Tiny churches could literally die out from all these canceled church services. What are we to do?
A: We get quiet and listen to God’s direction right now. We trust God with outcomes beyond our control.
God has pulled the plug on conventional church services for a “Selah” moment in history around the world. My sense is that he’s requiring each person to have their full focus on him; without the pulpits, microphones, worship bands and choirs. God is asking, “Will you seek me on your own? Will you lead your households in worship, even so?” It is a time of preparation. We’re having a dry run for a prophesied season in the distant future when we will not be able to gather. As a result, God is right now using the devil’s scourge to change how we do church. He is taking what the devil meant for evil and bringing us to our knees and into our Bibles as he resets and retools some things inside the collective Body of Christ.
Are offering plates and church budgets important at this time? “Of course,” we quip, “we can’t spread the Gospel efficiently with no heat or lights! We can’t pay our bills! We’d have to close!” Oh ... so we must have a church building or we can’t function as believers? This is exactly the problem. We’ve been sitting in our comfortable pews, decade after decade; generation after generation like entitled adolescents - well-served and coddled with entertaining preaching and soft surroundings. We’ve insisted that people line up at the church’s front door; waiting for the privilege to join us in hearing the good news since ... well, it’s too much work to take ourselves and our Jesus into the huddled masses. They’re supposed to come to us, right? Wrong.
Jesus sent his disciples to the streets. He and his followers ministered any way they could using any means possible. They weren’t even allowed to take money when they went: “And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. And He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece’” (Luke 9:2, 3, NASB). Frankly, I don’t read anywhere in the Bible that our early Christian heroes even had buildings.
We now have a bulk of tiny, struggling, churches, because the old model of “church” hasn’t worked for years. Those passionate, Christian pioneers who founded thriving lighthouses for Christ died off and our church budgets died with them. Those struggling congregations now have opportunities to join larger fellowships where vibrant, effective ministry is accomplished ... and they need volunteers and servants. But rooted church-folk won’t leave their pew. Their church experience has become an homage to their past. The church Jesus loves was never intended to function that way. Now is the time we must be Christians, whether or not we have church services, religious routines or buildings.
God is gifting us with a sacred pause to take a hard look. What does loving God and loving people really mean? What does it take? Are we doing it? No money is needed to sit, quarantined in our homes and pray with people over the phone. Here’s one: we could share the dry goods in our overstocked pantries with the elderly, sick and quarantined by leaving a bag on their stoop with a Bible scripture and kind note. Or, if we’ve got some stamps, launch a card and letter-writing campaign since the U.S. Mail is still working. Note: these are not purely social activities. No, these are Jesus-encounters we must take the time to create. Use your electronics to spread confidence in Christ and his ability to deliver us, instead of gloom and doom or empty Facebook commentary.
I’m aware this article will not be popular among people in tiny churches who struggle to keep them alive. Some of my own parishioners will not be pleased that I would say such things about our beloved buildings and small congregations. But the truth is - we must rethink what we are doing and why we are doing it. If the goal is to give Christ our best effort in proclaiming him, now is a good time to ask him if he is pleased with our work.
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Ask Pastor Adrienne column: Jesus without a church service