For many, the fruit of this pandemic has been troubling, confusing, and spiritually disorienting.
But not for all.
For some, this season of cultural turbulence has brought greater clarity to their spiritual intuition. They’ve witnessed many moorings of tradition exposed as skimpy vestiges that could not possibly survive this test. They’ve watched our sacred ecclesiastical proxies evaporate – vaporized by an imperceptible virus. Elaborate systems that have long served as safe, synthesized surrogates for a more substantive participation in Christ’s mission have come to a sputtering and inglorious end.
So, now what?
Speak Courage. Ironically, some who regularly proclaim from our pulpits that “all members are ministers” and that “we are all missionaries,” have been very silent on directions for their ‘minister-mission-force’ in the season of a scattered church. Instead, we most often hear of a longing, languishing, desperate, yearning to fill the empty pews – as if to concede that the scattering has altogether thwarted the church’s mission. But surely God is still at work.
If the church’s mission is essentially seen as one of gathering, then we have enough evidence to see that an invisible virus is more powerful than that version of church. This is a conclusion that many have realized – well before the pandemic hit. The Holy Spirit has revealed to many through an honest reading of the New Testament, that Jesus’ church was never meant to be a weekly worship experience, but a unified, commissioned, and sent people living synergistically in the world under the authority of Christ. We know this. But do we have the courage to voice it?
The Courage for Metanoia. The only steps which bring us closer to Christ are steps of repentance. Metanoia—the changed mind—requires disciples to choose courageous steps away from our self-interested-minds and toward the mind and mission of Christ. If this is true for the individual disciple, how much truer is it of Jesus’ collective people? Now, perhaps more than any time in living memory, Jesus’ Church has an opportunity for courageous steps of metanoia in the months ahead—both publicly and privately. As my friend Alan Hirsch said, “Any move toward God requires repentance.”
The Grace for Metanoia. My desire for God’s grace is God’s grace. My honest desire for God’s mind, for God’s will, for God’s glory comes only through repentant moves toward a gracious God. When collectively, our desires for Christ’s mission supersedes our self-centered impulses for safety, comfort, and brand-control, we experience the grace of metanoia.
So, what might the repentant reshaping of a post-pandemic church look like? As a pastor of a local church, I, like many of you, have wrestled with this question. Although not exhaustive, here are three repentant moves toward God that I am convinced he is requiring of us.
Orthodoxy: A Sovereign God on a Rescue Mission. Orthodoxy speaks of right teaching. The right teaching that this pandemic has clarified to us is that God has always been on a rescue mission, and his church finds her purpose as she wholeheartedly engages in that divine commission. Outside of the mission of Christ, the church has no purpose, no passion, and no power.
Knowing this, we have still found other fascinations to preoccupy our energies and resources. Good things in their primacy of our affections have become god-like things for many. We are no longer a selfless, rescuing people – we have become a self-consumed, relaxed people, content to contract out a minor missionary impulse in order to qualify for the demarcation of evangelical.
But the grace of metanoia has landed. The secondary things that we chased have become hollow, empty, and vapid. The question, “How many are you running?” now seems like a relic of a different era. Were we ever really running anybody? Or did our scorecard require the benching of the saints instead of deploying them into Jesus’ rescue mission?
An orthodox application of God’s sovereignty reveals, with immense clarity, that God is absolutely in charge. He has allowed these cataclysmic events to crush the ecclesial basket that has been smothering the light of Christ and scattered little lights into dark, frightened, and hopeless neighborhoods.
What will be our post-pandemic response? Will our metanoia be orthodox?
Orthopraxy: A Biblical Community Engaged in God’s Rescue Mission. Orthopraxy speaks of right practice. By connecting right practice with our right teaching, we become a biblical community that is neck deep in God’s rescuing ventures. We become as salt and light in a dark, tasteless world. Our participation in God’s mission becomes like transforming yeast to people desperate to see the Kingdom of God. We become a people who are others centered. Our true orthodoxy is authenticated only through orthopraxy.
So, God’s grace leads us to practical metanoia. As we have been dispersed into the mission field, many have seen the world with new eyes. Compassionate eyes. Jesus’ eyes. And once you have seen, it becomes very difficult to ‘un-see.’ Now, there is a growing Kingdom yearning in the hearts of many saints that will never again be satisfied with the self-consuming priorities of our pre-pandemic assemblies. There is a deep yearning for a simpler thing. Something that is real. Something that is substantial. Something that isn’t dependent on production values. Something that is important.
Will our corporate practices reflect repentant moves toward God and his mission?
Orthopathy: Joy-filled Believers Revealing the Beauty of God’s Mission. Orthopathy speaks of right affections. When right teaching is animated with right practice, right affections become the natural fruit. Like raspberries forming on a raspberry bush, we naturally develop passions for God’s passions. As our affections are turned upward, they then are turned outward. Our affections for Christ deepen beyond the momentary emotions emerging from well-rehearsed worship songs to decisions that demonstrate that I have become a living sacrifice. Our affections for Christ’s Body transform from remaining in a church as long as the experience meets my needs to seeing my brothers and sisters as my interdependent spiritual family. I need them to become like Christ. And they need me.
In this divine dance of interdependence, we discover deep affections for Christ’s Mission. The gospel becomes a much too weighty thing to only consider during the sacred hour. It becomes the propelling theme that thrusts us out from the safety of our sanctuaries into the broken, desperate, and painful places where good news is craved the most.
The Joy of Metanoia. So, the steps of repentance that moves us toward God indelibly marks us with his unconcealable joy. The church reveals the beauty of God’s Kingdom as we joyfully engage Christ’s mission with an affection that find’s its source in Christ himself. Those living in darkness cannot escape the contrasting light that illuminates God’s Kingdom. With living water before them, newly befriended neighbors suddenly find themselves thirsty for a drink they didn’t know existed.
So, will our post-pandemic churches be the same as they were before the great scattering? By God’s grace, I know one in a suburb of Toronto that will not be.
What about the one that you lead?