CANCELING CHURCH AS USUAL-- PART 2 (YOU ARE THE CHURCH)

    'And I say also to you.  That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my
     church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it'  (Matthew 16:18, NIV)

There is evidence from the Book of Acts that the early church began to gather together in the houses of Believers.  As the gatherings grew, we find that in cities like Rome, larger spaces were either acquired or erected to accommodate growing congregations.  Though the gatherings increased in size and the fixed locations allowed individuals to congregate, it was the WORK beyond the walls of the building that allowed the church to become a ministry—a ministry that spread the Gospel throughout Europe and Asia.

The church—or ‘ecclesia’ is NOT the building, but it is the people—the ‘body’ of Christ—the collective of ‘called-out’ Believers who have picked-up the mantle of proclaiming the Good News about redemption through salvation.

Just because world events necessitate the physical gathering together or God’s people, it doesn’t mean that the gathering ceases to be His church!   When we consider what the church should be, many would argue that our physical gatherings take-up too much time already from meeting the mandate of evangelism.  

The opposite can also be logically argued—that the total time spent in the building represents such a small amount within the context of all that church ‘should be’ and all of the work that God has commissioned the church to get done—that gathering together in a small and confined space—where a highly contagious disease might be easily transmitted—is simply not worth the risk.

For many, gathering together as a group of already-known and largely like-minded individuals is also ‘safe’—sometimes safer than even trying to lead church and encourage prayer and study in one’s own home.

It is simply not worth the risk to personal health, the safety of our families, our neighbors, our co-workers or our communities at large.

Churches that are opting not to heed the clear and science-based recommendations for social distancing—are those churches then directly their discipleship to fully disclose that defiance to their supervisors and co-workers?

During this time, the church can absolutely STILL ‘be’ the church without the gathering.  Churches with online and social media presence can continue to reach those who are seeking the Lord.  Smaller churches now have the opportunity to either introduce technology-driven approaches into their ministries or they might temporarily connect with larger churches so that their smaller discipleship might still have access to ministry tools and resources.  

Churches can continue to minister to families, and ‘special’ segments of the congregation (youth, teens, young adults) by sending out suggestions for activities, home devotions, videos telling Bible stories and more.

Churches can use this time to continue to teach the importance of the spiritual disciplines and the importance of continuing to honor God through the generous giving of time (calling older church members to check-in and encourage), talent (lending your tech-savvy-ness to help the ministry connect to people virtually), testimony (making sure you are verbal and visible in your daily witness to others), and treasure (through continued technology-based financial giving).

At this moment, our culture needs something it doesn’t have.  What the world needs goes beyond test kits, up-to-the-minute statistics and White House briefings.

The world needs joy unspeakable joy, in the midst of the sorrow and peace that passes all understanding, in the midst of chaos and confusion.

God has called us to using wisdom and common sense and to meet fear with faith—while honoring and respecting the instruction of our government leaders.  

God’s church need not disrupt public health efforts to push back again the pandemic spread of a ruthless micro-organism, in order to communicate this powerful truth from Paul in his profound letter to the church (the body of Believers) in Philippi:

          Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers,
            letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together
           for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the
          center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7, Msg)

Remember, you are the church and the church is you.  You do not need a large crowd to be a change-agent and an atmosphere-shifter.  Remember, whether it is a gathering of two or 2 million, a thermostat impacts the climate of the entire airspace.  Instead of placing ourselves and others at-risk, why not let God show us through this season that church as usual is over-- and that it is time to manifest church the way God scripted and not the way man desires!

Reverend Christopher t Conti, MD is the Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Pittsburgh, and a licensed emergency medicine physician, author and Christian life coach.