When church life changes because of situations out of our control, how can we use the season as an opportunity to pursue God?
Our church was regaining her rhythm, as attendance and participation was on the increase. I was back teaching in the classroom on Sundays and leading a discipleship group. Then, we turned the page to a new year . . . and omicron hit. All those gains were quickly lost. Quarantines and cancellations returned, and it felt like the clock turned back a whole year. I was back to “doing church” from my home computer screen for a couple of weeks. So, when it was time for our discipleship group to gather again, I got there early.
I walked the halls—in great longing. I remembered. I prayed. I reminisced.
The halls came back to life, as I heard the delightful noises echo across the past couple of hard years. Memories of the hustling and bustling blurred my vision and skipped across my mind.
“The halls came back to life, as I heard the delightful noises echo across the past couple of hard years.”
How I’ve missed it. Missed her, the Church. The committees, ministries, service projects. The bursting calendar. Past programs, events, activities.
Ah, those pre-Covid days.
Just when we thought we were easing back in, another wave hit. And we tumbled back into cancellations at church. And the void left a deep ache within.
Anything that dis-members the Body, that isolates us and keeps the people of God from connecting, is not of God. But that’s not to say He can’t bring good from the season of closed doors. It has sent us out of the building and into our communities. It has, in a sense, opened wide our doors, with cyber access beyond our walls. And it has created in church people a deeper hunger and greater appreciation. While we are asking God to bring an end to this terrible era in history, we can also pray for restoration and revival in His Church.
“While we are asking God to bring an end to this terrible era in history, we can also pray for restoration and revival in His Church.”
The void can bring to the forefront of our minds the work the Lord can do within each disciple, as we prayerfully wait before Him.
Here’s one of my considerations: With all the scale-backs and cancellations, it’s as though church activities have been stripped away, if you will, and we are left standing bare before the Lord. Our hearts laid open, with nothing on the church front to run interference.
We’re not busy serving on committees. Our calendars aren’t packed full of church activities, our program participation is pared down to the bare essentials: us, Jesus, and Jesus’ mission for us. Discipleship without a lot of human traditions and the temptations that come along with them.
“Our program participation is pared down to the bare essentials: us, Jesus, and Jesus’ mission for us.”
I don’t know about you, but it’s been a real searching for me. And a revealing. It’s been a cleansing. And a healing. By the Lord’s compassionate, purifying touch, he’s sanctifying us.
While I do long to be at the church building, surrounded by His people, doing His work, this can still be a fruitful season, still before Him, as He does a much-needed work within. Because when nothing comes between me and the Lord, He accomplishes much.
This hiatus creates opportunity to probe what’s at the core of my walk with Jesus. In this altered season, I can examine whether I was hiding behind busy-ness, or performing before the eyes of others, or trying to prove my worth to God or the church (none of which we should be doing, by the way!).
“I can examine whether I was hiding behind busy-ness, or performing before the eyes of others, or trying to prove my worth to God or the church.”
Church activities can be an important part of our discipleship, but they’re by far not the whole of it. And church activities shouldn’t interfere with, compete with, or replace my devotion to my Lord and King. Activities aren’t some accessory, either, that I wear to make myself look good. And they certainly aren’t meant to be a balm to make me feel good about my spirituality. The Church is where the love of Christ—in, among, and through His people—is made manifest in the world. Unfortunately, history also holds plenty of occasions when things done in the name of Christianity and under the banner of the Church weren’t true discipleship.
A lot of things have been temporarily removed from our lives due to the resurging pandemic; for some of us, church involvement is one of those things. If you have not been able to rejoin your church family in person, you might use this as a season for searching and for prayer. For a season of prayerful searching can be a beautiful, fruitful season of deepening and growing. Just because we’re not in the church building doesn’t mean we’re not in the Church and called to live under Scripture’s teaching for the Church.
“Key to our discipleship is to stay connected. Reach out to someone who can help you safely participate in the life of the church.”
Key to our discipleship is to stay connected. Reach out to someone who can help you safely participate in the life of the church. Just because you can’t meet with a group at the building doesn’t mean you have to be completely removed. It may require creative intentionality. And courage, for the introverted. But the Church can still be the Church. We just have to do it in a different way than we’re used to, but with the same level of commitment.
For now, we can stand before the Lord—with nothing in between—and ask Him to search our hearts. To strip away all that keeps us from purely following after Him. And when the doors of our churches reopen, we can rush to enter in, to serve the Body—refreshed, recharged, and realigned with His will.
(For more from Debbra, check out debbrastephens.com.)