Time for a brand new regular The alternate
Since the states have started different and differentiated approaches to reopening companies, parks and more, we ask ourselves more and more: "How do we progress?" I am concerned about life after the pandemic, but my concern is in a direction that may surprise you.
Many say they are concerned that the church will never be the same after the pandemic. For example, some wonder if the day of the great church is over. What appeals to me is the statement that the church "will never be the same again".
I am more concerned that the church will be the same again. Let me explain. We have had epidemics or pandemics for 2000 years. For the most part, what happened in and during and after the pandemics has not changed the structure of the church drastically in the past 2000 years.
We built cathedrals and gathered in them. Then the Black Death came. After the Black Death we gathered again in cathedrals. Don't assume that the Church didn't know that coming together would speed up the spread of the disease. They may not have known how to flatten the curve, but they did know that coming together made them more sick.
I am less worried that the Church will be changed forever than I am going back to the status quo. Why? Because the best predictor of future behavior is the immediate past.
History doesn't always repeat itself, but it rhymes. We cannot go back to normal. Instead, we have to take the best of what we see now and continue these things. Let me share three things that I hope will progress.
First, that God's people would be used.
God's people are deployed at a higher level, a more faithful level, and a more fruitful level than before this pandemic began. We saw small group leaders who worked like pastors or lay pastors. We have seen ministerial leaders break new ground. We have seen people taking care of each other at higher levels. We have seen people create phone lists and call each other, pray for each other, and then serve the poor and marginalized in their community.
Wouldn't it be amazing if we didn't go back to consumer-oriented Christianity, where people and customers line up outside of Costco? Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't step in like consumers of religious goods and services, but continued to see ourselves as gospel workers?
Some of the people you saw might meet these qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. You could think about how to educate them as pastors and leaders. But how do we continue to use people? We need to remind people that, according to God's good plan, he wants all of his people to join him on a mission.
1 Peter 4:10 says, "Since everyone has received a special gift, use it to serve each other as good stewards of God's diverse grace." May this be true before, during and especially after the pandemic.
Second, that we would keep worship central, but not in the center.
God's worship is central, but not the center of church life. Conversely, the Church is not the center of God's plan in the world, but it is central to God's plan in the world. In Ephesians 3:10, it says: "God chose the church to make His diverse wisdom known to the world." God chose the church.
The Church could not gather in a way that we enjoy and love. However, the lack of congregations has actually helped us to highlight other areas in the life of the Church.
I often use the example of chess. I played competitive chess in high school. Our chess club instructor taught us not to rely on the queen. He let us remove the queen and left two chess players without a queen on either side. If you do this, you will have to use all the parts: the peasants, the towers, the knights and the bishops.
The gathered worship of God is not the center, although it is important. Indeed, it is one of the hallmarks of the Biblical Church that has been taken from us, which is why it was so difficult.
But look at how people are used. I hope that God's worship is central to our lives, but not the center of everything we do.
Third, that we would see God's heart more clearly.
I have heard many more people talk about the poor, the injured and the marginalized. There is a new perspective for the "least".
This crisis has focused us on the impact it has had on marginalized people. We have seen imprisoned people who cannot create social distance. We saw the homeless.
We have seen the devastation in nursing homes, the elderly, the sick and people with weakened immune systems. And we've seen heroes like those who helped and served the poor, and stories of first-aiders and health workers who made great sacrifices.
How can we continue the positive movements and focus we saw in the future? To return to normal after such a historic moment would miss one of the greatest opportunities of our lives. We have been given the chance to do better and do better. Let's go and do it.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through the Mission Group. The Exchange team contributed to this article.