This week a pastor up the road from my house made the headlines when he was arrested for holding church gatherings amidst stay at home orders issued by our local government and law enforcement.
The story is short. The county prohibited gathering of 10 or more people. This pastor did not heed the ordinance. Warrant issued. Pastor arrested. Many of his followers are hailing him a brave martyr while others are mocking his decisions. At the time of this writing his twitter had been changed to private due to the number of death threats he was receiving.
I’ve received texts praising this pastor’s courage and texts condemning his insensitivity regarding the current pandemic. I’ve received messages asking if we’re going to gather at The Chapel and messages thanking me for moving to online services.
So should churches gather? Should pastors fight for the right to gather in worship?
I listened to this pastor’s messages from the past two weeks and in one he said, “If a pastor does not have the testicles (to gather)(rant rant rant),” and, “a shepherd does not run and sit somewhere in his house.”
I don’t know if I was annoyed because of the implied attack against my pastoral fortitude or jealous that another pastor got to use the word testicles in his sermon. Either way, it didn’t sit right.
My initial reaction was to point out the theological areas where I differ from this particular pastor (and there are many), but then I came back to my senses and remembered a vital truth I have often preached at The Chapel. The Church has no doors. The Church is not a building. The Church is not at a particular time. The Church is the people of God, and the people of God are to be marked and known for our radical love for one another. A love like Jesus has for us.
At The Chapel we did not cancel church. We cancelled in person gatherings of 10 or more people. We did not cancel out of personal fear, but out of submission to our government (Rom 13 *cough cough).
Then I began to see something happen. The tide of love began to swell. The stay at home order began to increase the love, not only in the church body I pastor, but also in much of the community. Some of our MicroChurches are meeting via Zoom. We are streaming worship and sermons on Sunday morning. But these are just logistical changes. There is an uprising of heart change going on. Dozens of people have begun processing and sharing the gospel through creative means that did not exist before this moment. I’m seeing paintings with verses in my neighborhood park and scripture posted in front windows. Thoughtful posts about fear, faith, and death are popping up all over the internet. Communities coming to together to help others in need. I even had one family asking if someone needed toilet paper because they had a surplus! That’s true love people. Me and my boys started a video podcast to increase dialogue about matters of faith and life in our home. A para-church ministry I love is live-streaming worship and prayer nights every evening this week! The list of creativity around the things of God is abounding.
Maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the beginning of a one world government conspiracy. Maybe this is the jumpstart we needed to push us into evangelistic avenues that only the most tech savvy church gatherings have been employing. Maybe this is a season of revival being opened up from heaven as people are becoming receptive to eternal things? Why???Because of fear. Whether you believe the fear to be merited or not. It is flowing like a river through every medium.
Spoiler alert, we will all die one day. And Church, we have the GOOD NEWS OF JESUS that speaks directly to the issue of ETERNAL LIFE! The gospel of Jesus that gives hope in dark times. The gospel of Jesus that calms storms, puts foundation under our feet, and tells us how we can be in relationship with the God for whom we were made!
Here’s what I know for sure. We are called to operate in sacrificial love and make disciples of Jesus. Large gatherings are wonderful, but they are not the mission. Jesus did not say, “Go therefore and make large church organizations.” He said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples…”
Make them on Zoom calls. Make them on phone calls. Make them 6 feet apart at work. Pray for your checker at Publix. Reach out to people in your phone and ask how you can pray for them and ask if they need more TP.
In the past 20 years I have not seen people open to talking about death, heaven, fear, the scriptures, prayer, and the gospel on this scale (Perhaps with the exception of a brief moment after 9/11). I have offered to pray for almost every one who has called me and everyone is taken back and then pours out prayer needs. One person told me they didn’t believe in God, but wanted me to pray for them just in case!
Sure, maybe we’re in the final days. Maybe persecution is coming. Maybe the Church will be pushed to the margins by tyrannical governments (which is where we operate best historically, by the way). But maybe, this is another awakening being birthed by God’s radical love colliding with humanity in the midst of turmoil. Maybe God is graciously putting smelling salts under the nose of the world so we can turn back to him. To love Him with our everything. To love our neighbor as ourselves. To love anyway and in every way even when it is not reciprocated. Maybe, this is a moment where God is going at the 1 who the 99 had left behind.
Has the church closed its doors? No, I don’t think so. I putting my prayer and faith in a movement of God to awaked the western church from her slumber, and to realize we don’t need doors to make disciples and we don’t need a lease to love our neighbors. God’s plan A for making disciples is the Church (people), and there is no plan B.
“Do not fear, (the coronavirus) for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God.
“Do not fear, (physical death) for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God.
“Do not fear, (looking foolish for creating rad things about Jesus) for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God.
Church, do not fear, but let LOVE REIGN!