A good friend from my small group and I were recently chatting about how the current pandemic has affected the Church and pondering its lasting effects on the Church.
What will church look like when we can finally fling wide the doors? Will life be the same?
What pre-pandemic things are worth leaving behind?
What things should be renewed or shored up?
In light of the pandemic, I understand the necessity (temporarily) of streamed services, but I know many who are wrestling through questions like whether it’s even Biblical to celebrate communion when no one is physically present with another.
We may nod and wink and say, “but we are gathering… online” – but that is truly not the same.
I’m a Gen-Xer and ‘early adopter’ of most technology. Yet, I have never been enthusiastic of live streaming church services. Beyond the technology needs/desires and related financial and personnel costs and malfunction issues, phrases like “production value” make me very wary when compared with the Biblical call of the function of the church.
When the structure of a worship service is geared to those not present we do the gathered church a disservice. Do we hinder what is, or can happen in the meeting place so that things “look good on camera”? Is anyone even watching on the other end? Or are we gearing our time toward who we hope is watching? If genuine revival breaks out, are we more concerned with ending “on time”?
The church – the ecclesia – the “assembled” or “gathered” by very nature of its name connotes physical presence.
In his excellent book, Rhythms of Grace, Mike Cosper writes:
“The gathering is unique not as an encounter with God (it is that, though God’s presence is a constantly available comfort and help to the Christian); rather it’s unique because it is an encounter with the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, spurring one another along in the mission of God. Christ in me meets Christ in you.”pg 80-81
God’s Spirit meets us and moves a unique way when we are gathered together physically, ways that cannot be experienced virtually.
My friend’s (and my) concerns for the Church during these times will require direct, solid teaching from pastors on these:
- Incarnate. We should always regard gathered, in-person worship as the original intent of God for His people. It should be our joy and desire to join together in-person to worship. If you view it as drudgery, please go read the whole of Malachi 1.
- Tune in/Tune Out. Many churches during this closure report that half or less the number of their regular attendees are tuning in. Perhaps this is God sifting His Church.
I do know of families who are instead doing family worship on Sundays at home, so this may be reflected in the numbers above. However, I would venture to guess this is rarer than hoped for.
- Church as family. The local congregation we attend is not merely a place to belong and receive. When we come together to worship we also serve one another. Whether it be through physical acts of service (ushers, musicians, hospitality, etc.), or a word of encouragement, exhortation or correction spoken at the proper time.
- Church celebrity culture: It saddens me to hear both first-hand and anecdotally of people choosing a “Build-A-Bear” or “Burger King” (have it your way) worship experience for themselves. What does that mean?
- I choose when it’s most convenient to “do” church
- I choose to view my “home church”’s welcome
- I bring up Youtube professionally recorded songs that I like, songs that speak to me, not necessarily songs that bring conviction.
- I tune into my favourite celebrity or well-known pastor
- If I get bored I search for a different pastor/church or I turn it off altogether.
- I don’t have to have any interaction with others because “I’m an introvert”
- I stay comfortable in my jammies, favourite chair, coffee, and breakfast/lunch/dinner, and if I happen to miss part of the service (most likely the sermon) because I’m in the kitchen…it’s fine, no one sees me anyway
- I simply observe and consume.
The local Church congregation exists for mutual building up through interaction with God and His Word and one another, and through worship and service.
Pastors, frequently encourage your congregations now to long for, and pray for the time when we can gather to worship once again as the Ecclesia – remind them of the importance of meeting, this is temporary and that as the Church we earnestly desire to worship together in person.
And pray that the Church worldwide would emerge stronger and purer, more loving and more committed to one another than when we went into lockdown…. Until we are gathered once and for all. (Matt. 13:41, Mark 13:27, 1 Thess 2:1)