The church is seeing some interesting debate during Covid-19.
Pastors are making difficult decisions based on ever changing data about whether and how and when the church should open for services.
Pastors are having to think and pray through what, how, and when to communicate with the congregation.
Some pastors are choosing to stir unrest and encourage disobedience to the government orders, others are choosing to obey, constantly praying for the wisdom to discern the difference between honorable submission to government and disobedience to God.
These choices weigh heavy. We’ve seen stories from all over the world of churches meeting and soon after, dozens or hundreds or more showing symptoms of coronavirus. These choices carry significant risk.
I’ve seen a lot of excellent articles, blogs, and resources published for pastors as they navigate this time. I’m thankful that there is a community of leaders who seek to encourage and to help each other process these difficult decisions.
However; this has also highlighted some significant opportunities for the church members to process and prepare during this time.
I’d like to highlight some observations and things to think/pray about as we encourage our pastors and church leaders.
I want to offer the perspective of a church member, a part time ministry director, and a sister in Christ to any believer who chooses to click and read. (Thank you).
Is Church Essential?
Pre-covid, there were plenty of Christians who would confidently proclaim, “I do not go to church because going to church does not make me a Christian. I can follow Jesus without it. Jesus over religion.”
This, coupled with the fact that fewer Americans regularly attend church shows that it’s a pretty popular view that church is not essential.
With this in mind, pastors have had the difficult task of defining the church to the committed members who are grieving this time of not meeting.
“The church is not a building, it’s the people.” We’ve seen the slippery slope of that statement before the pandemic, but how do we, the people who eagerly anticipate meeting together again in a building, process this?
In the song Brick After Brick by Sovereign Grace, it says,
“God used to dwell in a house among His people
But now He has a home that’s better than the first
It doesn’t look like a building with a steeple
Now, He’s living in the people of the Church
Brick after brick, God is building His temple
Brick after brick, He is making it strong
With Christ the sure foundation and His people as the stones
He is building a place He can live”
He is building a church by the grace found in Jesus. He is building a church locally and globally as others come to know and love him. We, as believers, are the church. The song doesn’t end there.
“All His people gather ’round, singing out with joyful sound
Giving glory to their Maker
And they build each other up as they share the bread and cup
To remember their Savior”
Gather. Worship. Communion.
The individual bricks of his church join together, in the unity of Christ, to worship, build up, and remember our Savior with the bread and cup.
Scripture is filled with commands and encouragement to meet with one another. To encourage, teach, and grow together in the truth of God’s word. To serve one another in love and sacrifice. To give generously. To pray for and with those in suffering or hardship. To praise the One who makes it all possible through his love and grace.
“And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
Hebrews 10:24-25 CSB
May we pray for hearts that see our membership, participation, and service to the church as essential.
May we pray for hearts that trust that there is absolutely nothing that can destroy the church, Christ’s beautiful bride, who eagerly awaits the ceremony that unites us wholly, perfectly, and eternally with him.
The church is essential because God calls his image bearers to himself, giving us value and worth impossible to find anywhere else. Our cause was essential and urgent enough that God came to earth, died, and rose again to deliver us from our worthless pursuits leading to death.
Movie Theatres vs. Home Theaters
One thing I love to do is pay way too much money for tickets, soda, and popcorn and watch a movie in the theater. We watch movies at home, but there is something about the experience of watching it on a huge screen with other people.
Has this absence from meeting in the church building felt like that in some ways? Has your way on consuming church felt unsatisfying? Is our main objective to consume church in a more comfortable and preferred way?
Our culture of entertainment has infiltrated the church.
We want a place to casually attend, to observe, and to enjoy. We like the music. We like the preaching. We like the break the nursery provides.
A band we did not have to practice with, schedule, or audition performs for us while we sing along. A pastor we are unaccountable to with our deepest, darkest sins shares an inspirational (and hopefully gospel focused) message we may or may not process, pray through, or discuss with others. Various other ministries are available that miraculously “just happen” without any effort or sacrifice on our part provide a break from our children or bathrooms that are clean and stocked or food that is prepared and enjoyed in fellowship with others.
