It’s common to hear people long for a quick return to normal these days. The crisis brought about by COVID-19 has left many Christian leaders reeling and disoriented. “When can we get back to the way things used to be?” Implicit in this question is the assumption that the old normal was entirely good.
But what if the normal we once experienced was inadequate and God is using this moment to jar us from complacency? What if our ‘good ol’ days’ weren’t at all reminiscent of the ‘original normal’?
Our previous normal was certainly convenient—it only required an hour or two on a Sunday for most of us. And it was entertaining as we weekly evaluated whether or not we enjoyed the worship experienced. And it was easy—for most it simply meant sitting still and listening for an hour (or at least look like we were listening.)
But my question remains, “Is this the normal that we really need to return to?” Is this the thing that God meant for us?
Let’s reflect on the opening paragraph of Luke’s testimony about the Antioch church:
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)
This scene gives witness to the original normal of the church. It’s a picture of the way the church is meant to function. It provides insight into the poverty of our former normal and should create a longing to see a more biblical version of the church emerge in our re-openings.
There seems to be five treasures of an original normal, New Testament Church that are too often missing in the former normal that we just left.
A Worshipping Church Will Prize Missional Agility
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, with over half a million residents. It was a diverse trading center that quickly became the epicenter of the early Christian movement. We are introduced to the church of Antioch’s founding in Acts 11 as some nameless disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene came to the region preaching the Lord Jesus Christ.
Prior to this moment, the focus of the church’s mission was on fellow Jews, but early believers who immigrated to this region developed a heart for the Hellenistic people. They soon became effective in evangelizing this previously untapped people group.
The Holy Spirit gave this worshipping church a passion for people that led them to declare the gospel to all who would listen. A passion that would continue to mark the Antioch church throughout the book of Acts.
Today, in our scattering, God may be birthing a passion for people who would otherwise not connect with our ‘normal’ church gatherings and events. Missional agility, as in the first century, requires a church to embraces ‘sentness’ as the normal behavior of a disciple.
A Worshipping Church Will Prize a Holistic Strategy
By the time we get to Acts 13, the church plant in Antioch is a little over one year old. Luke mentions that there were “prophets and teachers” in the church who serve to advance the mission.
The prophets were gifted in speaking the will of God, while the teachers instructed the people in practical application to that message. Together, they led the church to understand and undertake the assignments of God’s will.
But there was more. The church also had the voices of Barnabas and Paul speaking into its mission. They were not merely a teaching church, they were a missionary church because of the catalytic shepherding gifts of leaders like Barnabas and the apostolic gifts of leaders like Paul.
This leadership combined to embody the functions Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:11-13 that are necessary for the building up of the body of Christ.
Today, God may be exposing our unhealthy singular dependence on teachers as He is creating an awareness of the biblical necessity of a holistic strategy including other complimentary functions in order to move the Christ’s mission forward.
A Worshipping Church Will Prize Cultural Diversity
It is exciting to look at the makeup of the Antioch church. We have Barnabas—a generous, encouraging, catalytic-shepherd who brought Saul/Paul into the movement. We have black men, Simeon and Lucius from North Africa.
There’s also Manaen, who grew up with Herod Antipas and was a wealthy, older man or high social standing. Finally, we have Saul who was a Roman citizen from Tarsus—a leading Pharisee who was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus. Diversity was the homogeneous principle of this city and of the church’s leadership.
Now, more than ever, diversity should characterize the leadership of Jesus’ church in North America. As our communities diversify, our churches should lead the way in the integration of that diversity. Not for political correctness sake, but for the fact that combining diverse cultural perspectives and expressions of following Christ creates a much more robust and holistic disciple.
Splintered silos of sameness solitarily coexisting ensures the perpetuation of an easy, but unremarkable church.
A Worshipping Church Will Prize Spiritual Sensitivity
Notice in verse 2 that the byproduct of worship was the spiritual sensitivity to invent the concept of missionary sending. They were not content to stay and soak in the experience of worship; they were compelled to send themselves so that others could worship. Their worship was designed to recalibrate their spirits to Christ and his mission in the world.
It seems that the truer our worship becomes, the more our priorities reflect the One that we worship. For many of us, worship has long been about ourselves. My personal relationship.
My worship experience. My sacred preferences. But what if our worship was about Christ? What if it cost us something? What if the way we worshipped reflected the One we worship? Would we discover that we once again could hear the voice of God?
A Worshipping Church Will Prize Kingdom Generosity
The missionary heart compelled this new church plant to send 2/5 of their leadership team to a multiply opportunities for the gospel to be heard. Their corporate priorities reflected their individual priorities around evangelism to the Gentiles.
This motivation led the church to a culture of generosity as they corporately invested in sending missionaries—the first record of such a sending church recorded in Scripture.
Only a worshipping community committed to generously offering themselves as a living sacrifice to God would ever take such a risk. Has God stopped calling his church to a bold venture that naturally releases its best people and resources so that the Kingdom can advance in the world? Unlikely.
God is still speaking. Kingdom generosity is still our calling.
But what will be our answer? Re-open to our old, former normal? Or, allow our worship to recalibrate our hearts back to Christ’s original intentions for his church.
Jeff Christopherson is a church planter, pastor, author and Missiologist at the Send Institute - an interdenominational church planting and evangelism think tank. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.