The Essential Elements of Worshipping Together
Thanks to The Post Covid Church Facebook Group member Dennis Burnette for sharing. You’ll especially enjoy the unique definition of an ‘idiot’……
Church Priorities: “Sorry. No Bibles”
“If you want to know what’s important to someone, look at their calendar and checkbook.” The adage is a bit dated, with the checkbook reference, but you get the point. How we spend our time and money generally illustrates our priorities. The same goes for a church. What it spends the most time and effort on tells the world what it values most.
I thought about that when a friend sent me a copy of a full color, 29 page step-by-step plan for returning to church. The denomination isn’t important, nor the location. The thing that struck me is that this very polished document went to considerable lengths to look at every contingency. It included lots of DOS: “Masks must be worn” (although the pastor can take it off in the pulpit)——and DONTS: “All Bibles should be removed from the sanctuary”.
It even included some re-worded scripture: “I was vulnerable and you wore a mask to protect me”.
The compliance certificate that must be signed and dated accompanied a three page worksheet with three-dozen circles to check before worship resumes.
“What About Signing What You Believe?”
Deciding how best to safely reopen is important, of course. I wonder, however, if ever there were as much time and effort put into producing a discipleship document. If so, was it accompanied by a form to sign acknowledging Biblical truths and a check list that confirms that staff , teachers and lay leaders believe in the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith?
Has such a detailed plan ever been written to help equip members so they are prepared to defend the faith and make disciples?
This pandemic has changed a lot of priorities. It’s also made the body of Christ focus on what’s really important, what our purpose is and how we can make a difference.
The Post Covid Church has a great opportunity to help members zero in on the essentials of the faith as we gather again, lay out priorities and decide what’s really important.It was he first day of the Green Bay Packers’ 1961 training camp. Coach Vince Lombardi stood before his team. They had blown a late lead and lost the previous season’s championship game. Coach Lombardi held up a pigskin and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” The Packers were going back to basics, focusing on the fundamentals.
The Post Covid Church must do the same. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Bible.”
The “Perfect Storm” of Unrest—A Perfect Time to Shine
The Post Covid Church will begin amidst a raging brew of racial division, economic uncertainly and hyper-partisan electioneering. While some will hunker down and pray for it to blow over, this is the absolutely perfect time for the church to pivot and be the most visible and productive.
In this time of cultural upheaval, even those who rarely think of God are looking up and asking, “WHY?”
What better time for Believers to be there with answers, and even more importantly, an ear and shoulder? What better time to display in every day encounters the graciousness, understanding and love Christ demands of His followers?
There is fear. Fear that’s spread from an unknown virus to fear for bodily safety. Fear from those in the middle of the senseless violence. Fear from those whose businesses and homes are threatened. Fear from those who bear the brunt of overt and covert racism. Fear from those who see an ideal, the American ideal, falling apart before their eyes. Can we offer any better antidote to fear than Christ?
The Post Covid Church will no doubt be smaller; many will close, unsustainable with shrinking congregations. Others will be severely hurt when so many, out of the habit of attending and neglected in this time of need, don’t come back. One of the themes I’ve repeatedly heard while organizing this project is that The Post Covid Church will have to be more cooperative if it’s to survive and thrive. What better place to show unity among diversity than for the black, white, Hispanic churches to get together NOW to LISTEN to each other.
A New Stereotype
This could be the good spark. The spark that leads to a more unified church. A church at which the culture will not be able to so easy toss the “You’re all hypocrites” grenades. More importantly, a more unified church that can truly be what Christ envisioned.
A small illustration: A friend’s Sunday School member pulled out from the crowded beach parking lot. He noticed the young black couple pull in. He also noticed the Minnesota plates.
This self described “old fat white guy from Alabama” got out of his car and approached the wary visitors.
He offered them his all-day parking pass. Then asked if they were from Minneapolis, and found out they were escaping for some refuge. Finding that refuge in the deep south while encountering a stereotype who wasn’t made, no doubt, an impression. One at a time. Engaging. Listening. Listening.
The Post Covid Church to have impact, to halt the rapid decline of attendance, members and discipleship that predated the pandemic, must live as Christ did in a counter cultural way. Loving our neighbor. Loving our enemies. Speaking truth to power. Not retreating to our corners, talking only with people who nod and agree. Doing the unexpected so the world will notice. Take a risk: Listen
Has the Church Ever Advanced Without Taking Risks?
As the church wrestles with how best to reopen in the face of the ongoing pandemic, it’s critical that the question of risk be put in proper perspective. In the same way the nation wrestles with re-opening, the church can’t look it as a purely binary choice. It’s not “Jobs vs. Lives”, or “Worship vs. Lives”. Human interaction brings with it risk, so the question is how best to balance. For the church, it means we can’t ignore The Post Covid Church contributor and Christian entrepreneur Joe Stradinger’s observation that, “we’ve never lived without risk. The church will fail miserably if it’s risk adverse.” It also means we can’t ignore that fact that gathering together means there is a greater risk that the virus will spread. The fact is, to be the church means we have to embrace risk.
Is the real issue rooted in the Western church’s reluctance to follow Christ’s lead and take risks?
