The COVID-19 pandemic is clearly one of the greatest medical and economical crisis’ seen in our lifetime.
At the time of writing, nearly 700,000 have been confirmed to have been infected, over 33,000 have died, and “experts” say, it’s just the beginning.
What’s more, the UN estimates the financial cost of Coronavirus to be over $1,000,000,000,000 US Dollars (1 trillion!).
But the COVID-19 Pandemic is not just having serious consequences on finance and health, it is also tearing at the very fabric of how we do life and exposing both the best (think Kindness Pandemic, think the Rainbow Trail) and the worst of society (think hoarding and fighting in grocery store isles).
And just as this pandemic is exposing the best and worst of society, it is also exposing the best and worst of the church.
While phenomenal stories have emerged of the church in action, from an Italian Priest sacrificing his life for the sake of a stranger, to hospital staff worshipping God from their rooftops, I am also seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing some of the flaws in my broader family, the church.
It’s time we talk about our flaws, so that we can fix them before it’s too late.
This pandemic will be studied in history classes in years to come, and I shudder to think of how the church may or may not be mentioned, whilst also seeing great potential and hope for this incredible chapter in time that we are in.
I titled this blog, “The Emperor’s not Wearing Clothes”, after the famous Danish story of an Emperor who was paraded through town wearing no clothes, but who had been tricked into believing he was wearing them, and who’s subject’s dare not point out that he wasn’t, until finally a little boy points and says, “But he isn’t wearing any clothes!”
Allow me to be that boy, for I long to help us all cover up, and save ourselves from making fools of ourselves, or even worse, from being deceived into inaction at a time when we simply must face the facts and act.
What am I seeing?
- We’ve Moved Everything Online, When I Dare Say, “We Shouldn’t Have.”
I wrote about this in a previous blog, but I believe that COVID-19 is one of the greatest opportunities for reformation the church has ever been given. And yet, it is as if many churches are now doing all they can do to keep everything going as “business as usual”.
But what if we are being handed the opportunity to finally change a broken model. I was gobsmacked today when I saw someone post a Facebook post that said, “The church isn’t empty, it’s just been deployed”, right next to a picture of himself sitting on his couch watching an online church service.
If this is the church deployed, God help us all.
What if instead of simply filling everyone’s calendars with livestreams and zoom meetings, we truly deployed the church.
What if we empowered parents to invest into and teach their children in this time? Raising them up in the ways of the Lord? What if couples were encouraged to take communion together daily and pray for their nation, their neighbours, and their families?
What if Christians filled the thousands of volunteer spaces being advertised in hospitals, mental health services, and the likes?
What if we found out who the elderly and vulnerable on our street are, and we did their shopping for the rest of this pandemic?
What if we actually laid down our lives at this time as Christ did for us?
What if the church, Christians, spent time in prayer for themselves, connecting with a living God that can bring life and hope in this time?
It may be that by simply moving online, we’re out of line, missing the great reformation the church so desperately needs, from focussing on a Sunday service and self care, to focussing on serving Christ, and caring for others.
Side note: I’m not saying don’t meet online at all, we need each other and I thank God my church is able to meet online during this time, but let us not define “church” by this weekly hour of screen time.
2. Ministry Leaders are Reaping What We’ve Sowed
As just mentioned, the church in a large part, for too long has been Sunday service focussed and dependent.
The church service and staff serve as Mother, the congregation as Babe. The babe feeds from the mother, and sadly often the mother is happy for things to be this way, when really the child should have moved on to solid food.
Instead of being a multiplying movement of disciple makers as seen in the days of the book of Acts, and in places like Iran and China today, we the Western Church are often a stagnant community of consumers.
I know, as a Pastor for over 10 years, that I have had many a time where I have needed ministry more than ministry has needed me.
I’ve had the thought before, though mainly subconsciously, that I can’t equip the saints for ministry, because then what would I do? That’s my job, I get paid to do it!
I’m seeing that we (and I’m speaking now to ministry leaders, of which I am one), are currently reaping what we have sown. We’ve conditioned our congregations and followers to need us, often because we, unhealthily, need them.
We need their affirmation and we need their finance. We need their amens, and we need to know that we are making a difference in their lives.
And so when church services closed, we freaked out. Who will I preach to? Who will pay my wage, and who will pay for this building?
And we weren’t alone. Our congregations began asking, “Who will feed me?”
Hence why we are still preaching to them, via livestream, in their pyjamas, sermons that will soothe them during this pandemic.
(And then we’re checking for how many views and likes we got afterwards).
Too close to home, I’m sorry you’re naked. I could stay silent, but I’m trying to save you more embarrassment.