Going to the movies or a sporting event or a concert is not the same as going to church.
Is the church essential? I’ve already given my thoughts on that.
What’s essential for the church to open back up?
An audience? No. Participants. If we think the church (in terms of meeting together) is essential, then it is essential we start considering and praying through how we can help make that happen on the timeline our pastors and elders lay out for us.
May we pray for hearts that are willing to partner with and serve in and alongside our churches.
May we value what we label essential by being discontent with casually observing what we are called to join in meaningful, embodied ways.
A Flourishing Church
Ultimately, if our goal is to meet again, then our goal is to do so in ways that enable flourishing in our church body, homes, and communities.
Opening back up is not a “gotcha” moment to the government, the CDC, or to those who disagree.
If we arrogantly bust open the doors and shout the praises of American rights, we are not contributing to the flourishing of the church (meanwhile, churches around the world pray for literal protection from the governments quick to arrest and imprison them for meeting together).
The reopening of churches may result in some disturbances of our preferences.
If you are triggered by these words:
– Limited and reduced capacities,
it may be a good idea to start praying about the posture you will assume when churches lay out their requirements to meet inside the building again.
Will it shock and anger you if masks are required in the building? What if they simply make it a recommendation and some choose not to wear them?
Will you be angry if your kid runs to play with another family’s kid and an elder/deacon/staff member interrupts and says that all fellowship not adhering to a six foot distance must occur off of the church property?
How will you feel if the morning is hectic and you are running late only to find out the church is already full and you cannot come in? “There’s only fifty people in there for goodness sakes!”
Why do you attend church? Why do you view it as essential?
How do we enable the flourishing of the church in such a hostile, confusing, and scary time?
Slandering our church leadership online or to fellow church members? Connecting our tithes, attendance, or service with our desired outcomes?
How do we enable the flourishing of our churches, homes, and community? Isn’t that question a good place to start? Doesn’t it shift our focus to God’s glory AND the love of neighbor?
How do we enable flourishing?
Here’s how I picture it:
Members of the church enable flourishing by respecting and submitting to the leadership of the church. Humbly asking questions or offering input IS NOT disrespectful or unsubmissive, but how we handle the answers or the response to our input can be. Are we known to be argumentative? Arrogant? Skeptical and difficult to please?
Members of the church enable flourishing by valuing people over opinions. Are you willing to lay down your preferences in love for your neighbor?
Members of the church enable flourishing by seeking and providing accountability, fellowship, and community to other members of the church. The preaching pastor may not always know what burdens you carry, but there are brothers and sisters who do, and they encourage and love you in truth. This also enables flourishing in times like these. We remain connected and known in meaningful ways in times of physical distance.
Members of the church enable flourishing by serving the church. Sunday morning cannot happen without service. Meal trains cannot happen without service. We need to shift our focus from, “here’s WHY and WHEN the church should open,” to “here’s HOW I will partner with my church when the time comes (and long after!).” If you don’t know the specific needs of your church, asking is always a great place to start.
Members of the church enable flourishing by prioritizing spending time in prayer and God’s word in their personal lives. The church needs good students of scripture. This enables the flourishing of different ministries: teaching children, youth, and other adults. It enriches conversation. It vets what’s being taught. Churches filled with people committed to prayer and Biblical literacy make beautiful and helpful mentors, leaders, and teachers.
Members of the church enable flourishing by confronting sin and idols in our midst. First and foremost, we must constantly repent of our own sin. I am truly the worst sinner I know. When we see and confront sin and idols in others, we must do so in a way that points to grace, maintains their dignity, and is said in love.
There are a lot of other ways members of the church enable flourishing, and I’m sure the Lord has gifted you in more ways than you can count to contribute to it, but I hope you see that true flourishing occurs in the midst of grace, humility, submission, service, and love.
Fellow church members, let’s evaluate the cost of our desires: are they bent on selfishness and preference or on the flourishing of God’s people? Let’s model why the church is truly essential.
“My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works — this person will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
James 1:19-27 CSB