The Church and Her People
In the middle of the month of March in 2020, churches everywhere began shifting from in person services to online services due to a virus outbreak worldwide. It is easily one of those moments that everyone can look back on and know that the world shifted in that moment. There will be history books filled with facts and information about what took place at that time. It was clearly an historical marker.
Now, more than a year later, as much as we might wish for another historical marker to let us know that the world has shifted once more, it is unlikely that we will have the certainty that we desire. And if there was a shift, I’m not sure that we would be able to agree on when it happened (or will happen) nor what the right response to that shift might look like.
It’s all quite nebulous at this point. And yet, it isn’t without hope. Allow me to share with us a handful of observations and convictions about the future of our church family as it relates to returning back to worship.
First, we have failed to grasp something, at the very least in our language and more damaging, I fear, in our hearts, about this whole enterprise of faith. We have learned, heard, and even said ourselves for years and decades that the church is not a building. Nor, then, is our worship tied to a specific day only or to a specific place. Understanding what Jesus had done for the early followers allowed them to take this message about Jesus all around the world. It led to a movement of people who lived their entire lives in worship. And it changed the world. The Holy Spirit quite literally lit a flame of passion that began to burn and spread among the followers of Jesus and to the world around them. Now is maybe not the time to discuss something as simple as going back to our church buildings. Now is the time to ask that the Spirit light a new fire within us to revive our passion for worshipping God with all that we are.
Second (and with the previous observation and conviction still firmly in mind), there is still something to be gained from returning back to worship services in specific places and at specific times. And don’t worry! It is not simply because that’s what we used to do or because that’s what we’re supposed to do. There is a great opportunity to relearn what it means to become a disciple of Jesus. There is an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of devoting ourselves to the cause of Christ. There is a chance to revitalize our very spirituality by recommitting ourselves to the discipline of joining with brothers and sisters at a specific time and place for worship. We must approach this through the lens of abundance, not scarcity. There is so much beauty and goodness to be gained together, with one another, as we come before the Lord in worship. (Again, as I mentioned near the beginning of this post, we all yearn for a signpost that declares the right time. I don’t assume to know when the right time is for you and your family, but I encourage you to be in prayer and regular conversation about returning to the gathered worship opportunities.)
Third, it is time, too, for our church communities to recapture our communal calling for being people who are kingdom-bearers in the world. At the very least, many efforts of Christians and churches have been significantly altered, slowed, or stopped entirely as a result of the pandemic. I certainly do not believe that alterations or pauses during the course of this past year are wrong, were wrong, or shouldn’t have been considered and implemented–in fact, I think just the opposite. However, it is necessary that Christians and churches join together again in concerted efforts to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. For us to do this, I think that we must also consider my fourth observation/conviction.
So, fourth, churches need to learn to adapt and Christians need to not only support, but become excited about these adaptations. This past year has shown us that the world is changing drastically. Not only that, but the forms and methods for participating in church are widening. Online church is here to stay. The task ahead for churches and for her members are to find ways of engaging with those who worship online. We must expand our perspectives and create opportunities for worship to take place in a variety of ways both on our campuses and in people’s living rooms, offices, even in their cars through podcasting, and much, much more. This can help us to recapture our calling as kingdom-bearers in the world too. The mission field of the church is everywhere–not just on our church campuses. “The harvest is plenty,” Jesus said. We must be committed to being the workers.
And finally (at least for today), we must do all this with a robust and firm trust in God. While change and uncertainty can bring fear, it also can provide for creativity, growth, and passion to come forth. As we discuss and plan for “returning back to church,” we must do so with our reliance not placed upon our ability, methods, or even creativity, but upon God alone. For one thing is true, no matter the circumstances, we trust that God is good, and as we seek to follow Christ into whatever the future holds, God will remain good.