The world is facing a pandemic, and churches are facing a dilemma. Could this Coronavirus help us accomplish the Lord’s will? I hope to be an encouragement to you during this difficult time, and maybe spark a fire to expand your comfort zone.
Any Pastor worth his position has stressed over striking the appropriate balance in the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions fly: “Do we cancel services? Do we limit the size of the assemblies (which we have prayed and worked for years to build), or do we ignore the counsel offered by health professionals and government officials, and continue to meet like we usually do?” These questions have been a point of contention for many churches. However, I think there is a more important question: “What does God expect from us?”
Church History shows some interesting parallels to our current problems. Early in the church, just after Christ ascended to Heaven, the Church saw explosive growth. The boldness of the early church was famous, and they soon experienced backlash from religious and political entities. At that point, Jerusalem was the epicenter for Christianity; the believers enjoyed worshiping in the beautiful Temple, and the culture of Judaism lent itself to accepting the Messiah who had come. There was a problem; Christianity wasn’t spreading out. Christ’s command to go to “Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” was not being obeyed very well. This was partly because there were some racial and religious roadblocks the Jewish believers struggled with, which hampered the spread of the gospel into the rest of the Roman empire. It literally took persecution for many Christians to uproot themselves, leave their comfort zone, and scatter to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”
During this “Diaspora,” the great dispersing of Christianity, there was a lot of pain, suffering and death. Even apostles died as martyrs, and Christians were forced to leave their businesses, leave their homes, leave their favorite synagogues, and run for their lives. They met in caves, in houses, in catacombs, in woods; they were known as good people to the local populace, which lent a great deal of credence to their gospel testimony. People knew these Christians were special; because of the love they showed, as well as the power of the prayers people saw answered. The Christians throughout a city would meet secretly in small groups; worship the Lord, and have their pastor (who might have visited several locations that day) deliver a message from the Bible. During this extended season of pain, it was rare for Christians to meet in groups the size of a standard church of today! In fact, most churches were fewer than 20 people, but they were focused on the cause of Christ, and turned the world upside down with the Gospel. Eventually Christianity came back into “vogue,” they started building permanent places to meet and worship God, which has become the standard mode of operation in western countries for many centuries.
What’s the point of the history lesson? It’s to show that God doesn’t require us to meet in large venues. Some of God’s greatest works have happened when the church is on lock-down. The Bible says that the Lord doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands; in fact, Christ said the kingdom of God is “Within you.” And (in context of church discipline) Christ said “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Also, Paul said he taught people publicly, as well as in various houses. Large groups and small! God doesn’t require a church building, or several hundred people present; what He does require is a heart focused on pleasing Him and accomplishing His work in the community.
We love to meet in large groups, and that is wonderful! But keep in mind that a growing number of people even in America are refusing to attend an official church service. The old, tired cliche still gets used: “I’ll never darken the door of another church!” Many reasons for this exist; some are legitimate, others are excuses; either way people avoid the church building more today than in living memory. It may be healthy to find additional means of engaging the community, rather than simply expecting people to “Come to church.” The fact remains that the COVID-19 is shaking the church, forcing us to reevaluate why and how we meet together, and what our goal is when we do. I believe strongly that this pandemic is allowed by our God, that it’s causing us to think outside our normal box, and we need to determine exactly what God wants us to do with it.
The situation is oversimplified almost to “Straw-man” level; some say we must quit meeting altogether, some say we meet as normal, some say we meet but on live stream mainly. None of these are excellent options by themselves, but possibly there are hybrid solutions that we can glean from church history, and from common sense.
- What if we met in small groups in people’s homes, and pastor met with each group for a worship and preaching service? Good practice for future problems, and a healthy shake-up from our comfort zone.
- What if we reach out to our community with free hygiene products? Help senior citizens maintain their health by calling, asking if they need anything without making them leave their home. Check with local hospitals, police and fire departments to see if we can offer any volunteer assistance.
- What if we took this time of spiritual loneliness to seek Gods face. Detox from all the extraneous noises and busyness that we have become accustomed to, and get back to the basics of why the Church exists in the first place.
- What if we took this opportunity to expand our online presence, teach ourselves to make videos both of services, and personal videos explaining the Gospel, teaching children songs and Bible stories, and saturating the internet with Godly Christian music. What if we revamped our churches media with updated methods of giving, so millennial and younger will be able to easily give to the work. If we handle this trial wisely, we will return to normal with a stronger outreach than ever before.
This situation is in no way simple, its a difficult time for everyone. There are no convenient fixes; but maybe that’s the point.