Saturday, May 09, 2020

Church in a Pandemic...

We're disciplemaking missionaries. As such, we travel as missionaries of encouragement and equipping to local churchesmuch as described in 3rd John verses 5-8: "Dear Friend, you are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers.... Please continue providing for such teachers in a manner that pleases God. For they are traveling for the Lord.... So we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth."

Recently the governor of Iowa reopened the churches in a majority of counties as long as they hold to social distancing requirements. Some friends of ours—volunteer church leaders in IA—contacted us and asked if I could come to IA and preach in the Sunday morning church service. This church is currently without a pastor. Of course, I was delighted to help. This is one of the things we do as disciplemaking missionaries.

Can I just say something before we go any further?
It was absolutely wonderful to be physically gathered together with God's people again at church.

In the last week, some of our praying pastor friends—who knew I was heading to Iowa to preach—reached out to me to ask: "Is there anything you can share with us that might be beneficial as we start to reopen our church?" That's a great question. Rather than offering a prescriptive list of steps to follow, I'll simply share what we experienced as this church reopened for the first time in six weeks. I'll let you and God figure out if anything below might be helpful for you and your church situation.

1. Clarity
Everyone was very excited—including me—to be together physically to worship Jesus Christ TOGETHER. Our focus was clear. We didn't get sidetracked. There was no hint of bashing the government or making a political statement in any way, shape, or form. That was NOT our focus. There was a sweet spirit in the congregation and from the leaders.

2. Consideration
Without anyone actually instructing the congregation, everyone conscientiously honored each other by social distancing. I'm guessing this church seats 200 people. I'm guessing the church had 50+ people or so in attendance on this particular day. We had plenty of room and people naturally used the space. The leaders didn't keep calling attention to the pandemic. The attention was on worshipping King Jesus.

3. Freedom
At one brief moment, it was publicly noted by one of the leaders that some folks who normally attended weren't at church—and that not attending was completely up to the individual—and—considering the circumstances—whatever people chose to do would be respected. It was between them and the Lord. There was not a hint of guilt, and there was complete freedom for each person to decide before the Lord what he/she should do or not do. It was sweet and liberating.

4. Respect
Some people chose to wear face masks to church. Others did not. Congregants were completely free to do whatever they deemed best. There was no shaming in any way.

5. Flexibility
Like many churches, this church usually offers the opportunity to worship Jesus by the giving of tithes and offerings. The norm in many churches is the passing of the offering plate from person to person. That's not what they did this time. A simple and short announcement from a volunteer church leader noted that we would not be passing the offering plate (no explanation needed), but instead a receptacle was placed in the back of the church where anyone who wanted to give could do so on the way out of the church after the service.

6. Thoughtfulness
We celebrated the Lord's Supper (Communion) together. Again, instead of everyone passing the plates containing the elements of the Lord's Supper (like normal), the congregation walked forward in three separate waves to the front of the church. Each person was handed both elements of the Lord's Supper by someone who had plastic gloves on. It was thoughtful, efficient, and we were able to engage the meaning and purpose of the Lord's Supper undistracted.

7. Easter
Even though it was three weeks past Easter Sunday 2020, I preached on the resurrection of Jesus anyway. You know what's great about being a follower of Jesus? Every day is Easter! We get to live every day in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ—and all its implications for life. And in some small way, it communicated that, though the Coronavirus could delay us from celebrating Jesus' resurrection together, it couldn't completely stop us.

8. Normality
After the service, some people left the building right away and others enjoyed chatting with each other—all the while being mindful of social distancing. In other words, it was like a normal Sunday.

All of these things blessed and encouraged me and my family. I love God's people—and especially this church in Iowa. The volunteer leaders are wise and considerate. They honored God and people. And they did all of this without a hint of fear or anger. To God and God alone be all the glory.

The only thing that could have made this day better? A trip to my favorite Iowa ice creamery—Whitey's Ice Cream. Unfortunately, Whitey's is located in a county that wasn't open yet. But you can count on this: I will have my Whitey's when it opens back up! (Breaking news 5/11/20: Whitey's is now open!)


More here if you are so inclined...
* Flattening the Curve or Squashing Religious Liberty? 
Three Sources of News I Find Trustworthy
* There Is No Such Thing as a Small Church 
* Why Watching Church Online Can't Become the "New Normal"—Part1 
* Why Watching Church Online Can't Become the "New Normal"—Part 2
* Why Watching Church Online Can't Become the "New Normal"—Part 3
* Small-Town Churches in a Pandemic
* Helping Churches and Denominations Thrive 

You, Me, and Coffee Monday... 
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