As a global community, we have spent the last few weeks trying to cope with what is quickly shaping up to become the newest in a long list of global threats. It seems that every time one crisis is averted, another rises up to take its place. Whether it is terrorism, war, economic collapse or, as it is today, the global spread of a new and uncharted risk to the health of humanity, it seems that we are always staring into the face of some unthinkable threat.
For some of us, coping looks like hoarding toiletries and stocking our pantries with non-perishables until they threaten to overflow. For others, it means sharing memes and making a joke of the threat. And still, for others, it means keeping our eyes peeled for any sign of an update and doing whatever it takes to avoid getting sick.
However you are coping, or whatever you think of this new threat, one thing is certain: all of humanity is in this together. The Corona-virus is quickly spreading the globe. And it is leaving much more than a nasty cough in its wake. It is leaving fear, panic, and uncertainty so thick that the very structures of our society are threatening to shake.
Nearly every person I know has, at some point in the last few weeks, had communication from their employers, advising them of how their company intends to handle the inevitable arrival of Corona. Travel bans are being put in place, accommodations are being made for employees to work from home, hygienic policies are being more conspicuously enforced. Not to mention the empty shelves that are becoming commonplace in our grocery stores and the efforts companies are putting into accommodating the elderly and immuno-compromised.
Corona is stirring panic in our society that some are channeling into becoming better people, while others are allowing to make them even more self-centered. But none of that is what inspired me to write to you today.
Something happened today that I have never seen before. All across the country, Pastor’s took to Social Media to advise their congregants that, for the foreseeable future, their churches will be closed and that all worship services will be facilitated online, rather than in person.
Let that sink in.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not judging America’s Pastors for considering the health of their congregants. Not at all. I actually find it quite beautiful. But it does raise some important questions. Predominantly: Should we embrace this opportunity? And if so, what will it look like in this coming season?
SHOULD WE EMBRACE THIS OPPORTUNITY?
Earlier today I heard a fairly popular pastor say that “we will not be meeting together corporately, but will be meeting the way the early church did. In smaller groups in our homes.”
He went on to encourage his congregants to worship together, to pray together and to be faithful to chase God.
Another Pastor posted on Social Media, encouraging his church to get together with their small groups and to break bread and to seek God in a more intimate setting until it becomes safe to meet together again.
Understand, these are not isolated incidences. All across the country, Pastors are announcing that their corporate gatherings will be canceled amidst this “crisis” and that the church should continue meeting informally. Many are encouraging them to listen to their teaching online as they meet, but just as many are not. Just as many are encouraging believers to simply stay home with their family and friends and to seek Jesus.
I know that their intention is only for these informal settings to exist while this crisis continues, but consider the opportunity before you here. An opportunity to experience Christianity the way the earliest Christians did. Without the stages or flashing lights. Without the crowds of adoring fans or trained speakers. A Christianity that sees only Jesus and an opportunity to love one another. In our heart of hearts, most of us know there is something deeper than what we have experienced in our day-to-day Christian experience. Well, here is our chance to find it.
So I would encourage you to not just sit in front of your laptop listening to sermons on YouTube or social media. Get together in smaller, safer groups of friends and family and continue to be the church, regardless of your setting. Even if you never intend to participate in a house church outside of this context, take this opportunity to seek out God in a new way. Take this opportunity where everything is stripped back to the core of our faith, and just chase Jesus.
WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE?
While many of America’s Pastors are encouraging their congregants to embrace a more organic Christianity during this season, most have never experienced it for themselves. In fact, most of them do not even approve of any expression of Christianity that doesn’t come with the full production. So, I just wanted to take a moment to give you a couple of tips to make this season a little more fruitful for you!
1. Prioritize intimacy.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Christianity doesn’t have to be complicated. By nature, it is most effectively expressed in community. It is not about the way our leaders preach, how good our sound system is, or how well we attract new members. The church, in its most simple form, expresses itself by learning together, eating together and praying together. Together being the keyword there.
I have been actively involved in house churches for several years now, and while there are many different expressions of faith even within the house church movement, it all boils down to being together.
So my encouragement is to make intimacy a priority. Rather than worrying about getting everything structured a certain way, just devote yourselves to doing it together. Make a meal (maybe even make it together, if you have time), and while you eat, talk about the Word. Dive into the teaching that is laid out for us in scripture. Pray together, worship together, think out loud about how good God is. Don’t spend your week stressing about how to structure your teaching. Just open the floor for everyone to be a part and dive in together.
2. Make room for everyone to contribute.
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.
1 Corinthians 14:26-32
One of the major differences between corporate Church and home churches is that, because of the smaller size, home churches can leave room for everyone to contribute to the meeting. Read the above text. Rather than two or three individuals stressing all week to plan the meeting, prioritize intimacy and leave the actual content of the meeting in the hands of everyone. If someone has something from the Word to share, let them share it and then talk about it together. If someone has questions, let them ask. If someone wants to sing a song, sing along. You get the drift.
God has put something inside of everyone that can contribute to the church. So let everyone contribute. It keeps the meeting healthier and allows more space for the Holy Spirit to actually lead.
Which brings me to my final piece of advice.
3. Let God lead.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another, the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
We put way too emphasis on our individual gifts and talents. Healthy Christian assembly means embracing a church model where our contributions depend entirely on the will of the Holy Spirit.
If you are a teacher, it is because He made you one. If you prophesy, He gave the word. If you heal the sick, He let you. The gifts come from Him alone. So as you meet together, respect that reality and welcome God to do whatever He wants to.
It’s perfectly fine to plan out some thoughts. But you honestly don’t need to. The church is healthiest when the Holy Spirit runs it.
I know that’s a scary thought for many of you. But hey, what do you honestly have to lose? Give it a try!
Once again, I am not judging churches for closing during this season. I get it. And I’m not telling you to abandon them because of it. I am just suggesting that:
1. You do not abandon the need for community just because the way you meet has been drastically altered.
2. You take this opportunity to experience Christian community without the production.
Obviously, if you are in an area that is under strict stay-at-home orders, or where the virus is being spread at faster rates, you may want to find other ways to have this same community. Whether that means gathering together through an online platform such as Zoom or Skype, or hopping on a conference call, it still affords you these elements of community and human collaboration that are just not available in a setting where a video plays and your only contribution is to watch while you sit in your PJ’s and munch on whatever snack you happened to scrounge up. As the church, we owe it to the world to make sure that we are contributing to the life of the body. So take this season to pull away from the monologue, and to choose intimate community in whatever way you are able. Whether that means smaller, safer gatherings in areas where that is possible, or online platforms where everyone can contribute and interact in areas where gathering is not advisable.
This doesn’t have to be a churchless season. We all like to declare that the church is more than a building, right? Well… prove it.