Pandemic reveals who you are and what you’re made of. It scours away the pretenses under which you operate. It unearths the true character of your church.
The covid-19 coronavirus outbreak is already an unprecedented disruption. While some are hoping for a quick return to normal, realistic models show nothing less than eight weeks of drastic cutbacks. Major events in June are already being canceled.
What does your church look at this stage of the pandemic? Will your faith community look the same coming out of the coronavirus lockdown? Or will this drastically change your congregation?
Here’s the long and the short of it. This is a chance to rethink your church’s mission. Or to put it more bluntly, this calamity provides a window of opportunity to finally get with the mission of following Jesus.
Here’s the problem. Too many North American churches focus far too much money, energy and time on the Sunday morning gathering. Their resources, their staffing and their property are all largely directed toward putting on a good show for their paying consumers. The mission of way too many churches is to keep people coming and giving. Do whatever it takes, or so the logic goes, to get butts in the pews and money in the coffers.
Unless I’m badly mistaken, Jesus never called us to do what most churches today view as their central focus. These are luxuries we greatly enjoy, but they should not be our mission. Producing wonderful worship is not the mission. Preaching a good message is not the mission. Amazing children’s and student ministries are not the mission. Even providing an inviting space and good coffee for fellowship is not the mission.
Let me be clear about one thing. This is not a post against big churches per se, even if some are great offenders in this regard. Small churches can be just as guilty of putting all their eggs into the Sunday-morning basket. Far too much of what most churches do goes into producing a product they can feel proud of on Sunday mornings. This is true in big and small churches alike.
This pandemic will lay bare the fact that many North American churches are focused on consumerism instead of discipleship. And in this midst of this crisis, we have a chance to repent and refocus on the mission of going into the world and making disciples.
Jesus did not call us for the purpose of meeting on Sunday in a church building. He called us for the purpose of being his people. To be salt and light. To be the pillar of truth. To be resident aliens. To be disciples. To be the family of Christ, the household of God. Perhaps this temporary shutdown is a chance to refocus our churches on the mission of Jesus.
Where can you find healthy models of how to commit to the mission of Jesus? I’d argue that they are all around. In immigrant churches. In minority churches. And in third-world churches. The role of pastors in those churches is not to deliver an outstanding product on Sundays but to know the Good Shepherd and to be a shepherd all week long. The role of worship in those churches is not to titillate the senses for a few minutes on Sunday but to give people the words and the music by which to live all week long. The focus of these churches is totally different because they are still on mission—something we would do well to rediscover right now.
While your church is furloughed, you might be tempted to spend your energy on live-streaming messages or on technical gadgetry to wow your people and keep them from forgetting to donate. Instead, use this as a time to reconnect with God, your church and your neighborhood. Go for long walks and greet your neighbors. Read your Bible. Pray without ceasing. Publish your cell phone number so anyone in your church can text you. Do the unexpected. Be like Jesus.
I pray for a quick end to this infectious disease. Most of all, though, I pray that God will be at work to transform your church into the kind of people who can truly make a difference, into people committed to the mission of Jesus.