The entire world has been placed in lockdown. Schools suspended, businesses shut, sports on hold, travel restrictions, distancing measures, public gatherings forbidden, and church buildings… locked. How does the church care for her people in this global pandemic? What is God saying amongst all of this?
We find ourselves in the most curious of times. There is no playbook for this, no historical precedent that speaks to what we are encountering today and no theological course that addresses what to do when your nation shuts down and your people are inaccessible.
And so, we scramble to provide a spiritual rhythm for our people. We move church online. We set up online giving. We move our small groups to a ZOOM cadence. If we can just replace what happened in person a month ago with technology, we should come out of this season of disruption as if it never happened. This is the narrative of countless Christian ministry leaders in the West.
One of the beautiful things about this quarantine is that it has yielded a slowing. The by- product of this mandated change of pace is a great exposing. The lockdown has exposed much about what we worship and how we “do” church. It is exposing how much of church has been centered around entertainment or the dynamic preacher. The pulpit has been brought down, and our first response has been to ensure a digital replica is available on a device of choice. Does this have more to do with pastoring our people in this chaotic time or maintaining the familiar?
What if God is giving us an opportunity to retreat into a time of prayer, fasting and re- prioritizing of our lives so that we can advance? What if, like a caterpillar in a chrysalis, we were to emerge in a new form, as the people of God in action, the church unleashed from her idols? A church much more like the one in the book of Acts. What if God is giving us an opportunity to sense a new move of the Spirit? Could the Spirit be drawing us back to families, homes, tables, and not amphitheatres?
As we observe the context of church ministry in both the US and UK, it is apparent that some of our churches have become paralzed without a physical meeting place, while others have become liberated. Some have heard a call to freedom and responded, ushering in what could be the Church’s finest hour; a time when we become Jesus’ hands and feet, love in action, displaying the beauty of the gospel for all the world to see.
Today in the US, there is an estimated shortage of 6.5 million volunteers that are needed on a weekly basis to meet the critical needs on the frontlines impacted by COVID-19. This is our opportunity, Church. The coronavirus has done in one month what 20 years of mission conferences could not… push the church out into the world for the greatest impact we will see in our generation. So, what should we be doing?
Paul writes in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” And what was it that Jesus said should be the defining characteristic of His followers? Love. (John 13:35).
In one week, All Hallows Church Bow in East London transformed their community center into a community outpost that is connecting medical, financial, and sustenance needs with the people of God in the neighborhood. Working in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood they were able to dramatically impact their community for Jesus. Their coffee shop, now a makeshift triage hub of support and love to a neighborhood hanging on by a thread.
We’ve heard stories of other Christian communities responding in this fashion, but here’s the key to it all, the virus has exposed and accelerated what they were already doing. Instead of centering around the now-absent pulpit they have been centering around love, initiative, and listening. For the past decade, All Hallows Bow has been cultivating the idea of being a neighbor to one of the poorest neighborhoods in East London. And now the need has arisen, they are ready. They are the butterfly emerging in beauty, fully formed and welcome. Ecclesiology is propelling their mission, rather than hindering it, when the world needs it most.
In an effort to inspire the church to mission through love and give constructive help in this season, here is a challenge and opportunity.
Challenge and Opportunity
The challenge and opportunity is to bring discipleship directly into the home. For the first time, churches are able to teach people right where it is implemented. Usually on Sundays, the time lag between sermon and home is problematic. We disciple the mind but fail to activate the hands, and people forget too quickly what they have heard in church. Right now, we have a unique opportunity to marry discipleship and action because they both happen in the same place, at the same time.
Instead of online prayer, what if we stood at our front doors to pray house by house over our neighbors? What if we paused our livestream sermons to prayer walk and then return for the next part of the service? What if we send out our congregations to deliver needed items to the elderly during a meeting? Just a few ideas that are incredible opportunities for love in action.
We could utilize technology not just to download information to our people but for redemptive calls to action that will literally change people’s lives in tangible ways. What if the church stepped up to close the volunteer gap on the frontlines and we were remembered for this moment?
We’ve been talking about this opportunity for years, and now this crisis is our moment. The mission of the church matters now more than ever.