Is the Church Missing the Forest for the Trees?

This is an unprecedented time in the life of… well, you name it. 

Businesses are predicting recessions. Families are banding together. Food markets are feeling the tension of supply and demand. And the Church is confused. 

But not confused about theology or doctrine. No, our reading plans and prayer programs aren’t causing bewilderment. It’s not even demonstrating the love of Jesus to our neighbors, as we have that down.  It’s this one thing that we’re struggling with: 

How do we meet? How do we get together?

There’s a massive focus on getting together, continuing with “church-as-usual” that the American church, in my opinion, seems obsessed with, almost to the point of idolatry. I say this as someone whose hands are getting dirty with it, as I manage our church’s social and media outreaches. What platforms do we use? Is it Zoom or Skype that will best help us function and continue? 

Well, let’s stop and ask, maybe an obvious but naïve question: continue what? What is it that we’re trying to continue?

We’re trying to continue the schedule. We’re trying to continue the program. We’re trying to continue the business, the ritual of church. And that is a neutral statement, it’s not positive or problematic. It’s just what we’re trying to do. 

The elephant in the room

That may rub you the wrong way, but I assure you, it’s not meant to. It’s to call out the elephant in the room. Christians, pastors, church leaders, and congregants are asking, “How do we continue doing what we do every seven days, even in this limited capacity?”

And the reasons are varied on this, whether it’s attempting to not be bored, or it’s figuring out how we live out Act 2:42 in this COVID state (They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.) 

Whatever reason most resonates with you, from singing your favorite song or ministering to people who need care, I think we, the Church, need to confess that we’re uncomfortable with change. Very few people like change.

But what if change is what brings revival? 

What if the thing that is causing inconvenience and confusion right now is the very thing God is trying to use to get his Church ‘out of the pews?’

Now I’d like to be clear on a few things: 

–       I love the Church, having spent my entire life in it, working for it, aiming to help it. 

–       I love people; Christians, Buddhists, Atheists, Muslims, Satanists (and I know them all.)

I also think the current medical pandemic is causing many institutions, including the Church, to reevaluate its current mode of operations, asking itself, “What can we learn from our past to engage in the present, and change the future?”

Repeating the past

And a look to the past will show the Church that this has happened before in our history. In 34 AD, Stephen was martyred, the persecution of Christians in Judea by the Jews began, causing, forcing even, Christians to flee and spread the Gospel. They could no longer meet; they could no longer stay. It was a matter of life or death.

And through that inconvenience, followers of Jesus were faced with this reality: is my faith settled on where and how I meet every seven days or is it a vibrant, ever-growing part of my life that I want to share with others? 

Being the church

While the analogy has its limits, I think we’re facing the same thing today. With social distancing and isolation on everyone’s tongue, the reality is we can’t meet the way we always have. We can’t simply ‘come to church’ on Sundays.

Which begs the question from us: how will we BE the church for the whole week? How will our new reality, filled with every-day changes and new information cause us, force us even, to become the Church of Jesus beyond the pews? 

More than a program

I think tools like Zoom and Skype are great. They’re helping a lot of churches continue to stay connected to the people they love. But if the main focus of those outreaches becomes the method to ‘continue the program’, ignoring the huge opportunity in front of us to present Jesus to a confused and a terrified world, we’re missing the forest for the trees.

If our neighbor wants to have a 6 ft conversation with us on Sunday morning at 10 AM but we can’t because that’s when our Zoom meeting starts, we missed it. 

This is an amazing unknown before us, one where we don’t know what’s going to happen. But when circumstances like that arise, it’s the followers of Jesus that are needed to say, “How would you have us spread the Gospel now?” Not, “how can we keep our programs going?”

Joey Monteleone

    7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thanks for the article. I read and reread it a few times but am not sure I completely understand the premise, that somehow our assemblies are in danger of not spreading the gospel because we are “obsessed, almost to the point of idolatry” in continuing our “programs”?

    You used an excellent verse (Acts 2:42) which tells us that early Christians were devoted to such functions as the apostles doctrine, fellowship, prayers and breaking of bread. If that was the case, is it not the duty of believers and the church in general to ensure this continues?

    After all, this is not just some church tradition we hold to, a “continuing the program” as it were, but a command:

    Heb 10:24-25 NASB – and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another;] and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Mike,
      I could see why it might come across that way but let’s look a little further down…
      “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
      ‭‭Acts‬ ‭2:42-47‬ ‭ESV‬‬

      I think the American church has become really comfortable staying in verse 42 as a whole. It feels safe to stay in our little Christian bubble. I don’t think Joey is trying to indicate we should stop gathering and praying together but where is the rest of this.
      Are many really being added to our number? Are we going out to serve a hurting and dying world from these gatherings? Are we giving generously in all ways to show the love of Jesus? Are we moved to tears by the pain of the world around us, praying for those around us or has the American church already been practicing social distancing way before this pandemic?

      Reply

    • Avatar

      Hi Mike,
      My perspective was only that we may be spending more time figuring out how to meet in this current state than we have spent figuring out how to evangelize. Again, I love the Church. But the Hebrews verse is not about the inability to meet, more about the rejection and lack of desire to meet. This was more my view on spreading the Gospel in this new time and way! 🙂

      Reply

    • Avatar

      There seems to be a constant tension between Acts 2:42 and the rest of the chapter. Some would like to say that the emphasis needs to be only on the BIG 4 in v 42. Others want to focus on the rest of the chapter and discard the BIG 4 (although the assemblies don’t really know what fellowship should look like a lot of the time).

      The BIG 4 are just one part of what a church is all about. Meetings, programs and functions are not the main goals of the church. That is evident in the fact that while we can’t “meet” physically we don’t stop being the church and bringing glory to Christ. The assembling in Heb 10 doesn’t seem to imply the need to “do” Acts 2:42 activities. The view of Heb 10 is encouragement and building up. Anyway, it’s a big topic.

      Reply

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