Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Crisis-proof Church

God didnt create the coronavirus, but he has used the Covid19 shutdowns to expose inability of the church to operate through a crisis. Failure to learn what he is trying to teach us will leave the church in a dangerous place.

The enforced shutdown has been a fairly trivial crisis, but the church has been fairly ineffective through it, because its people are so scattered that they can only relate to their neighbours one-on-one. The lockdown should have been a time of opportunity when many people were shaken and fearful, and some were feeling the pain of losing their jobs, but most Christians did not know their neighbours well enough to share openly with them. And their neighbours could not see the body of Jesus functioning, because that only happens when the church meets on Sunday.

God is using the current bad situation for good by giving the church a trial run of hard times (without being life-threatening for most people). Here is a truth that we cannot afford to ignore. A church that can only meet by people driving to a church building once a week will not be viable in hard times. The irony is that most Christians believe that there could be hard times ahead, but they ignored their fears and opted for a good-times-only church.

The Covid19 shutdown has demonstrated that the operating model of the modern church is only viable in good-times. The current crisis is a mild, temporary trial, but the church has struggled to function effectively. The crisis has not produced a flood of new believers or healings from sickness. Pastors have used information technology to keep preaching to their people, but this at best, has only been a holding action. They are exhausted, but they feel like they are barely holding ground. Most Christians feel cut off and alone and are frustrated with watching a church service on their television.

The Covid experience confirms that the good-times model of doing church is extremely fragile. If it cannot cope with a relatively short shutdown, how could it cope during a serious persecution or deep economic crisis. Leaders of the church would be foolish to ignore the warning and carry on as if it has not happened.

Most are hoping that the crisis will soon be over, so that their church can go back to normal, but they are missing what God is saying in this season. Any expectation that the situation will return to normal is a false hope.

Things will not return to normal.
This is not a new normal.
It will not even be a new normal adjusted.
We are returning to an old normal
where life is uncertain,
as it is for most people in the third world
and was for most of human history.
We are returning to the old normal
where the world was wrecked by frequent epidemics
that get ahead of human efforts to control them.
The new normal will not return us to good times.
When this crisis ends, life will not go back to normal. The problem in the western world is that we have lived through seventy years of relative peace and quiet. The modern church operating model functioned quite well in that situation, but our peace and prosperity has given us a false sense of security. It has also been an effective tactic for the spiritual powers of evil, because it has produced a complete lack of awareness of their evil activities and the influence of events in the spiritual realms.

In many western nations, this lack of awareness has been made worse by the large number of people that have turned away from God. Over the last fifty years, there has been a massive decline of faith. Things still seem to be OK on the surface, but as God has been squeezed out, the spiritual powers of evil have been inadvertently allowed in. They are getting greater freedom and ability to work evil in this part of the world, so they are unlikely to stop.

Unfortunately, the spiritual powers of evil are not content with distracting people from God. They love to steal, kill and destroy, so they will have a go at achieving this whenever they get an opportunity. They were behind the GFC and the coronavirus, and have noticed how effective these events were for hurting people and disrupting society. These were not by any means their best efforts, so I expect that if there is a return to “peace and security”, it will not last long, because they will have another crack at destruction and harm.

From their perspective, the coronavirus has been really successful, so they will try it again when the time is right. They might try something different first, but they will try an epidemic again sometime, and it will probably be worse.

Assuming that when we are through this crisis, everything will go back to normal is serious a mistake. The bible teaches that trouble and tribulation are normal for the church. Jesus said,

In the world you have tribulation (John 16:33).
If Jesus said we will have tribulations, why would be happy with a way of doing church that is only viable in good times?

Persisting with a church model that is only viable during “peace and plenty” is na├»ve. No serious business would develop a product that can only function under perfect conditions. Rather they design products that can operate under adverse conditions. Christian leaders should be thinking in the same way. We urgently need a way of being church that can cope with good times, hard times and tribulations.

All church leaders should be asking the following questions:

  • Could the church that I lead function in a serious epidemic (we haven’t had one yet)?

  • Could the church that I lead function through a really serious economic depression?

  • Could the church that I lead continue to operate effectively through serious state persecution with pastors being arrested and church buildings being locked?

  • Could the church that I lead function effectively through a period of social and civil breakdown, or a serious collapse of law and order?

If they cannot answer these questions honestly with a “yes,” they should think seriously about how well they are preparing their people for the future.

The first disciples who were trained by Jesus were able to operate effectively through periods of persecution and social disruption. Maybe we should look more carefully at the church model that worked so effectively for them.

Our way of doing church can be disrupted by something as simple as having to stay at home, so a really serious crisis would cause terrible difficulties. I suspect that future troubles will bring serious economic, political and social disruption. Therefore, it is more sensible to prepare for the worst, and be pleasantly surprised, than to “hope for the best” and be caught short.

God wants his people to be prepared, so they can continue to be effective in sharing the gospel and expanding his kingdom, regardless of what is happening in the world. God has promised to establish his kingdom on earth, but it will likely have its greatest advance during tough times. He needs his people to be prepared for crisis and equipped for victory.

I explain how a church can be strong and effective during a crisis, yet also able to cope with victory and rapid growth, in my book Being Church Where We Live. For the next three days, the Kindle version of this book is available in the Kindle bookstore.

No comments: