There are times in human history that changed everything. One moment life was this way, and the next moment, everything was different.
The discovery of fire.
The transition from hunting/gathering to agriculture.
The atomic bomb.
Each of these moments and so many others changed the way we lived and understood our lives. We understood our world, ourselves and our future in ways that were filled both with excitement and anxiety. Things could be better, or they could be much worse.
For every upside, there was a serious downside.
And now we have the pandemic.
Overnight, everything changed. We went from don’t travel outside the United States to don’t go anywhere. Don’t leave your house, and if you do, go directly to the place you had to go, and when you return home, shower in anti-viral soap.
And don’t gather in groups of more than 10, and when you do gather, stand at least 6 feet apart.
And just like that, we couldn’t do church the way we had always done it. Now, I know, the church isn’t the building. I know everyone knows that, but no one believes it. If the church is going to do anything, the first thing you have to do is go to a meeting at the church. You could be teaching a course about how the church isn’t a building, but the first place you would teach it is in the church building.
Worship services, choir rehearsals, small groups, prayer meetings, committee meetings – they can happen anywhere. It’s just that they always happen in a church building.
But what happens when we can’t meet in our buildings? Horror struck the churches across America. Can you preach without a pulpit? Can we worship without a sound system? What about lighting? Not just lights in the building, but you know, lighting?
Can we do Bible study without someone watching our children? How will we do church without a nursery? What do you mean we’ll have “family style” worship where the whole family sits together?
I’ve been in the ministry for almost 40 years and I’ve never dealt with anything like this. Despite the daily emails I get from “experts” who, for a fee, will tell me exactly how to get my church through this pandemic crisis, no one knows what to do. We’re all guessing. (I haven’t figured out how there can be so many experts for an event that’s never happened before).
But we’re learning some things – and we’re learning them fast. For one thing, churches in North America are way too building centric. We’ve designed every aspect of our ministries and programs to work within the design and flow of a traditional church building. Outside of our church buildings, we don’t know how to do church.
The church in China didn’t have buildings for generations, but they had a church that reached and continues to reach an entire nation. They met in homes, under trees, in the hills and deeper in the valleys – wherever two or three believers could find each other, they did church.
And they reached millions.
Pastors, unable to travel because of geography or national laws, found ways to teach their leaders and grow disciples of Jesus through the internet. Video conferencing, email, social media—all of these tools and more were harnessed to send the gospel deeper into the world. While most of us are really excited about doing church online, missionaries have been doing this for years.
Believe it or not, one of the places the church is experiencing revival is in Iran. Go figure.
How did they do that? Without seminaries, buildings or professional clergy? Simple. One believer told another person, and when that person became a believer, the two of them told two more people. They met in coffee shops and restaurants, office buildings and homes, two and three at a time and told the story of Jesus.
I wonder if that would work here? What if neighbor went and told neighbor? Friend told friend? What if homes became seminaries and any table in the city could become a worship center? What if every Christian was prepared to defend the faith and preach the arrival of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ?
Most of the “what ifs” we’re dealing with are about what the latest health department limitations are for “getting back to church”. We want things to be back like they were before the quarantine. All of us want to get back to normal.
But we can’t go back. Normal doesn’t exist anymore. There’s only the future now and moving forward means we can’t go back.
The medical field was caught off guard by the pandemic as were our political leaders. The church wasn’t ready either.
But this isn’t the last time something like this will happen. It’s only the last time we’ll have to get ready.