There’s a story about a rich millionaire who threw a massive party for his fiftieth birthday. During this party, he grabs the microphone and announces to his guests that down in the garden of his mansion he has a swimming pool with two sharks in it.
‘I will give anything of mine to the person who swims across that pool’.
So the party continues with no events in the pool until SUDDENLY there’s a great splash and all the guests of the party run to the pool to see what happened.
In the pool a man is swimming as hard as he can … fins come out of the water and jaws are snapping and this guy keeps in going. The sharks are gaining on him, but the guy finally reaches to the end and gets out of the pool, tired and soaked.
The millionaire grabs the microphone and says, ‘I am a man of my word. Anything of mine I will give, my Ferraris, my house, absolutely anything, for you are the bravest man I have ever seen. So sir, what will it be?’
Breathless, the guy grabs the microphone and says, ‘Why don’t we start with the name of the jerk who pushed me in!’
We may not be able to physically relate to that exact pool experience, but does it not seem as though there are times in our lives when we are thrust into situations beyond our control, which create extreme confusion, panic and chaos to the point where we feel as though we need to swim for our very lives?
For the past eleven weeks or more this has been the case for many. Millions of people globally have been pushed into unfamiliar waters during this COVID-19 pandemic. My previous blog mentioned some of those things as it pertains to my current occupation. And then during that same week, we are thrust into the the midst of a cultural shaking.
The events of the past two weeks instigated an onslaught of feelings, emotions, and actions. I feel that there is reshaping in the wind.
For me, this past season has truly been a positive experience. Being a true introvert, the ‘stay at home’ request was received with joy and thanksgiving! I believe that I may have done the happy dance once or twice. It was as if God was preparing me for this pandemic thing all along. Hunkering down and being with family was music to my ears. It is always a good thing for me.
I am also very thankful that my employment as a pastor has continued. The church that I pastor has been extremely kind and generous during this pandemic. We are very thankful. The church has also been extremely generous to our response to COVID-19. We have raised over six thousand dollars! All of the money has been spent locally to purchase food items to be given away at local food banks. We have one that operates in our church building. Our church is practicing self-giving love and generosity in completely new ways.
It is this ‘new thing’ that our church is doing that continues to cause me to reflect upon the nature and function of God’s people. I mentioned before that I believe there is definitely a link between the Spirit and the Church. Furthermore, I believe that God’s people are to operate as Spirit-empowered people here in earth.
As one writer says, ‘the event of Pentecost ushers on the stage of salvation history the community of faith as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic ecclesia – the anointed and empowers Body of Christ representing, in its mystical union with the Redeemer, the eschatological fusion of of heaven and earth. This is the Body that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, continues the ministry of the resurrected Christ in the world as the living extension of His character and mission.’ (Daniela Augustine)
Now that is quite the definition of the Church! But consider what Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:
This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. (5:32)
The word ‘ecclesia’ is often used to refer to ‘the Church’. In the Hellenistic world, it was used to describe a political gathering, an official meeting of an assembly of citizens. This usage is found in Acts 19:29, where the town clerk cautioned the crowd that any official action toward Paul and his associates would have to be settled in the regular ‘assembly’ (ecclesia).
The book of Acts tells us that those whom the Spirit had formed into the ‘church’ were first known as members of ‘the Way’ (9:2). Eventually this new community of believers came to be called the ‘ecclesia’, which means ‘a called-out assembly’.
So what is this ‘called-out assembly’ supposed to represent and actively demonstrate in the world?
For Paul, it may look like this:
for the administration of the days of fulfillment —to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him. (1:10)
So what does all this have to do with COVID-19 and the time we live in? Allow me to suggest that as Spirit-empowered people, this ‘push’ or being thrust into a pandemic has produced some very positive results for many believing communities.
Push #1 – Pushing past self-serving tendencies: This continues to be an ongoing battle, however, the recent pandemic has allowed me the opportunity to eliminate and walk way from aspects of self-serving religion. For decades in many traditions, the church building has unfortunately been the centre point and focus of all ministry. From weekly programs, to Bible studies, prayer groups and discipleship curriculums, everything needed to happen inside the walls. Who else would we be trying to impact?
