When should churches open their doors?

The country looks like it is about to open up. What does this mean for churches? 

Here are some of my questions.

Are we clear about what “church” is? (Hint: It’s not a Christian concert plus a TED talk.)

If we were starting from scratch, what would we do? What is essential? What is fluff? What is biblical? What is just tradition? What is obsolete? Have we been honest about the discipleship return-on-investment with our activities? Is our mission (or vision, values, strategy) pandemic-proof? Persecution-proof? How long should a sermon be? How do we get families to disciple their children without rolling their eyes? How much of our music is really just entertainment, and how much is actually worship in spirit and truth?

Are we being salt? Light? Are we a family? Are all the parts of the body engaged? Are we a prophetic voice to the culture or a watered down echo of the culture?

Are we too busy? What idols has this pandemic revealed?

Have we remembered the poor? Sought justice? Defended the oppressed? Taken up the cause of the fatherless? Pled the case of the widow?  Looked out for the interest of the vulnerable?

And this last set of questions is my primary concern as I ponder the implications of churches “opening their doors.”

The poor and vulnerable are always hit the hardest. It has been pointed out that when the economy opens up, many people will have the liberty of minimizing unnecessary travel, proceeding with caution, and working remotely if necessary. But if working from home is not an option, or if you do not have a private office, or if you depend on public transportation, then your risk levels are significantly higher. This is why you’ll notice that the poor are being devastated across the globe. From the indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin to the inner cities of the US, the poor are more prone to contract the virus, slower to identify it, and then provided much inferior health care to fight it. Risk levels slide in the wrong direction for the poorest among us.

Back to the church.

An interesting critique comes from unbelievers. You Christians claim to be pro-life, they say. And yet when the rubber meets the road and people’s actual lives are in danger, you are pushing to gather and put people in harm’s way. Sounds like your pro-life position was more political than practical all along. Or perhaps you pastors are just afraid of losing more offerings. Or maybe you young Christians are just like the throngs of indifferent spring breakers, who don’t concern themselves with the risks of others.

Jesus teaches us that the day of judgment is going to major on the way we treated the “least of these.” Hungry. Naked. Sick. Needy. Afflicted. Part of my prayer coming out of this pandemic is this: Lord Jesus, help us to major on what you are majoring on and minor on what you are minoring on. We will not walk in fear. We are not afraid of death. We know we have a good Shepherd. We know that God is with us. We stand on his promises. But we will embrace our responsibility to care for his flock.

I assume this will mean a gradual re-opening of in-person church gatherings. There will probably be limits to the numbers of people who can gather at one time, at least initially. There may be masks. There will certainly be a lot of sanitizing taking place. There might not be offering plates. But if the church is to be God’s church, we will run all decisions through the lens of how to protect those most vulnerable.

If there is any human on planet earth that is chomping at the bits to meet in person, it’s me. I’m so tired of preaching to an empty room. I’m so ready to sing with God’s people. I can’t wait to watch people get healed. And inspired. And equipped. I long to be with the people of God.

And perhaps that is one of the breakthroughs of this season. A reminder that one of our very greatest gifts is presence.

These zoom calls are better than nothing. Hearing a song on my phone is fine. Joining a crowd online is fun. But I long for presence. I deeply desire to be with my people. His people. It’s a sign of a problem that started with the first humans. When they sinned they lost more than a garden; they lost presence. And everything lost by that first man Adam is being restored by the God-man Jesus. Believe that.

I don’t have a date yet, but the next time we gather, let’s gather in his name – and go wild.

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