Let's not hurry to get back to "normal."
One of the questions many church leaders are asking during this time of pandemic is this: “What is God trying to tell us about the role of the church during this time of pandemic?” One thing is obvious: The times are preventing us from doing church as usual.
Many believers I know express missing collective worship as we once did it, collective worship without social distancing and mask wearing and choirs close together and, in Anglican churches, the sharing of the peace with hugs. I personally miss the way the Lord’s Supper was done before this virus. Somehow, only partaking of one element is not the same for me as was the partaking of both elements. Yet Christ is present in one of the elements as completely as He is in both.
These times are requiring us to ask: “What is the purpose of the local church?” I use the acronym WEEF as a summary of the church’s practices. “W” stands for “worship,” the first “E” stands for “evangelism,” the second “E” stands for “edification,” and the “F” stands for “fellowship.” The “F” stands for something much richer and deeper than casseroles served in the “Fellowship Hall.” It stands for our common sharing in the life of Christ. The key word is “common,” in that it is something we are to share with one another, and something we are to take out into the world and invite others to share. My friend and colleague Father John Roop told we I needed to add an “S” on the end of WEEF so that it becomes “WEEFS.” John’s “S” stands for “service,” service to our God, to one another and to our communities. John is correct. I now use the acronym WEEFS.
According to Ephesians 4, pastors, priests, bishops and teachers are God’s gift to the church in order to equip the members of the church for ministry. Most church members think ministry is to be done by the pastors, priests, bishops and teachers, not by them. But this is not what the Apostle Paul tells us. Brothers and sisters, how many American churches—regardless of their stripes, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Anglican, Catholic—have as their purpose the equipping of all of the saints in their pews for ministry? Ministry not only in the church itself, but in their families, their schools, their jobs, their communities? This virus is forcing us outside of our buildings. One pastor told me that a number of families in his church are doing something they didn’t do in the past; They are having family devotionals together and praying together. They are actually sharing meals together.
Let us lament the fact that we can no longer do church like we once did. But let us also repent in that so often, by doing church like we did, we really only did one of the letters of WEEFS, if we even did that letter properly. We neglected making disciples. We neglected reaching out into the communities. We expected the church to train our children, instead of our godly members doing that task. We presented ourselves to a perishing world as some kind of exclusive club, instead of a place of invitation, warmth, and healing, a place of rest, of Sabbath, and restoration. We did not see the church as a place training us for mission in the world. Instead, we took our talents and hid them within our buildings. Maybe God is saying to us: “Now is the time to no longer keep the talents I have given you in your church campuses but to take them out into the world.” I pray that our ears will hear what God is trying to teach us. Let us seek to do church in a new way, which is only the old way that God has ordained long ago.