The Christian Church is being challenged to adjust to new pressures. To some this is a problem. But is it really? It might actually be a much needed wake-up call. ◊
Julie and Tom were so tired and busy that they didn’t always attend church services on Sunday anyway before COVID-19 policies in their town forced the shutdown of public church services. They now catch the main sermon online, when they can. It actually works better for them. “We like the flexibility of our Sunday mornings,” Julie says. They feel bad though that there’s not a standard children’s program for their 3 children.
Sally and Bob are very upset that they cannot meet in their large church campus buildings. They say, “It’s not right that we’re not allowed to worship God as a group, even if we take social distancing precautions!” She, her husband, and several other church members are working with their church leaders and others to plan on meeting in their church facilities in defiance of their local public policy restrictions.
Joe never went to church much at all before the COVID crisis. He believes in God, or at least some higher power. “I just don’t think the universe came into being all by itself without some God behind it,” he says. But he just can’t get behind any formal religion as a result of getting turned off to it in his youth. Nevertheless, he’s enjoyed going online over the weekend and listening to several talks and sermons about discussions of faith and the Bible. He’s learning quite a bit.
Linda is frustrated that her small church is not able to meet formally on Sunday’s, though she does join the online “watch party” each Sunday morning. She has thrived however with a small group of women, in and outside her church, who meet weekly in her backyard for a Book Club. “It’s actually a Bible study,” she says, using Christian books to launch practical discussions into the Scriptures and the Christian walk. Using social distancing protocols, Linda also has weekly phone calls and one-on-one meetings with others she disciples in faith and as well with those who disciple her.
So Where is the Church?
Certainly the COVID crisis of 2020 has wreaked havoc in our all of our lives. The marketplace and our personal lives have been disrupted and even upended. Our church attendance and faith practice patterns have also been impacted and altered, perhaps permanently.
It actually forces the questions that should really be answered by anyone by who professes the Christian faith as a follower of Jesus Christ:
- What is the Church?
- What is the purpose of the Church?
- What is my role?
If one can answer these important questions, then one can see how the Church can adapt to any societal environment it may encounter.
(1) What is the Church? – Well, first of all, to be clear, the Church is not a building (“the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands” – Acts 7:48). The Church is we the people, fellow sojourners united by the Holy Spirit in our belief and following of Christ.
Secondly, the “Church” is not the Roman Catholic Church nor any particular Protestant church denomination. Rather, the Church is a term for the physical and spiritual collective body of believers in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died as an atoning death for the sins of all the mankind. Additionally:
- The Church is God’s Living Temple – For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (I Corinthians 3:9)
- The Church is United – So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:5)
- The Church Can be Small – For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:20)
- The Church is Diverse – Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11)
- The Church is Equipping – So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
(2) What is the Purpose of the Church? – Believe it or not, the Church is not just for group or corporate singing and listening to praise music, or to “fellowship” with other Christians, or even to just encourage and teach the Bible and disciple other people toward maturity of faith.
Of course, it is all of that, however, there’s another main focus. It is to focus on the model that the Bible and Christ specifically laid out for us:
- The Church is to Fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant – “…all the peoples (families/nations) on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18, 26:4, and 28:14)
- The Church is to Seek and Save the Lost – For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
- The Church is to Save the World – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19), and “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
(3) What is My Role? – We can see that Julie and Tom, Sally and Bob, Joe, and Linda mentioned above all have differing perspectives on Church, particularly in the context of this COVID environment. Relative to the Biblical definition and purpose of the Church, it is Linda who might be seen as a model for us all.
Tom Mercer in his simple but powerful book, 8 to 15 1 emphasizes that every person in the world has an active sphere of influence and engagement with 8 to 15 people (think family, neighbors, friends, and co-workers) who might care about your personal feelings, thoughts and experiences about matters of faith. Mercer writes that if we each operate in our own oikos, defined Biblically as our extended household, we can each impact the world naturally and with great effect.
Therefore, regardless how the world directs, we can each, through the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ Jesus who heads the Church, actively engage and encourage people in our own relational world and so change the world, one person at a time.
Are you actively acting as the Church and effectively impacting others in your sphere of influence?
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20
1 8 to 15, The World is Smaller Than You Think, by Tom Mercer, Oikos Books, Victorville, CA, 2013.