As the early effects of the covid pandemic began to be felt, it soon became obvious that this was going to take some time before things could return to “normal”. In fact, it became increasingly apparent that the covid-19 pandemic was going to change the way we did so many things – shopping, socialising, sport, leisure, business, and church — all things that we had all taken for granted for so many years. Change, whether we liked it or not, was foisted upon us. Nearly every conceivable part of the planet where covid-19 had reached was grappling with how to manage it and most resorted to lockdowns which had major implications for how people interacted — including how Christians did one the things central to our Christianity ~ fellowship (“koinonia”).
But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. First John 1:7
COVID-19, A TIME OF SABBATH
Near the start of the C-19 pandemic I wrote a reflection that perhaps the Lord was imposing an enforced sabbath on His earth. Biblically, a sabbath was a time where God’s people came together as they enjoyed rest (a ceasing of work and usual activity), worship, and reflection on God and His Word. Israel was commanded to keep the sabbath as a supernatural witness to the nations that their God could supply their seven-days of need over six-days if they just honoured Him by resting on the sabbath. There were different types of sabbaths apart from the weekly version. One of the required sabbaths was to rest their fields and lands every seven years. Israel failed to do so and slumped into moral decadence. The prophet Jeremiah declared that God would forcibly send the Jews into exile for seventy years to allow the land to enjoy the sabbaths that it was entitled to (Jer. 17:21; 29:10).
¶ Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. Hebrews 4:1
But Covid-19 made it difficult—if not impossible—to enter into a sabbath together because of the imposed, and unfortunately designated, social distancing (which was fortunately later redesignated as physical distancing). Many of our brothers and sisters in the United States reacted quite strongly to State-imposed physical distancing and were even prepared to defy their governments and continue to meet together anyway. Australians generally took a different approach though. When we went into lockdown, our ministry team met and discussed how we could best achieve koinonia while we went entirely online. We had no playbook for this. We bounced ideas around. We considered how we could care and pastor our church community even though we couldn’t physically do koinonia. Pastor Donna mobilised our Care Team who did a wonderful job in connecting with our church family. We worked hard to adapt our livestream so that we could interact live with those who were participating in our livestream.
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:10
That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. First Corinthians 12:25
MAINTAINING CONNECTIONS DESPITE COVID
Our church doesn’t just connect when we meet together on the Lord’s Day. We also meet in small groups within homes. But the Covid-19 lockdown meant that we were not even allowed to meet together in homes. Our Home Groups moved online during the lockdown. Initially, we had some teething problems, but soon we were getting feedback from group leaders that their home group members appreciate being able to continue to interact with each other. Koinonia is best done in person and sometimes that must mean via an electronic screen. From my experience it was actually possible to hear people’s hearts, pray for people’s needs, and study God’s Word together via Zoom.
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. First John 1:3
A LOSS OF THE INITIAL MOMENTUM
It’s not surprising that when the State Government lifted the lockdown there were still many people concerned about the risks of regathering. Every night on the TV News there were reports of thousands of Covid-19 related deaths. The State Government maintained a media campaign urging Tasmanians to continue to uphold Covid-safe procedures which contributed to our State being Covid-free but also very aware of just how contagious and potentially deadly this virus was. This explains why so many of our regular attending church family were not quick to return to our physical Sunday gatherings and why our Livestream numbers have remained relatively high. When the State Government lifted the gathering restrictions for churches during the Christmas season of 2020 we were thrilled that we were able to have attendances of around 260 for these services. Yet, it was also obvious to us that we had lost the initial momentum we had enjoyed at the start of the year. In February 2020 (before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Australia), we celebrated our First Responders’ Appreciation Sunday, our Thirty-Third Church Birthday Celebration, the public wedding of Chris and Dale in our Sunday morning service, and we had already sold-out of the tickets to the Civic breakfast where Dr. Hugh Ross was to be the guest speaker. But then the effects of Covid-19 began to hit and were felt in churches around the world. Our momentum took a hit.
A week ago the Tasmanian Government lifted seating restrictions on churches to 75% capacity. This is great news and means that we can now have 250 congregational members in one room plus the worship and ministry team. But in Australia most churches have reported that they have only seen 40% of their congregation members return after the lockdowns. The Covid pandemic has impacted the confidence of many believers in returning to their church’s weekly gatherings.
And while our momentum has taken a knock with Covid-19, spare a thought for our brothers and sisters in Victoria. Their lockdowns went for months longer than ours and a week after it was lifted and churches could resume physical Sunday services, the lockdown was reinstated! And now a similar thing is happening in Queensland. I spoke with a Queensland pastor this week to see how he was going and he said that he wasn’t even sure if they would be allowed to even hold their Good Friday service this week. He expected to find out on Thursday! This makes building momentum tremendously difficult!
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Romans 5:2-3
HOW CAN WE BUILD MOMENTUM PAST COVID-19?
Despite having a vaccine roll-out underway and decreasing numbers of Covid-19 in Australia, there is still the danger of another outbreak. This threat will continue to have an impact on churches (especially mega-churches) as we navigate further outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns prohibiting our koinonia. This is why it might be an opportune time to take advantage of these nearly-sabbatical moments and reflect on what New Testament teaches about ‘Church’ and perhaps “go back to the drawing board” as we all seek to move past the era of C19.
And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, Ephesians 1:22
BACK TO BASICS
The Covid-19 pandemic and its effect upon Churches around the world has caused many church leaders and their leadership teams to reevaluate what it means to be the Church. This leads into some really healthy questions that challenge what many had previously unquestionably accepted as “Church”.
What should a church do when it meets together for its weekly gathering (especially if it can’t actually ‘gather’)?
How should the leaders and members of a church contribute to the issues confronting society and culture?
Should the Church instead be disengaged from ‘the world’ and treat its Christianity as purely ‘private’ matter between the worshiper and God?
What do the ministries within a Church — especially that of evangelists — look like when the Church can not actually meet due to ongoing Covid-19 lockdowns?
Perhaps several of these questions might never have even been asked if it wasn’t for the Covid-19 pandemic? But one thing is for sure, the answer to these questions about the church and its mission can be found within the Scriptures and the lessons from Church history and will require that we prayerfully seek the Spirit’s guidance as we apply our best answers. Perhaps it will be then that we can build some fresh momentum and reach the current and next generation for Christ. And perhaps this Easter is an opportune time to once again build the momentum that we were beginning to enjoy just before the C19 pandemic interrupted everything.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.