By John Sprecher (March 23, 2020)
Who could have imagined as we entered a new decade that by March nearly every church in America and in many parts of the world would be forced to close, left to try to figure out a way to function without having normal public meetings?
During the past six weeks I have been privileged to preach in Liberia and three U.S. states, never imagining that when I returned home I wouldn’t be able to attend my home church. Instead I’m on a “shelter-in-place” order.
When I was in Bible School some 50 years ago during the turbulent days of Vietnam protests, the Jesus People Movement, and the Charismatic Renewal, I had a sense that the church needed to be prepared for a day when public meetings would not be allowed. I anticipated something like the underground church in China and other places that were (and are) facing persecution, forced to meet in secret.
While the current pandemic has not been specifically aimed at the church, the effect has been a forced shift in how we do ministry. So we’ve had to adapt in whatever way we can, and most have been using the Internet.
Technology is the good — and the bad news — of the day. We can LiveStream, hold virtual meetings, connect on Social Media or by other electronic means. In the short term, this is a wonderful blessing for these times. The challenge is that everything being transmitted is recorded on some digital file somewhere, and, as we have seen in many countries, the connections we enjoy can be removed quickly should someone in power decree it to be done.
I really liked what Pastor Danny Dodge from Solutions Church wrote in his announcement to his congregation:
“Notice that we didn’t say we are ‘canceling church’ or ‘canceling services.’ That may seem subtle, but we believe this is very important. The only way to ‘cancel’ the church would be for us all to renounce Christ and stop following Him, because the church is not a place or a service. The church is people who believe in Jesus and live and love like He does. And right now, our world needs what Jesus brings more than ever.
So let’s all gather online this weekend for services — we’ll see you there!”
So what are we to do? First and foremost, as pastors we need to help our congregants be “Jesus dependent” and not “crowd dependent.” Our churches, in reality, are only as strong as the individuals in it and are not dependent on the size of the crowd.
David, in the Old Testament, learned there were times when every support system could fail and all that was left was his ability “to encourage himself in the Lord’’ (1 Samuel 30:6). Let’s help our people learn to stand strong like David, Daniel, and so many others. We can continue to cherish the God-enabled synergy developed when two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus and are strengthened by the fellowship that results. And when circumstances prevent us from being together physically, we can always count on God being with us.
There are other things we can do, as well. At the very least, we can use these strange times and uncertain days to ensure that our communications systems are in place. We need in place a way to assure the physical and spiritual health and safety of everyone who is part of our flock. These may be challenging times, but challenging times have always led to seasons of growth and creativity for those who, having learned new dependence and wisdom from the Lord, embrace the future with hope and confidence.
John D. Sprecher is Lead Elder for the U.S. FCA and has previously pastor churches for 45 years, most of them at Rock Church in Rockford, Illinois.