. My prayer is that we will dive into relationships, that we will join the small group, that we will serve in a ministry and that we will look out for others, smile, hug, laugh, cry, share, know, be known. My prayer is that through intentional relationship we will grow deeper and stronger as the Body of Christ. I pray that God will use our fellowship to draw us farther away from sin through repentance and closer to Him through mutual encouragement.
The Church Can’t Return To Business As Usual.
When you are shopping for a new car you get to choose the options. Depending on the car, there are different luxury items that you can add. You can choose the option of alloy rims, and heated seats, a moon roof, GPS, and leather interior. We look over the options and decide what we would like. All of these things are not necessary. They are options. They are extras that make the ride a little more enjoyable.
We have lived in a society and a church culture where we feel entitled to look for all of the comforts and options. We want our church life to have all the options. Churches have been pulled into this culture. We know that people are looking for a new church and so try to provide all of the options possible that will draw as many people to attend our services. This is not a bad thing. We want people to come hear about the gospel. The Church has the hope and peace the world is looking for in the message of the gospel. But I think that at times the message has been overshadowed by the luxury options and we have come to see the options as essentials. I believe this has contributed to creating a consumer mentality in the church that has caused the church to lose its focus on the essentials.
This pandemic has simplified everything. Covid-19 and social distancing is revealing to the church what is necessary. Here are the things that I think are being revealed as essential.
The Church Will Need to Focus On The Essentials.
True fellowship is essential.
It is in connecting with each other where we find our spiritual strength. God designed us to live in community. Watching Services online is okay but I sure miss being together. I miss gathering. This pandemic and the necessary social isolation has made me realize more than ever that we do not go to church for the coffee and the service as much as we go to connect with the community.
For many years as a pastor I have prayed about Sunday mornings. I have prayed that God would speak through me as I preach and that people would truly hear from God throughout the Sunday morning service. One other prayer that I consistently voiced to God was that the times before and after the service would be used for His glory and the spiritual growth of His people. These times together can be impactful as people share their lives together and pray together.
This pandemic has also made us more aware of meeting the needs of others. I have been so encouraged to see people in the church reaching out to each other. Many have offered to bring food to the elderly who can’t get out. Others have offered to pick up medicine and do yard work for those who are sick. If there is anything good that can come out of this time is that we are more attuned to the needs of others and go out of our way to meet those needs. My prayer coming out of this pandemic is that people would value their time together and make the most of it to encourage, serve, and build up one another.
Pastors being shepherds is essential.
It is increasingly common for pastors to see themselves as CEO’s of organizations rather than spiritual fathers and guides to a flock. I think we have forgotten that Jesus said, “I will build my church” and Jesus said to Peter “feed my sheep.” It is God’s job to build the church and it is the God-given role of the pastor to feed and shepherd the flock.
Pastors need to be leaders. They need to manage budgets and staff, and have vision among many other things. But with all of the leadership that needs to be done, the primary biblical role of a pastor is to be a shepherd. It is their role to spiritually care for, feed and protect the flock. During this time of crisis, the church looks to its shepherds to provide spiritual direction and shepherding through a difficult time. My prayer is that coming out of this pandemic that pastors will continue to lead but also renew their vision for the shepherding of the flock.
The gospel is essential.
In a dark time there is need for light. Many are losing hope. The economy is falling. Jobs are being lost. Some do not know if they will be able to afford to put food on the table tonight or if they will have a home to live in when this is done. Many are fearful of getting sick and others have lost loved ones to this virus. These are dark times.
But there is hope and that hope is found in the gospel. In John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” It is the message of Jesus that can bring light into the darkness that we are experiencing right now. It is the message of Jesus that dispels the darkness of sin.
In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus has this to say about His followers.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
More than ever the Church should be aware that they are the light in the darkness. Just because they cannot gather for a service in a building once a week does not mean that the opportunities to be a light for Christ in a dark world have been extinguished. This time highlights the responsibility and privilege of every follower of Christ to engage in the mission of Jesus to be a light to a dark world. We can no longer afford the luxury of assuming that the church will do the work of evangelism through a service on Sunday morning. If the gospel is to go forward it is because each individual embraces the call to be a light and to actively share the gospel whenever and wherever God opens the door. My prayer coming out of this pandemic is that God’s people embrace the mission of the gospel like never before.