It’s been a week since we were supposed to go back to school following spring break. The outbreak of Covid-19 has shut down the world. The enormity of this global catastrophe is mind-blowing. We are all on the same team now fighting this virus. Most of us are sitting at home and communicating via Facebook, text, Zoom, and facetime. I am thankful for those mediums. They help life to feel semi-normal and go on in some sort of way. Life changes so swiftly. There truly is very little we have control over besides ourselves and even that is debatable at times.
Many of my friends will attempt worship at home this weekend since most churches have closed their doors to stop the needless spread of illness. It is weird thing to go from pew sitter to preacher, teacher, and prayer leader all at once, I suppose, especially if you are not accustomed to it. I imagine if your personality is one that enjoys playing to a crowd it is intensely awkward. I believe this time trapped at home may change a lot of us church people. I hope it will. Dave and I chose this season of searching and worshiping at home. The world is now being forced into it whether they want to or not. Will it change us? Will missing a corporate church service make a difference to us at all? Will we worship without the help of the “professionals”? Can we be Christians without a building, without a praise band, without a preacher?
One of my earliest memories is learning the hand-folding rhyme “Here is the church. Here’s the steeple. Open it up, and here’s all the people”. I remember distinctly my mother saying, but remember, Caryn, the church is the people. It stuck with me. The church IS the people. It’s like having your first child. When it is your first baby you buy every supply out there. You think you need it all from diaper jeanies to bottle warmers to four different bouncy seats and the best diapers on the market. By the third child, you bring them home and let them sleep in a laundry basket if it is nearby because you’ve learned you just don’t need all that stuff. The same is true with the church.
I believe we all have gifts to share (1 Corinthians 12). We are each needed to function as a healthy body of believers. You matter in the church even if you never step foot on a stage in front of people. I have always found it peculiar that we train our kids to do “big” things in our churches, the up-front things. We train them to lead prayers, to preach, to lead songs or sing on praise bands. We often praise those up-in-front talents and gifts. And yet, in scripture, time and again, we see Jesus direct us toward an unseen servitude and sacrifice sans the applause. In times like these, when the applause is missing, what then? We see the church return to a simpler time and discover that we don’t need much at all to keep true faith going. We are forced to ask ourselves, is it true belief if it must be accompanied by lighting, a fog machine, an emotional song, and crowds of people to exist?
I miss having a church family. I am praying for a family of believers that I can love, trust, and serve, and be loved, trusted, and served in return. I don’t really care whether that is down the street or on the other side of the globe. I don’t really care what name is on the sign out front so long as scripture connects them to decision-making, unity is the goal, and serving their fellow man outside the walls of the building is the number one priority. I believe I need a family of believers in my life, and I believe you need that too. I no longer believe that it must look like what it has over the last one hundred years. It can reside within a garage, a pub, a living room, or a seventeenth century stone chapel. The church is where the people are living out the mission and that seldom happens in a building.
I do not believe you need a building, though it has its benefits IF used for the greater community. I do not believe you need a program for every age group, in fact that has divided us more than educated us and has completely neglected the tradition of the older teaching the young (see Titus). I do not believe you need to look like everyone else within popular Christianity and if that is your goal, you are doing it wrong. Make a goal of looking like Jesus not other Christians. But know this, I do not believe that Jesus attracts most people. I think he offends most people. I don’t believe exponential church growth models are founded upon the principle that we must tell the masses to repent and turn to God (words straight from the Savior -Mark 1:15). The gospel usually offends. I also don’t believe churches can exist without sinners being in attendance; sinners of all kinds, you, me, prostitutes, homosexuals, porn addicts, gamblers, divorcees, democrats, republicans, Patriot fans, Texans, etc. All are welcome even the people you don’t like nor approve (Mark 2:15). I also believe that our influence over this country and the world will not change until we as the global body of Christ can learn to disagree and still worship alongside each other. Trust me when I tell you, the only people who care about your worship preferences and doctrines are you, and you waste time focusing your energy upon it. Unbelievers just see our arrogance and our arguing. These debates are not interpreted as love. This has no place in the universal Church of God, the Way, the Church of Christ, whatever name is on your placard, the community knows you by your service to them and your reputation to play well with others.
What are we missing? We are missing exactly what is happening right now: the simplicity of Jesus in our homes, the generosity of neighbors sitting with neighbors and sharing a beer or tea from six feet away laughing and living life together, good people checking in on each other and buying groceries for the shut-ins. We are missing Jesus lived out on the streets rather than hidden inside our self-congratulated buildings. Here is a moment in time where we can all be completely real without the pretense and facades of a Sunday only faith. Take that back to our churches and change the game and change the conversations. What is your church doing for the community? Are they a comfort or merely a concert?
I have made my peace with institutional religion. I can defend it better than most because I’ve both relied upon it for my income and witnessed what organization can do for the world when used for good. I have also experienced the sharp pang of the sword the institutional church wields. Change is coming to the institution. It is coming faster than many know, and this virus may make the move even more swift. We must change from pews to tables, from being fed to feeding one another, from battling one another to living our God ordained calling to change the world. I am excited to see the change. I can’t wait.