Paul certainly took risks as he traveled across much of the known world and took on the religious leaders of the day. The early followers took risks against the antagonistic culture and ruthless rulers. The comfortable position of the church was to ignore William Wilberforce and his compatriots as these well heeled English leaders took on the establishment and relentlessly hammered home the fact that slavery was an affront to not just the Christian church but to culture itself. The risk, after decades of work, led to the abolishment of slavery and to a more fervent, evangelical church.
At this very moment, our bothers and sisters in Christ are taking risks in China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia by simply reading the Bible, praying and meeting. There’s not one stand the church takes in the name of Christ that does not entail an element of risk.
So too, there are risks when human beings interact. As the church doors reopen, it’s fair to ask if a church which restricts physical contact, enforces separation and doesn’t allow interaction is in fact a church. Is it more of a worship experience on the couch with family, than separated in a near empty hall? If we follow Christ’s command to be the church, does it mean taking more risks? How are we led to do that?
The Post Covid Church project has made me take a long look at the risks I’ve not taken as a follower of Christ. As we look at what the church will be, and how it will serve the post pandemic world, we must face the fact that in this increasingly antagonistic, and needy culture, we will have to take more risks. Figuring out how to worship is just the first step.
What risks are you willing to take to worship as a body of Christ?
We Can’t Gather in Fear
The stay at home orders are slowly lifting and churches are beginning to open their doors. The fact is, however, gathering as a body won’t be the same. The choices made during these next few months will impact individual congregations and the church’s witness for at least a generation. We can’t let fear drive the church.
The act of the state ordering churches closed, and the citing of leaders who defied the order, has raised serious First Amendment issues. Now, the vast majority of churches felt closing the doors was best for members, especially since the streaming of services is available to virtually everyone. But, what will this new chapter look like?
A central strength of the church is worshipping together, despite the risks. Just look at what the house churches in China and North Korea put on the line every Sunday. What are we willing to give up?
What will social distancing mean within the church? What does removing Bibles from the pews for fear of germ transmission say to the culture?
Some churches are considering member registration to make sure too many don’t show up. What’s that say to visitors? Fist bumps in place or handshakes is wise, but do you really want to ban hugs for a hurting brother in Christ?
Churches must set up a system, but they can’t micromanage and be the church of Christ. Open the doors, with reasonable restrictions. People are by now wise enough to weigh the consequences of their outside-the-house actions.
Does the church need to tape off like a Lowe’s, or trust members will do what’s comfortable for them and not harmful to others?
Those not feeling safe will worship at home for months (…and the church should already be in regular contact.) Sure, we’ll likely have a vaccine within two years, and perhaps more effective treatment before then. But what happens when the next outbreak hits?
The real risk is not that churches are too lackadaisical, but that they put up too many barricades. The Post Covid Church, to make disciples as instructed by Christ, can’t be a fear focused gathering. Balancing safety and the call to worship won’t be easy, and for much of the church’s history, has not been.
Is it Communion if we’re not Communing?
For almost two months Americans have not filled the church pews, instead gathering in virtual congregations on line, attempting to fill the void of the faithful gathering as one to worship God. While the sermons and songs come close to replicating the in-person experience, for many celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion through electronics and glass is a bridge too far. That was clear when reading the varied comments after Clyde McDonald shared his concern on an earlier post.
Robert Chandler and his wife Anne don’t attend The Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, but they did visit virtually and experienced communion on line. Getting crackers and juice from the kitchen, they held hands, prayed and followed the steps outlined by the pastor.
“My experience online was very meaningful. Technology has added a new dimension to our lives. I think online communion is far better than no communion.”Robert Chandler
Anne goes a step further, posting on this site, “As I read Luke 22, I don’t see anything like ‘after volunteers have prepared the elements on Saturday and a select group of people deemed worthy to serve are standing before a congregation in a designated house of worship’…”Do this in remembrance of Me.”
The United Methodist Church has always stressed the importance of the body of Christ observing the sacrament together. During the pandemic, bishops have given dispensation to allow virtual communion, while Pope Francis has urged Catholics to celebrate a “spiritual communion” without the bread and wine. Other Catholic church leaders have imposed a “eucharistic fast.”
Dr. Kevin Watson is the evangelical Associate Professor of Wesley and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, Emory University and he’s deeply troubled by “virtual communion”, but sees the pandemic simply accelerating the United Methodist church’s retreat.
He joked that before the shut down, hand sanitizer was the third element in communion.
Watson’s big concern: Too few see communion as an encounter with the risen Lord. “On-line communion is an oxymoron,” he recently told me. “It’s about communing, being together in person….I would anticipate it will be impossible to go back. How do you say after Covid 19 is over, that you can no longer do online communion?”
Watson was troubled by what happened at his local church this past flu season. As more members fell ill, one man asked the pastor how he’d feel if someone caught the flu while taking communion and died. The Lord’s supper was cancelled that Sunday.
“It was so jarring… because if one wants to suspend communion because you’re too embarrassed to come forward, worried about your health, that shouldn’t keep me from taking part. It’s the tyranny of the minority. Especially, because you’re not required to take communion.”Dr. Kevin Watson/Associate Prof Candler School of Theology
Watson’s anger turned to an ironic chuckle after service when he entered the Sunday School room to see members rummaging through the donut box, picking their favorite type. “It reveals how the church has lost its way. For me communion is essential and really important. But, there’s more support for donuts in Sunday School.”