The "Displaced" Church
What will "Church" look like now? As a pastor, as a follower of Jesus...this is a question that continues to fill my mind and absorb my energy. Early this week, I hopped on a call with over 140 pastors to collaborate and discuss plans for moving our churches forward in the midst of this current Corona Virus crisis. Real talk - It was pretty discouraging. I get it. We all need to make plans with regard to our Sunday gatherings moving forward. Restoraiton is wrestling with the same decisions as we look to get video content online. But what was disheartening was to see the bulk of our communication and collaboration geared around livestreaming, "virtual" youth ministry, and "virtual" small groups. There was minimal conversation around ministering to our communities in real tangible ways. Minimal conversation around mobilizing church members to share the gospel. In addition, I heard a couple of pastors of larger churches talk about having had "their best Sundays" since last Easter. Keep in mind, their congregations DID NOT GATHER. So what did they mean? What was the "big win" to which they were referring?
Really? Are we being serious?
Since when did online reach become a reliable measuring rod for church success? For gospel effectiveness or transformation? Listen, I'm not anti-techonolgy. I'm really not! But can I just make an observation? If the Church was going to reach the world with a digital gospel, wouldn't we have done it by now? Call me old-school, but I truly believe there is no replacement for the physically gathered gospel community. There is no subsitute for those small graces - the warm smiles and embraces, the side conversations, the power of joining voices together, the power of physical presence. I am aware this crisis may drag out for weeks or months. I'm aware that I may not physically gather with my local church community for worship, for the preaching of the Word, to take communion, and to pray together for some time. It's only been a week and a half, and I already deeply miss this grace!
But I'm not trying to replace this experience. We can't.
In fact, I'm praying God uses its absence to highten my great need for community. I pray God instills in all of us a greater hunger for the gathered community. I was listening to a video announcement of another pastor who was assuring his church that it would be business as usual. He spoke of the online experience being just like what they would regulalry offer on a Sunday morning - only in the comfort of their home.
With all due respect to other congregations and churches, I don't believe we need to pretend like it’s business as usual. Our goal should not be to produce a polished exact replica of what we were doing previously. Will Restoraiton video some worship music to share this Sunday? Absolutely. I’ll share a devotional message. Moving forward, we'll encourage our small groups to do some Zoom chats, sure. But now, more than ever, we need to be collectively devoted to prayer. We need to BE the church to our neighbors - we must be checking on our neighbors, on the elderly, those at risk, the least of these. Church, now is the time to share the gospel. People are afraid. They’re anxious. Our American idols of security, comfort, and leisure have come crumbling down, and people are looking for real answers. Let us show and tell others of our hope in Jesus! A hope that transcends the temporal ills and woes of this world. A hope that points to a kingdom and a future resurrection!
I'm sure I'll get some pushback on this take. That's okay. My intention is not to judge my brothers in Christ who are (like me!) imperfectly trying to shepherd and lead their local churches through this trial. My intent is to simply remind my brothers: It's not business as usual. Perhaps, in many ways, we've been catering to the consumer Christian culture by creating our stellar Sunday worship experiences with excellent music and excellent preaching. Pastors, "Church" is not the Sunday experience. The Sunday experience is for the sake of mobilizing the saints to worship, to pray, to respond to the Word, SO THAT Christ-followers can be sent out to be gospel ambassadors. To make discples. To be the hands and feet of Jesus in the hard places of their community and world.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus gave the blueprint for what was to come. The Spirit of God would indwell and empower his people, and they would become witnesses (in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth) to the good news of Christ crucified for sin and raised. But a funny thing happened. The Church stayed in the comfortable confines of Jerusalem. In fact, it wasn't until Acts 8 and Paul's great persecution of the church, that things changed. God USED the trial of persecution to get the Church moving! Acts 8:4: "Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word..."
I don't pretend to know what God is up to in all of this. But I do know that he is sovereign over the Corona Virus. I do know that HIS presence is not limited by Covid 19. And I can't help but wonder if he will use the trial of Corona, to move his Church out of their comfortable pews and seats to BE his witnesses to the world. Church, perhaps we should be slower to try to reproduce what we've been doing and pay attention to what God is doing! Maybe the Church hasn't been displaced. Maybe it's right where God wants it to be.