The phrase, “The church has left the building” has been used as an encouragement to Christians to remind them that we are called be a light for Christ in our world. It is a reminder that “church” is not a building or weekly event. We are the church and we represent Jesus in all we do.
Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, this phrase has suddenly become a very literal expression of where we find ourselves throughout the world! Churches everywhere are needing to give up meeting together in order to prevent any unintentional spread of this viral infection that could do serious harm to people we care about. Being unable to meet in person has forced church leaders all over the world to ask, “Now what? How do we continue to be the church?” As I have pondered this question myself, there are two important aspects of “being the church” that have been at the forefront of my mind. There are two issues I would like to challenge us all to consider in this new age of Christian church life.
I will consider the first of these issues in this post. Numerous churches have taken the step to begin offering online worship services through a variety of available platforms. We are truly blessed to have such an abundance of options available to help us make this transition in a short time!
When faced with the need to do something other than meeting together in person, you are forced to consider what is most important about those weekly church gatherings. In my mind, I think of two specific Bible passages. The first is this:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
Somehow we need to continue meeting together. Part of the value in meeting is that we have the opportunity to encourage one another to live by faith in Jesus. Without that ongoing encouragement, we all have a harder time holding strongly to our faith. The second passage I think of is 1 Corinthians 14:26:
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.
In my mind, one of the really valuable parts of this passage is that each person who comes has something to share. It has always been important to me that there is opportunity for the members of the church to be sharing, praying for, and encouraging one another. Much of that happens throughout informal times during our gatherings when people are talking to one another; but it also happens during the more structured time as we invite multiple people from the church to take part in leading prayers, reading Scripture, helping to lead us in song, teaching, and sharing testimonies of God’s faithfulness.
The challenge I see for us today is find ways to go beyond offering an online “worship experience” that we as church leaders prepare and present to our congregations. How do we create opportunities when we can’t meet in person for multiple people in the church to engage with one another-sharing, praying, encouraging, and teaching each other while we, the leaders, step back and give thanks to God for the many ways He is working throughout the whole church body?
For our specific church, I saw the ability to do this in video conferencing tools that allow interaction between people. As we are all being asked to distance ourselves from others, I saw the need to work against isolation by giving people the opportunity to see and hear from one another. We’ve been able to provide some informal gathering time for people give updates and ask for prayer; ministering to one another. After getting past the initial rapid change and working out some technical glitches, I am now seeing opportunities to invite other people to speak and lead us through parts of our worship gathering. We’ve also experienced the unexpected blessing of having family and friends join and interact with us here in Minnesota from as far away as Texas and Florida!
This may not be the answer for everyone. We each need to consider what works best in our own context. I do want to challenge us all, however, to think about how to engage the whole body of Christ in the work of being the church. The church is made up of a many more parts than pastors and worship leaders, and each part plays a valuable role in the ways we challenge one another to mature in our faith and share God’s love with the world. How can we engage the whole church in this COVID-19 era? The answers may even transform the way our churches function when we are able to meet in person once again!