Social Distancing. Shelter-at-home. Economic challenges. Everyone yearning for a return to normalcy.
For people of faith, there is also the question of when we can go back to church to gather with friends for worship, study and fellowship. Just as CBFNC has sought to provide resources to church leaders on how to worship and minister while we have not been able to gather in church buildings, we are collaborating with others in our CBF family to develop resources on how to resume face-to-face church gatherings when conditions permit.
The question is not only, “HOW can we gather safely?” but also “WHEN can we gather safely?”
On May 5th, we will launch “What’s Next,” a six-week virtual roundtable series about reopening churches. In the coming weeks we will also add resources to the Coronavirus Resources section of our website. Just like other resources we have provided, those on this topic will evolve over time as conditions and opportunities change. Be on the lookout for more information from us on this topic in the coming days and weeks.
As we begin to think about and plan for reopening, here are some points to consider:
Loving Our Neighbors
With regard to the second question, our starting point must be concern for our neighbors. When Jesus was asked to state the greatest commandment, he didn’t stop with the command to love God. He added that God’s people are to love their neighbors as themselves. Lest we be too quick to assert our own rights and needs by a premature return to public gatherings, may we remember that the most loving, faithful thing we may do for a while longer is to maintain physical distance. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters.
A New Normal
As we think deeply about when and how we will resume gatherings, let’s also give attention to bigger, more long-term questions, such as “How can we disciple people in the new context in which we find ourselves?” For some time now, many of us have sensed that our familiar, centuries old model – gathering in a large group in a centralized location led by clergy whose primary focus is on developing a program for those who are gathered – has been showing its age. For some time now, many of us have sensed that a new model is needed – one that focuses on the scattered church as much as or even more so than the gathered church.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced us, for a season, to begin developing a new model. Rather than assume that we will return to church life exactly as it was before COVID-19, what if instead we use the lessons from this season to help us live into the new reality we have seen coming but didn’t have the courage or capacity to embrace until now?
The Example of Jesus
If we need biblical or historical guidance, we need look back no further than the first century and the four Gospels. That’s how Jesus operated. For though he did occasionally minister in large gatherings (i.e. his inaugural sermon in the synagogue; feeding 5,000; driving the moneychangers from the temple), more often Jesus ministered to individuals or small groups. Rather than returning to the same building week after week, Jesus traveled from place to place, meeting people on their own turf, going to them rather than expecting them to come to him.
I don’t know exactly how it will happen, but I believe the COVID-19 pandemic will change our world and our church life. I’m certain that our “re-opening” will happen slowly and gradually over a long period of time, rather than in one quick “Easter Sunday” experience.
I pray we will find a “new normal” that embraces not only the gathered church but also the scattered church. And I’m glad none of us has to figure it out alone. As the popular slogan says, “We’re all in this together.” That’s why we are not Independent Baptists. We are Cooperative Baptists.