Postmodernity had supposedly shifted the focus away from buildings and institutions, but somebody forget to tell a lot of congregations about this. However, the recent pandemic has definitely sealed the deal. In a matter of weeks, pastors from around the globe became tele-evangelists, movie producers, sound technicians and social media experts overnight! The transformation was truly inspiring. Way to go pastors! But now what?
All the experts are telling us that online numbers are dropping and people are engaging less because the novelty is wearing off. This may be true, but pastors are seeing the benefits of reaching and engaging people outside of the building. In other words, you don’t need a building to be building.
Push #2 – Pushing past a self-focused vision: Since the days of Moses, the people of God have always had one ultimate concern: What’s the best for me! Along with self-serving tendencies comes a self-focused vision. You mean that there is more to life than me? Exactly.
One of the blessings (and curses) of being a follower of Jesus in the West is the plethora of options for worshipping. Seriously, there is anything from Southern Gospel to ‘cutting edge’ and everything in between in spades. The options can be endless. I am convinced that this has not really helped ‘the church’ maintain a Kingdom focus to win the world.
Jesus died so that dead people can live. He didn’t die so that we could have organ music, electric guitar, smoke machine, no smoke machine or choirs in robes. He died so that the entire world could be made new. He gave His love as an expression of self-sacrificial love so that the world could receive God’s love. The mission of God is to heal the world. How does that mission fit into our vision? Or better yet, how does God’s mission to heal the world affect what we do in our everyday?
The pandemic has essentially streamlined many things in terms of ‘church’. It has given pastors and church leaders time to reflect, re-assess and potentially re-adjust the focus. If so, then may we continue to strive towards what really matters: to bring everything together in the Messiah, or in other words, build His Kingdom. If we are not building the Kingdom, then we are not building the Kingdom. Much of what we have done in the past has not helped us achieve this desired result. Perhaps we need a different vision.
Push #3 – Pushing past self-gratifying expressions: Along with the above mentioned ‘self’s’ comes the physical expression of selfish living: selfish expressions. Have you ever watched toddlers play together? Sometimes they play great and all is well until you try and take their favourite toy! In times like that .. watch out. The physical expression indicates their utter displeasure. Church can be like that. Sing the right song and all is well. Sing ‘that other music’ and the scowls come out like the dandelions … they’re everywhere.
From songs to styles to messages that make me feel good, the church has long been accustomed to expressing itself in ways that bring satisfaction to those within. We can even have really good church without God being there. And at times I am afraid that some gatherings have not even noticed that His Spirit has left the building.
During this pandemic, the Church has had to actually ‘leave the building’ too. The Church was never really closed, it was simply repositioned into a better location: the community.
Here’s the thing: having church is easier than being the church. Trust me, this is coming from someone who get’s paid to ‘have church’. So, what have I been doing these last ten weeks? Well, confession time. I have not being ‘having church’. I have been ‘the church’. I have been ‘the church’ by connecting with the needs of my community. I have been ‘the church’ by purchasing food items from local businesses. I have been ‘the church’ when delivering food goods to food banks, shelters and others in need. I have been ‘the church’ by talking and listening to my neighbour express their emotions and confusion about the days we are living in (staying six-feet apart of course). I have been ‘the church’ when I text, chat and call fellow believers and pray with them. I have been ‘the church’ by spending time talking to my kids about what’s going in the world. Oh, and yes, I have been ‘the church’ by putting together weekly teaching videos so that the body may be equipped to do the work of the ministry. At least that is my desire … for the body to do ministry. But I digress.
Plain and simple, Jesus modelled a life that was anything but self-gratifying. In fact it was the completely the opposite. He came to serve. The last time I checked, He also said something about picking up ones cross and dying daily. Not a lot of time for self-gratification if you’re always dying to self. I guess that’s the point.
So, now that COVID has potentially ‘pushed’ us in some of these areas (positively), it is up to ‘the church’ to continue this journey. We haven’t come this far, to only come this far. There is more to be about and more to address for the Kingdom’s sake.
I am committed to the transformation journey with the group of believers that call Calvary their home ‘church’. The continuing desire is for this group of believers to not simply be a group of believers, but to become a transformed and transforming community.
This is my journey.
P.S. I just got word this week that places of worship can return to their buildings … I feel another push coming … I pray that it is not simply a push from those who simply want to return so that we can ‘have church’ again … but a push forward … ‘in the power of the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry of the resurrected Christ in the world as the living extension of His character and mission.’