(Side note- I know this isn’t the case for all- some Christians are so Christ focussed and found in Him that this point doesn’t apply- praise God! The book that set me free from dependence on people’s affirmation was this one- Healing the Orphan Spirit– I highly recommend it.)
3. We Can’t Keep This Up.
The last thing I am seeing is that as a church, we won’t be able to keep this up, and I dare say we shouldn’t. Zoom, Facebook Live, Google Hang Outs, Face-time, it’s all going to get too much, and sooner or later we are going to walk away from our screens.
We were never meant to live on screens. We were made for real community. It is just as true that we were never meant to sit and consume from a pew, we were called to be and act like family, like an army, an athlete (See 2 Timothy, 2). We were called to be on mission, to lay our lives down for the sake of the gospel.
So, if this house of cards is soon to collapse, if the Emperor is being exposed, how can we fix this, how can we cover up, before it’s too late and history records us as absent during one of humanities greatest crises?
How do we Cover Up / Fix Things Now?
- Own our Deficits and Insecurities
Own the fact that it’s ridiculous that we are parading around without any pants on.
Own the awkwardness that preaching to a camera as if it’s a crowd isn’t working. Own the fact that sitting on your couch watching a service isn’t going to church or being the church, it’s consuming content, good content, needed content, but don’t pretend that that’s “church” done for the week, especially in a world that is desperate for you to be Christ’s hands and feet. That’s just you getting fuel in your tank, now you’ve got to get your car on the road!
Own the possibility that you may actually be in a co-dependent relationship with your church or ministry, and that it’s past time to wean the baby.
Own it, and then change it.
Seek God with all your heart and ask Him how He would like to build His Church in this season?
I believe both you and the world could be amazed at what He has in store.
2. Lay Down Everything.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, said this, earlier this month. “Whatever you thought 2020 was about, it’s not. Think again.”
You may have thought this year was going to be about a certain sermon series. You may have thought it was going to be about a certain project. Everything around you has changed, what if you need to too?
I believe we have been given an opportunity, as we stand in the mirror and see our current reality, to embrace the gifts this season is giving us, to reform, revive and return.
Reform the church into what it could be, what it should be. Put the clay in the potters hands and let Him shape it.
Revive our prayer lives, our intimacy with God, our dependence on Him.
Return to our first love! Lay down your ego, your logo, your ministry and your model. I am literally seeing people trying to leverage this tragedy for their own personal fame and game. How have we drifted so far?!? Look into the face of Jesus, and let Him be enough for you.
3. Become Like Little Children, and Simplify Everything.
I love how children in Australia are responding to this pandemic.
Let’s keep it real simple.
Sing songs to Jesus without all the pads and choirs.
Pick up the phone and call each other.
Take the time you have to play with your family, to date your spouse, to write a letter to a neighbour.
Hug those you’re allowed to.
Volunteer if and where you can.
Wave to people you see on the street and shout out “hello, God bless you, Jesus loves you, there is Hope!”.
And if streaming a service is needed, stream it, but please, talk to me like you would if you were in my lounge room (because you are). I don’t need multiple angles and fancy lights, I just want to connect with my Pastor and be equipped to be Christ’s ambassador at this specific time, to a deeply hurting world.
Keep it simple.
4. Be the Church
Never before have we had such an opportunity to be the church as we do now.
If this video can inspire you, let it.
I’ll let that video make the point and leave it there.
5. Finally, Be Still.
One of the greatest things we could do as the church in this season is be still. The world is going into overdrive. Anxiety is rising. The news is blaring 24/7. Though some have lost their jobs, many people are working harder than ever. There is storm raging.
Yet we can be like Jesus, we can be still. We can rest. We can show the world that our faith is real, because we only do what we see the Father doing.
Of-course we will act as well. We know there is much work to be done, but we get to, as the people of God, do our work out of a place of rest, of security, of peace.
I truly believe that the world will notice our peace in this time. Many already are.
May history record us as those that bought peace and healing and hope in this time of crisis and may we not shy away from the reality of what this pandemic is exposing, but rather let us put on the garments that the Lord has prepared for us for this season.
Friends, it’s a “New Wine” season for the church, and we are all going to need new skin.
Here with you, here for you, with so much love and hope for our future,
PS- You know I love you. If this blog has stirred you or offended you, or provoked you to action, please reach out. If you’re a Christian or you’re in ministry, we’re on the same team. Let’s do this together!
You can get Andrew’s book, “Where Rivers Flow- A Guide to Being the Church Across the Road and Across the Globe” here.
You can also take part in an initiative to activate Christians to be a witness during COVID-19 called “The Hope Story Challenge.” HERE.www.hopestorychallenge.com