Since before the founding of this nation, Churches have held a place of prominence, respect, and more. Followers of Christ have had an easy way to practice faith, to establish a church, and to worship. After all, it is a part of our nation's founding documents. Sometimes, ease, comfort, and convenience breed an attitude of entitlement and complacency while discomfort, troubling interruptions, and the breaking of tradition bring the basic needs to the forefront.
Having watched the struggle of Pastors and churches trying to find their way during this pandemic, I keep being overwhelmed by a sense of excitement. As an outsider who is a very interested observer, the response has been extraordinary. By external forces, we have been forced to change lifelong traditions for the sake of the gospel. We have learned to 'color outside of the lines' and 'operate outside of the box'. Here are just a few things that I pray our churches do not lose after this lockdown.
1) To be free of a specific building or place - While the 'church buildings' offer us much, they merely house the church. While most acknowledge the church is the people and not the building, at the same time, we operate as if the opposite is true. For 2 months we have been forced to be the church and be the church outside of our building. While we should be thankful for the place and the edifice, much of the work of the church IS TO BE DONE, outside of the building. I pray that we do not lose this understanding.
2) The ability to function without programs of the past - By and large, we in the Baptist Church, had (or have) become a 'program-driven' entity. Forty-five years ago I heard Dr. Jack Taylor say this, "If God could bless anyone because they had programs, it would be Southern Baptist." He was and is right. In fact, we seem to be so program driven that we do not believe we can function absent a program. However, in this lock-down, we have discovered that the gospel is paramount and the programs are only as good as they are effective in presenting the gospel and discipling the saints. I pray that we embrace programs which are effective in and for the gospel, adjust programs that can be massaged to be effective, discard the long-standing programs which, through this time, have been revealed to not be effective, and resist the temptation to programs our god.
3) The flexibility to change - One of the obvious developing attributes of this lock-down is the flexibility of the congregation. People are once again engaging personally to find out 'when, where, and how' the church is meeting. Nothing is taken for granted and, by and large, grumbling is heard very little because it is out of our control so we have 'rolled with the punches.' To see God's people have the ability to change with a text, email, Facebook post, or just a phone call (personal phone trees) is a breath of fresh air. This ability for flexibility should be norm and not the exception because the gospel is the priority. I pray that we not return to the inflexibility of the past, but embrace being flexible for the sake of the gospel.
4) That Technology has vast potential for the gospel - Seeing many churches who have had less than a positive view of technology NOW embrace that technology as a way to connect with their congregants, share the gospel, and communicate to those outside of Christ has been encouraging. True, technology has many bad actors but so does music (spoken as a professional musician for 50 years). The exciting thing and the thing I pray we don't lose is the embracing of this medium to convey the gospel. This is an opportunity unparalleled in its reach. I pray that the use of technology for the gospel never ends.
5) The understanding that we don't have it all figured out - When you have an easy go of it, it is easy to think 'we've got this.' However, throw in a little pandemic, where it is not so easy and all the rules get changed, and you realize that perhaps we need to go back to basics. I pray that our hearts have been so impacted that we seek God to help us going forward, realizing we are in a new and different day. Admittedly, not all will change, but if we think we have the philosophical answer for tomorrow, we may short-sell the gospel. I pray we keep praying, searching, and seeking for His best. How will we receive offerings? How will we partake of the Lord's Supper? Will our approach to Baptism need to be given extra thought? Will our buildings which are designed in days past for a specific number of attendees have to be now considered to sit only 50% - 75% of their former capacity? There is much more to process in this thought. I pray that we continue to seek and search for His answers and way forward.
6) The desire to gather and grow - Everywhere I go I hear, "I can't wait until we can meet again." Maybe it's true, "absence makes the heart grow fonder", but I pray it is more than desiring a social connection. My prayer is that this attitude is birthed in the desire to worship corporately, hear the word face to face, return to a time of passionate invitation, and collectively hear each other worship God in song. I pray that the desires expressed during this time become the seed for the authentic and exciting worship and personal discipleship in the days ahead.
7) The Ministry to the Church By Members - Sadly, before this lockdown, too many expected the pastor and/or staff to do most of the ministry. Additionally, any attempt by the pastor to engage others in the day-to-day hospital, shut-in, or house-to-house, ministry was met with skepticism and criticism as the pastor trying to get out of 'work'. This lock-down has forced us to employ other methods than the pastor only, embrace a new way of thinking, and even accept some responsibility for ministry. This has been as simple as members taking a list of 6-12 church members and calling on them weekly to check and see how they are doing. It is a simple thing, out of which, could grow a ministry that promotes church health and individual growth. I pray that we become an Ephesians 4 church where the ministers can truly 'train believers for the work of the ministry."
8) The Pioneer Spirit – Worshipping with one of our churches yesterday, I experienced worship in a way that stirred the pioneer in me. It was outside, on a trailer, using a sound system not a radio receiver, and it reminded me of days passed when the gospel was at the forefront of all we did. Reflecting on that service as well as others I have attended and participated in during these days, the pioneer spirit is what comes to the mind. It is the spirit which is epitomized in this scenario, “What if we were to come to this location for the purpose of sharing the gospel because there was no church in sight, no traditions to keep, no building to house us, and no cultural expectations on us, “WHAT WOULD WE DO AND HOW WOULD WE DO IT?” We would be pioneers! This is the spirit that has been witnessed during these days. I pray that we don’t lose that spirit.
As I pray daily and diligently for the church, not only for our churches in this association but also for the churches across our land and the globe, I pray that the lessons we have learned during these days will not be lost in the days ahead. These are only the ones that came to mind today, but there are many more. My prayer continues.