Let me start by issuing this disclaimer so that I am clear. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the same now as it was in the beginning. The gospel DOES NOT change and cannot be reset. The ways and methods that we engage people with the gospel and ministry are always changing. Change is inevitable, growth is a choice. I try to not to write about the pandemic. The blogging world is saturated with ideas, opinions, satire, and quite frankly hostility about the pandemic; not to mention that you cannot get on social media anymore without seeing some type of post about it. At one point earlier in the year, I had to avoid social media all together because of the mental toll it took seeing updates and numbers and complaints and pushback. It got to be overwhelming. One thing about this COVID crisis that I have been tracking very closely, is the impact that it has had on church. Has this unprecedented crisis in our life time (unless you were alive for the 1918 Spanish flu) caused the church to hit the reset button?
Let’s be honest, it is hard to be positive about 2020. When wet think about this year, there will not be a shortage of negative things to say. Even from the title of this article, I sincerely doubt that the first thing that came to your mind was a positive from the year. I’m guilty of that too. However, we have seen countless churches adapt, serve, and go above and beyond to minister to their congregations and communities during this crisis. We have seen many of our churches, well… become the church, as they constantly put the needs of others before their own personal convenience. I have talked to many pastors here is Missouri and in Tennessee and listened as they told story after story and shared joys and frustrations during this unique time of ministry. Today, I want to highlight a few of my observations (2 Positive and 1 Negative) that I have seen in many churches that have, in a way, hit the reset button on the way we do church.
The most expensive words in the english language are, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This is has caused many businesses financial ruin and many church doors have closed because of this phrase. The sentiment “if it ain’t broke don’t fix” only works if the system is not actually broke. There is a vast difference between the desire to continue something because it works and the desire to continue something because it’s tradition or convenient. When churches were forced to shut down, churches were forced to throw that phrase out the window. There is precious few things that churches are doing the way they have always done it. This is a definite positive. I’m not saying we throw the baby out with the bathwater by any means, but this year has made it easier for churches to make necessary changes in ministry as we have had to re-evaluate the way the gospel message is being heard. It forced many believers to look at the importance of personal evangelism instead of leaving that task up to the Pastor on Sunday morning. The idea that we need to share the good news of Jesus Christ is as old as the birth of Christ Himself. The shepherds became the first evangelists of this good news after they saw the child. We are commanded by God to share the good news of the gospel personally. When churches were forced to shutdown, we were forced as believers to make a choice of sharing the gospel the way we are are supposed to, or become comfortable with the condemnation of those unbelievers in our lives. “The way we’ve always done it” no longer works for a great many things that have become habits in the church and the church will come out on the other end of this pandemic the better for it.
Not all of the changes that the pandemic brought have been good. I am going to ask you to read this paragraph very carefully and hear my whole heart. The massive increase of online services, while on a temporary basis is good, is becoming and will be, I believe, a net negative by the end of the pandemic. Now, before I go on, this is who I AM NOT referring to: people who have legitimate health concerns for themselves or family members and do not feel safe getting out in public to attend services in person (My parents are in this group). We have all had to up our online and digital ministry game over the past year. We really had no choice. My heart goes out to the small congregations who simply do not have the money or manpower to broadcast their services online or social media. These pastors are hurting because they desperately want to be able to preach to their congregations. For the churches who are, we have scrambled to make our services available to as many people as we can online so that we can have some semblance of church. We have been fortunate in that we are meeting once again in person (safely mind you), but other churches have not been as fortunate. Regardless, when this thing is over, I am afraid that online worship will make not gathering with the church too convenient for many people. We have a biblical mandate to gather. The bible tells us not to neglect gathering and quite frankly, we can’t “gather” online or virtually. Post-pandemic online services should be for the shut-ins, sick, hurt, etc… It should not be for those of us who want to stay in pjs and not engage with God’s people. We were not meant to walk through this spiritual journey alone. We need to gather, not provide opportunity for excuse. So while this is a good, well-meaning bandage on the situation, I fear that in the long run, when churches gather fully again, we will see a dramatic drop in in-person attendance not for the sake of safety, but for the sake of convenience.
The final observation that I have seen has resulted in the shot in the arm I think the church has needed for a long time. The pandemic has highlighted the churches need for increased, quality discipleship. Let me clear this up once and for all- evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand. If we are evangelizing and not discipling, we are essentially leaving spiritual infants out on the streets, handing them a bible, and wishing them the best of luck only to have the world come by, furnish their needs, then indoctrinate them to the ways of today’s society and culture- most never darkening the door of a church again. Many undiscipled believers leave the church because they feel like that part of their life is taken care of because they said some magic prayer and was baptized; and they live the rest of their life confessing to be Christian, but never showing fruit of transformation. When many churches reopened, they found that many people simply didn’t return. I don’t mean they stayed at home to watch online because they are being cautious, I mean they did not return to church in any fashion. This has forced the church to recognize the need for better discipleship. Discipled Christians understand the importance of gathering with the local body. They understand the importance of prioritizing their spiritual health. They understand the importance of personal evangelism to those around them and they seek to disciple others to help them grow in their understanding and walk with the Lord. As I mentioned before, change is inevitable, but growth is a choice. Those who were coming out of habit were no longer in the habit and found other things more pleasing to do on Sundays (generally speaking- there are always exceptions both ways). Gathering with the body was never a priority for them, it was just an item to check off on a to do list that made them feel better (I came to church, so I did my good deed for the week). This realization forced the church to up their discipleship game. The church was forced to re-engage with the process of the journey that follows salvation instead of being content with merely the salvation itself. The church was faced with the fact that if we don’t disciple people, the world will.
What will the results be from all of this? I think it will produce healthier churches overall. If the church is willing to adapt the delivery of ministry and not just keep old practices for the sake of convenience or tradition (and yes there are some traditions that need to be kept), we will see a renewed energy for evangelism. If the church will make conscious efforts to improve and engage our people in discipleship, we will see a new growth of sold out, on fire Christians who want to grow in their faith and produce other disciples of the same caliber. Numbers should never be a measure of spiritual health & I honestly think it is very possible that we will see a drop in numbers because of many contributing factors; but I also truly feel that God has used this pandemic to hit the reset button on the church and get it back on track to reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel of Jesus Christ and then putting them on the path of discipleship as they grow into committed followers who make other disciples. After all, Paul gives us the promise in Romans 8:28:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”Romans 8:28
Church….whether it’s mine or wherever you are- we have a unique opportunity. 2020 has given us a clear picture of the gospel as we have been given another chance. The reset button has been hit and we have the opportunity to pursue the people of our church, our community, our state, our country, our world and engage them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, set them on the path of becoming a disciple who makes other disciples, and create a healthy, thriving church that does the work of the kingdom of Heaven. I am proud to be in these trenches with all of you.
In Christ Alone,
Rev. Bro. Coach