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Crossing the Invisible Fence: An Opportunity for the Church to Lead

If you have a rambunctious dog who likes to run around outside, you can purchase the product known as the “invisible fence.” The fence is set up as a barrier that broadcasts a signal to a collar worn by the dog. The dog will receive a mild electric shock as it gets closer to the fence line. The shock intensifies the closer the dog gets. The idea behind the electric fence is to set up an invisible boundary that the dog won’t cross.

Apparently, what happens is that over time the dog learns not to cross that invisible line. The dog learns this so well, that eventually you can actually turn off the invisible fence altogether and the dog still won’t cross that line. Or at least, that’s what works for some dogs. Some dogs are very compliant. The threat of the electric fence keeps them contained. Other dogs are more obstinate. It doesn’t matter how much you shock them, they will still run right through the fence.

I wonder if something similar is happening in American culture today.

Slowly the COVID fence is being removed. Cases have dropped almost 80% over the last 6 weeks. Hospitals are getting back to functioning normally. Governments are loosening restrictions on the citizens. The electric fence is slowly being turned off.

Here’s the question: When restrictions are lifted, will people go back to normal and try to cross the boundaries, or have they been so trained to shelter at home that they won’t resume regular life? Will they roam free again? Or will they continue to act as if the fence is in place? In the US, Dr. Fauci is suggesting that Americans will probably need to wear masks in public places until at least 2022 because “we want to get that baseline really, really, really low before we start thinking that we’re out of the woods” Some are saying they won’t be going back to theaters and churches because they consider it unsafe to do so.

When restrictions are lifted, will people go back to normal and try to cross the boundaries, or have they been so trained to shelter at home that they won’t resume regular life?

Even after the fence is officially lifted, how can people be convinced that it is safe to go beyond the fence? The only way this can happen is if people move beyond the fence regularly and live to tell the stories about it. If people share their testimonies of how they moved about freely and felt no shocks. Perhaps if enough of those stories are told, people will feel free to move around again.

This a place where the church can show some leadership in our culture.

The church is one of the few places in America where there is regular intersection of larger groups of people. The church has the opportunity to remind the culture not to be afraid. The church can resume gathering and show the world that it is a perfectly safe and reasonable thing to do. To show the world that the super spreader fence no longer exists. To show the world that fear and isolation do not have to be our default mental state.

The media is invested in keeping people afraid perpetually. It makes money off of fear, even after the reasons for fear have expired. Politicians too are invested in keeping people afraid. Telling people they need that electric fence can be a way for them to buy votes. So, don’t count on these groups of people leading the country out of this. This is an opportunity for the church to step up and lead with love over fear.

The church has the opportunity to remind the culture not to be afraid.

What might this courage look like?

It will likely vary depending on your geographic and cultural context. For some, it could mean dropping masking requirements in the worship service. For some, it could mean bringing those seats back in together so that worshippers are near each other once again, having more of a communal experience.

In your context, there will be courageous but responsible steps you can take to show the world that people can gather again in person without fear.

In my own community, I’m trying to highlight the positive trends in the nation around the virus. I’m trying to publicly applaud any time the fences are removed. I have already experienced the push back for this. But anytime you step out in front of a crowd you might be confused for the enemy and shot at. I’m also working with the theatre where our church meets and asking them to remove the restrictions on us so we can push forward with larger unmasked gatherings. I’m asking them to drop the mandates that we spray down every surface.

Of course, that will look reckless and unsafe to some people. Almost anything done with courage will look unsafe to someone. In your context, there will likely be people so accustomed to living with the invisible fence that, even after the fence is removed, they will need to see courageous leadership. This is the time to show courage. This is the time to lead even when we are scared. This is the time to live by faith even if we don’t know exactly how it will all work out. The church has done this in times plague before. It’s time to do it again.

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