What then is the conclusion, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification.
During the lock-down there have been many things on my mind. I am sure that you have had the same experience. At times, I felt that my mind was never shutting off, or that I could not escape the realm of working even though I was at home.
During a Zoom meeting, one of my pastor colleagues described the lock-down as ‘always working while not working’. Others have said that the lock-down seemed to ‘take’ from them more than it was ‘giving back’. Many communicated that they were feeling mentally fatigued.
One of the many things on my mind has been the return to in-house worship gatherings. Recording and uploading videos has become a weekly norm, and in a lot of ways, the lock-down has made my ‘job’ easier. Online services has meant no music to practice, organize and lead, no projection system to fiddle with and no worries about who is going to run the sound system. It’s just been me, my digital devices and the online community. However, this also seems to missing something too.
I am not a Pauline scholar, nor have I studied academically any of Paul’s letters. So I admit that I am a little bit ‘out of my league’ when commenting on things that Paul wrote. But here is something that I think Paul would agree with. When believers were to come together, it was to be a communal experience.
It is interesting to me that Paul mentions these things to the believers in Corinth. The Corinthians were excelling in spirit-gifts, and had a lot of things going for them in the right direction. But, they were also missing some key fundamentals or attributes of God’s Spirit.
The famous ‘love chapter’ is placed right in the middle of Paul’s talk concerning spiritual gifts for emphasis no doubt. But Paul also mentions and highlights the ‘community’ aspect of God’s Spirit too.
Paul seems to think that the Spirit has the ability to give something to ‘each one’ who comes to the worship service. He mentions a couple things by way of example, but I believe the overall point is that everything is to be done communally for the improvement of the worshipping body as a whole.
Earlier in the same letter Paul scolds the Corinthians for not thinking of others and excluding them in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In other words, it seems that Paul is genuinely concerned that the Corinthian church focus on becoming a transformed community together rather than focusing on ones individual spirituality.
A concept that we have been are ‘toying’ with and discussing at our leadership table is this: koinonia. The word simply means ‘fellowship’. The essence of the word expresses a communal nature and a collective focus that the early church seemed to model.
The word comes from the book of Acts and is used by Luke to express something unique about the newly established Spirit-empowered community.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. (Acts 2:42)
This verse is part of a summary that Luke gives concerning the ‘new’ worshipping community created by God’s Spirit. Among other things, the first church devoted themselves to one another in deep, rich and rewarding ways. In other words, the first church modelled something that could inspire us today. They modelled a spirituality that was communal and geared towards contributing rather than consuming.
A recent tweet by Thom Rainer said this: Churches and other organizations that are only waiting for things to return to a pre-COVID normal are in trouble. The pandemic is a disruption, not an interruption.
I have said before that there is never going to be some proverbial light switch that will ‘take us back’ to the pre-COVID era. That ship has sailed and is long gone. I do not believe that sitting on the shore and waiting for its return will be beneficial for anyone. Nor is longing for worship services to return to ‘normal’ going to aide in our journey forward. We need a return to abnormal.
In his book, ‘The Spirit of Life’, Jurgen Moltmann says that church congregations need to be ‘participatory’ by accepting and carrying out the various tasks assigned to them by the Spirit of God. In this way, the people of God are actively being ‘sent out’ to accomplish the work of God’s Mission.
Moltmann says it well:
“If Christianity in the world is to be aware of what it is, we must give up the pastoral church of taking care of people and call to life a Christian ‘community church’ … Christianity in the world is not just there to say Amen to church meetings and events; it is there for something more and something different.” Spirit of Life, 235.
I truly believe that the local church is here for ‘something more and something different’ too. So let me suggest something radical. Let’s not desire for things to go back to the way they were when it comes to our weekly gatherings or celebration services. Let us not return to a spirituality that is happy to simply show up, clock in-clock out, and go home. May we long for something more.
Many believe that something can be birthed in the wake of the pandemic that will mobilize followers of Jesus in ways not previously done. Many leaders and pastors have come to the realization that a return to ‘normal’ will only yield the same results. Expecting anything different from doing the same old thing is insane.
May we demand for something more than a consumer minded approach to church and spirituality. May we not settle for a system and tradition that simply exists to ‘feed me’ and not ‘send me’ into God’s Kingdom.
May we hunger for God’s Spirit to propel us outward in power and purpose together for the sake of God’s Mission.
I don’t know about you, but if there is one ship that I want to see sailing again is this: a congregation that has set its sail to the wind of God’s Spirit.
May we begin to see an expression of that in our weekly services together!