This is a new question to many of us now, as churches around much of the world are shut in an effort to slow the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, but there are many other places where this has been the norm because of religious persecution. It may seem like a really basic question, but it does highlight a problem in much of the western church today. Our lives are often pretty much the same as everyone else’s, save the fact that we may get up a bit earlier on Sunday mornings to spend an hour at a church service. Even that may be perhaps a less-than-regular endeavor, given the data. If we find ourselves unable to attend a church service for several weeks, or even months, what does that do for our faith lives? I think it underscores the fact that church attendance, while important, is not the defining characteristic of what it means to be a Christ follower.
As Christians, we’re called to live in a counter-cultural way. When Jesus said that he came to bring the sword (Matthew 10:34). He wasn’t condoning violence but was stating the fact that a life of faith would run counter to everything that society believed. This counter-culture life would rub many the wrong way, and would bring the sword to us, not from us. We’re called to live a life of radical love. This current light affliction doesn’t make it impossible to do, but it may highlight some deficiencies in how we’re doing this.
One of the greatest strengths of the Church is the idea that we stand together as a community of believers. That sense of community is so much more than occupying the same room at the same time as a few hundred other people to listen to one person speak and listen to some great music. Community is all about a deep and meaningful connection. It’s multi-cultural, multi-generational, it crosses socioeconomic and political divides. It brings a group of totally dissimilar people together and gives them a point of commonality. Two actually: our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and our love for one another. The community aspect of church can be a challenge when the term ‘social distancing’ is the word de jour, but social distancing really means that we need to be physically distant, while remaining connected emotionally, spiritually, and socially connected. You’ve probably got a phone in your pocket, right? Make some calls. Facetime someone. The chances are less likely than usual that you will catch someone at a time when they are too busy.
As a side note, there are lots of tools out there on the internet that can make group meetings pretty simple. As I write this, I have been showing lots of people how to use Google hangouts this week. If you’re someone who find tech easy, perhaps you can reach out to others in your community to help them set up their devices (assuming they have one) to take advantage of these tools.
If I saw a morsel of bread and a thimble full of grape juice as the food that would sustain me all week, or month long, I’m delusional. We recognize that communion is a symbol, and that we need to eat…several times a day. A single hour spent in worship and the word each week will not be enough to sustain our spiritual lives. If that hour is taken from us, we should still be able to survive, because that service is a small part of what sustains us. While corporate gatherings are a huge blessing and do offer us something that sitting in front of a screen simply will not, we should continue to feed our spirts with time spent in the Word and in prayer.
If you’ve never developed the discipline of having a daily quiet time, you should start. Many of us are having to stay at home and do a lot less stuff. If ever there was a time to develop the habit, it is now. There are tons of resources available for people to consume to edify their spiritual lives. Take the initiative to go out and find stuff.
Many churches will be putting out online content during this hiatus from normal programming. Take advantage of it and enjoy the fact that you can attend church in your pajamas, if you so choose.
Jesus commanded his followers to serve one another. While we can’t serve others in all of the way would could under normal circumstances, we are able to find ways to demonstrate God’s love to our community. Seniors are particularly vulnerable during this outbreak, and there are many who may not have a great support structure. Can you deliver groceries? Do you have administrative abilities you could use to help serve your church from home? Try to think outside the box on how you can use the gifts, skills, abilities, experience, and resources you have at your disposal to serve.
Frontline healthcare workers are being stretched very thin as the demand for healthcare increases during this crisis. There are hospitals that have begun asking people who can sew to make masks. Maybe if you know a healthcare worker, or someone in another profession that is under strain, you can deliver a meal, or do some other act of kindness.
Still more thousands are newly unemployed. Is there a way you, if you haven’t been affected, can help those who’s livelihoods have been disrupted. Those are just a few examples, but there are a lot of ways that we can serve our communities and demonstrate God’s love in a way that will be uncommon, yet sorely needed in the days to come.
We believe that God is sovereign and that He is in control of every circumstance. We’ve been called to rise to a challenge in the coming days, but with the challenge comes the grace to complete it. For many of us, it may be difficult to be physically separated from our church family for a while, but we continue to press forward, acknowledging that our circumstances, while inconvenient, are nothing compared to what is normal in other parts of the world. We will learn the value of our ability to meet together, and we will receive direction from the Lord for new and creative ways to love and serve one another, and to stay connected to our Lord Jesus.