My young friends often ask me how we lived before cell phones. How did we do life, they wonder, before we could carry around access to the world in the palm of our hands?
Actually, I reply, we lived quite well. In fact, there are some days I’m nostalgic for the way things used to be.
I remember when we used to have to wait for the mail carrier to bring us any important documents. If someone wrote you a letter, you had at least 2 days to write back. Now, someone will send an email, and then, a second email wondering why you haven’t answered their first email.
If you wanted to talk to someone, you would call them on the phone. That would assume the person would be near the phone you were calling. After all, the phone was bolted to the wall and the attached cord only stretched so far. If they weren’t nearby, you wouldn’t be able to talk to them.
Which brings up the answering machine. In those days, we didn’t have voicemail. We had an answering machine. Basically, it was a tape machine attached to your phone. If you wanted to hear your messages, you had to walk over to the machine and press, “Play”. In some ways, this gave you a buffer with conversations you didn’t want to have. You could always tell the other person you hadn’t checked your messages yet.
Now, in this time of “shelter in place” and “quarantine”, people are asking me how we can do church without a building. How will we do worship if we don’t have the screens, lighting and multi-media support? Where will we put the children if we don’t have a building? Where will the students hang out?
For all of the talk about the church not being the building but the people, our anxiety reveals our true beliefs. For most of us, the building is the church.
Church is the place where we meet God. Church is the place where we share our burdens and joys with our brothers and sisters. We connect with friends and we hear the songs of the faith. Place is important. After all, God created place.
Yet, church is more than place. Rather, the gospel creates its own space. Sometimes, it’s in a building. Sometimes, it’s not.
Jesus walks along two friends on the road to Emmaus. The three sit down for dinner, and during the prayer, the two friends recognize Jesus. There’s church.
Philip explains the Suffering Servant passages to an Ethiopian traveler who chooses to get baptized. They find water and we have church.
For years, we thought there were no Christians in China. We thought Mao’s purge had been so complete and the bamboo curtain had dropped so tightly, we couldn’t get any missionaries into China and no one was coming out. We thought we had lost the church in China.
When the bamboo curtain opened up, not only did we find believers in China, we found millions of them! House churches met in secret. Sometimes, the teacher would only have one page of the Bible. That way, if they were arrested by Chinese authorities, the churches wouldn’t lose the entire Bible. A page of the Bible, a few believers and guess what? You have church.
I have jokingly reminded our team I remember doing church with a legal pad, a paper calendar, a phone and a Bible. Believe it or not, we did church very well.
Church isn’t easy, but it is simple. All you need is a Bible and a few people, and you’ve got church. Wherever and whenever you have people studying the life of Jesus and applying His teachings to their lives in loving service to each other and their neighbors, you have church.
We may not be able to gather as a body right now, but let’s not be confused. Church hasn’t been cancelled. Jesus promised the gates of Hell wouldn’t overcome the church. Neither will Covid-19.
So, relax. The church has been here before. Our mission hasn’t changed. Our methods have been altered, but our message is the same.
So, get your legal pad and pen, your phone and your Bible, and let’s do church.
Call your neighbors and friends and make sure they’re doing OK.
Check on senior adults. Make grocery runs for those who can’ get out. Do Bible studies on social media platforms. Pray for each other.
Care for the sick. Minister to those left behind in the margins. Tell them about Jesus and His love for them. Offer hope where there seems to be no hope. Offer mercy in a world that is running short right now. Be the church.
Take care of your family. Take care of your neighbors. Always be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us.
It doesn’t take much to do church. All you need is a Bible and a few friends. Wherever that happens, Jesus has promised to show up, and when He shows up, we have church.
So, get up, grab your Bible, and look around. Where and with whom does Jesus want you to do church? All you need is a Bible…and a few friends…and you’ll have church. Who knows? You may find out you like this version of church better anyway.