Perhaps this thought first crept into your mind a few weeks ago and you quickly stuffed it back into its dark and discombobulated closet and slammed the door. “Certainly, I can’t like worshiping this way better than our normal Sunday gatherings, can I?” New realities in how church leaders are creating and distributing content, in light of COVID-19, have many asking the question, “Can or will things ever go back to the way they were before all of this?” The short answer to this question is, no. Things will never be the same again, and that is okay. Today, our world is very different than it was even just 4-6 months ago.
If you have found that you actually enjoy church together with your family in your jammies better than the practice of what was once considered a normal Sunday morning, you are probably not alone. So, when the bans are lifted and the stay-at-home orders are rescinded, where do we go from here? It’s a solid question, one that both deserves and requires a great bit of thought and discussion. How do you return to “business as usual” when the world has changed? The answers to some of these questions may be uncovered as we attempt to discover what God might be trying to teach his church through this trauma.
For the first time, perhaps in the history of America, it is dangerous for Americans to go to church. Thrust without warning into unknown waters, the church has behaved admirably, all things considered. It has touched my heart to see the sheer number of churches who have wandered through the technological wilderness into viable modes of mobile ministry environments. Instead of shuttering in fear, holing up, and determining to just wait it out, church leaders across America have moved towards the uncomfortable realities of online ministry. I will attest, it is not easy, fun, nor exciting to deliver a sermon, without an audience, to a camera. But what we must remember is that the church will come.
For years, it has been my habit on Sunday mornings when preaching, to arrive at the building where we gather as a church between 5:00 and 5:30 AM. No one is here, but I arrive to review notes, prepare my heart, and pray for our gathering time and our different ministry environments on Sunday morning. No one is here in this empty building, but the church will come.
Our habit, since the coronavirus has caused us to adapt our methods, has been to pre-record Sunday’s sermon on Thursday. No one is here, but we know the church will come. On Sunday you all will arrive, across many different mobile ministry platforms, to participate in the ministry of music, fellowship, the giving of gifts, prayer, the preaching of the Word, and the edification of the saints. And, while we are not physically together, we are also still not guilty of violating biblical principles related to forsaking the gathered assembly. The church is gathering, in small groups in their homes, under the leadership, guidance, and direction of the pastors and elders. In short, the church, in so many ways, is functioning exactly as the church should.
The Building has Purpose
Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV): 12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
When life gets going, similar to the way life was going before coronavirus, some of us will not want to leave the comfort of our jammies, families, and living rooms to assemble at a building all together. Insecurity, fear, even discomfort may pervade the air as we seek to gather as entire church family once again, but physically gather we must, and regularly too!
Perhaps, in light of the realities that COVID-19 has brought, you might afford yourself more grace on Sundays when you absolutely can’t attend in person, knowing that there will be mobile ministry environments available to you. Home certainly is a viable space for the church to worship, but it is not the only space, nor is it space that allows for all of the beauties, wonders and complexities that our local, physical plant provides.
The building, though it is just a building, is important and serves an important purpose in the life of a healthy church body. We gather on Sundays, as the church, with the belief that one of the premier delights of the church is love of neighbor. When we gather, as one assembly of believers, we are often forced to lay aside our preferences and our comforts in love for one another. There is fellowship, there is opportunity to share and to serve, there are active environments for physical ministry to take place, there is accountability, there are open windows for exhortation, and maybe even the occasional loving rebuke. All important parts of church life, many unable to be recreated from the comforts of our living rooms.
One Loving, Living Organism
Romans 12:4-5 (ESV): 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
We gather, corporately together, regularly because we believe that the church is a living organism made up of many different parts. Each part is important and plays a vital role in the health and well-being of the locally gathered assembly. Jesus uses each of our gifts and abilities that he has given us to aid us in loving, caring, and providing for one another, so that we are all growing together in a greater love for God and a greater love for each other.
So, as the social gathering recommendations are lifted, and the church begins to function in community again, let’s remember that the strength of a local congregation is found in regular assembly. The health of the whole body depends on every part of the organism using their gifts and abilities to encourage, edify and build up one another. Let’s endeavor to love, live, and lead for God’s glory and each other’s benefit. The Spirit of God works through the assembly of believers, cultivating the soil of spiritual growth and producing fruit. The healthiest growth in the church happens in community!