Church. Gather. Differently!
Phil Miglioratti • The ReimagineFORUM
As the nation begins to “reopen,” the right of churches to gather has become highly politicized. For some, the cry for reopening is an act of patriotism based on what they consider their constitutional right. Others claim the precious principle of freedom of religion while some protest in anger. Some congregations have defied the ban to meet together (some also ignoring social distancing) and a few have sued the government for a return to business as usual.
Regardless of your perspective, I ask you to look at the how the church is responding to the reopening issue from the viewpoint of those the Church exists to invite or influence. Whether a congregation gathers in blatant defiance or even quietly resumes their normal schedule, many observers have only reactive/negative images that will invariably lead them to reach wrong conclusions about the heat and soul of the Church.
As I ponder our situation, I find these questions bothersome:
- Are Christians perceived as using freedom of religion as an expression of partisan politics?
- When we disregard social distancing are we acting in courageous faith, or are we arrogantly testing the Lord our God (Matthew 4:7) by ignoring the God-created realities of chemistry and biology?
- Will the unchurched see this episode as another indication of an attitude of entitlement? Arrogance? Ignorance?
- What is the “Gospel According to the Reopening Church” my neighbors see/hear?
- During shelter-in-place, what has my congregation done to connect with neighbors? Serve unchurched people? Are we now known as generous? Uncommon? Kind? Different?
What would happen if, rather than clamoring for our rights, we broke out of our standard operating procedures and designed new ways of proclaiming God and blessing our communities?
What could God do through the Church if we began to view this virus-crisis as an opportunity to reshape cultural stereotypes (judgmental, irrelevant) as we demonstrate the heart of God (love, sacrifice, forgiveness; John 3:16-17)?
What if we express our right to gather in ways unexpected but appreciated, even welcomed.
What if we gathered; not defiantly but joyfully; not in our seats but out in the streets?
What if we promote a gathering to honor and bless and pray for First Responders?
Church, we are right now in a Kairos moment.
Reimagine Church in this unique moment in history to gather - -
in small groups (5-7) outside your building to praise (parade) and pray (circles)
Then, each family or small group walks/drives to a:
- place of power (City Hall) to pray for our leaders
- neighborhood hit hard by the pandemic, praying for people as we distribute food
- business struggling economically to bless with a gift (sanitizer) or an act of service
- school and other places of influence to pray for our culture
- hospital, praying for healing and hope,; gifting food for medical staff and families
- police or fire station to support First Responders (pizza party)
- nursing home to bring songs and smiles to those confined to their surroundings
Church, you have the right to fight. Fight, differently. Use this unique opportunity to show and tell the Gospel with acts of kindness by serving others in an attitude of love. Reach. Then preach. And teach.
I am an unpaid, non-pastoral layperson.
As I ponder our situation, I find these answers bothersome:
Christians are perceived by secularists as using freedom of religion as an expression of partisan politics.
When we disregard social distancing, we are arrogantly testing the Lord our God (Matthew 4:7) by ignoring the God-created realities of chemistry and biology.
We appear arrogant to the unchurched and secularists as we are more concerned about getting back into the church building than projecting our faith to society on a daily basis. We seem ignorant of the fact that many who sit in church buildings are, in fact, unChurched instead of being part of the building-less Church.
Phil, you are spot on! One of my great concerns is that pastors and churches are not pausing to hear what God has to say in and through this season and one of the greatest pieces of evidence is the rush to return to the building. We fail to see that the rush to reopen could appear to a lost world that is gripped by fear that we are selfish and not really concerned about their well-being. God has given us an open door to show our culture who the Church is - the people of God on mission with God where He is working which is not in our buildings as much as in the streets of our cities.
AMEN and AMEN!
My prayer is for all Christian leaders to turn themselves and their flocks in this direction.
We need to RE-IMAGINE and REMEMBER. Jesus’ Disciples had no building or money (Matthew 10:9-10, Luke 9:3, 22:35, Mark 6:8). Yet they changed the world for His Church.
Edified churches put people in the pews. To the secularists, this is what re-opening churches and church buildings is all about. Re-imagine Christianity without buildings or money, like “the good old days.” Faith, then, would have to be lived in the streets where His Church is.
I read your article. Well done. I applaud your efforts to re-introduce Christianity into the Evangelical Movement.
Actually you give me hope. It is the great contradiction in my experience, since I know so many Godly and faithful Evangelicals who are kind-hearted and healthy-thinking. Yet so much of what comes out is nasty and cruel. And I don’t blame the media. Quite frankly, blaming the media for your bad public image is like blaming gravity for a plane crash. Technically true, but a good pilot can fly a plane without crashing.
My current thinking is that so much of this ...is like an opioid addiction. Just as opioid s interact with our body chemistry to create a pleasure sensation that is irresistible, so much of the Hard Right rhetoric interacts with people emotionally and intellectually giving a similar pleasure sensation. The denial and blame shifting also reflect addictive behavior... And it has been reinforced by a kind of Evangelical resentment, where we think that the world treats us badly, does not take us seriously, disrespects us, and that we are under a constant barrage from all sorts of secular enemies.
And I am reminded that Jesus said “Love your enemies.” Rely on Him from your strength and do not worry about what the world says about you. I think that the cure for the addiction is faith. Keep up the good work.
In talking about churches reopening with a friend who was raised in 'the church' but no longer wants anything to do with Christianity, the following points were raised:
I was stunned by these views and wondered how many other people had similar thoughts. It has certainly given me pause and much to think about how I live out my Christianity in the time of COVID19 as an individual and as a member of the church.
Reading your article and the replies here from the South Africa I am thankful for Phil's post. Here in South Africa we may gather again as local churches under strict conditions from today, 1st of June, We as leaders at our local congregation decided not to!
COVID-19 forced us to rethink how we distinguish ourselves as Church of Jesus Christ from the world. That is going to challenge us how love and grace,forgiveness and justice,compassion and humility and all that the fruit of the Spirit should portray through us towards our neighbors, our leaders, to the outcast and even to those thinking or believing differently from us as we act as witnesses and followers of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately my 'rights' and conduct as Christian is not to contradict God's Word and the requirement of obedience to Him. My prayer is that we will have wisdom as God's people how to express the Good News and be Church of Jesus Christ so that what is regarded as "Christianity' and those who hide behind churches for their own personal agenda may be exposed. May we be true to our Lord Jesus Christ
Our community welcomes hearing from you ... share as God leads of other insights we can learn from you and the Church in South Africa ... Thank you, Benjamin!
Benjamin Bester said:
"Pastors and church leaders have a responsibility and the opportunity to restore the image of a loving God within their communities—a God who shows compassion for the vulnerable and is always near to the brokenhearted." —Dr. Heather Thompson Day
As the United States enters a second week of protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, Christians across the nation have an opportunity to be ministers of peace and reconciliation in a time of unrest and injustice.
Barna is continuing to offer church leaders a free digital copy of Where Do We Go from Here?, a 2019 report assessing our nation's reputation of racism, both past and present. Commentary from a panel of voices, including Dr. Heather Thompson Day’s quote above, also offer insight into how churches and individuals can work toward racial justice in our country.
As Barna president David Kinnaman, recently wrote, we believe "research can be a small step toward understanding someone else’s experience." It is our hope that the data presented in this study will help inform faith leaders and their communities as they navigate these difficult and necessary conversations.
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