The Global Church is living in unprecedented times. As of writing this, COVID-19, the coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic that has reached 150 countries in a matter of weeks. While plagues and pandemics have been a fairly regular occurrence throughout church history, sometimes bringing staggering death-counts, one would be hard-pressed to find a comparative example of the sheer global impact of COVID-19. Throughout church history, before the advent of over-night global travel and exponential increased in global population density, pandemics unfolded relatively slowly over time and could remain isolated in particular regions for long periods of time. What makes this pandemic so unique is the sheer scope and speed in which it has affected the world. This means, for perhaps the first time in church history, the vast majority of churches around the world are not meeting regularly. There has simply never been a “cease-gathering” moment like this in world/church history.
So where does that leave us? The church is currently in a moment of transformation. The mission of the church will not and cannot change. That mission was given to us by Jesus Himself and comes with a full assurance that it will not fail and gates of Hell will not prevail against us. Jobs may be lost. Vocational, full-time pastors may become bi-vocational or lay-pastors. Some parachurch ministries may cease to exists. But the church, well, she will continue to exists and flourish in every corner of the globe.
COVID-19 cannot defeat the Church. Bank on that.
Not only can this pandemic not extinguish the Gospel-light of the Global Church, but I am also exceedingly hopeful that God will use this pandemic and the suffering it continues to bring, to bring about a moment of much needed revival, reform and refocus for every local church that is willingly to prayerfully ask: “What is God teaching us and how is this pandemic working for our good?”
Romans 8:28 is one of the most encouraging verses in Scripture.
Romans 8:28 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Here are 4 ways I believe this global pandemic will change the church for the better.
1. A Higher View of God
Churches that have equipped their people to know and trust in the Sovereign God of the Bible have raised up a people that have built their lives on an unshakeable truth that can weather any season and any suffering that may come. If nothing else, this pandemic has demonstrated that we are never as in control or as invincible as we think we are. My prayer is that the church would return to preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God that clearly presents a God who is “high and lifted up”, “holy in splendor” who rules and reigns over every single molecule of the universe.
2. A Deeper Appreciation for Assembling
As I write this, we are roughly 2 weeks into this global shut down. Social-distancing and quarantines are the order of the day. The past two Sunday’s I have not had the joy of seeing my church family. I have not shaken a hand. I have not had an encouraging conversation in the parking lot. I have not heard the singing of a room filled with people who love the Gospel. And I miss all of it. My prayer is that this shut down would create a short-term longing to gather with fellow believers on Sundays and a long-term appreciation for the unique blessing that the gathering and the means of grace celebrated there truly are.
3. A Stronger Focus on Community Engagement
One of the really encouraging developments has been the church’s sacrificial service of the vulnerable during this pandemic. I have heard story after story of church members making masks for health care workers, handing our free lunches to children on bus routes, delivering groceries for the elderly, etc. The church may be “scattered” but a pandemic cannot strip the Church of its incarnational identity as the hands and feet of Jesus. While we should make sure to do everything possible to stay healthy and safe, for our sake and for the sake of the vulnerable we are serving, we cannot and should not shrink from this unique moment to show Jesus to the watching world.
Keep our hands clean and keep them open.
4. A Greater Emphasis on Digital Evangelism and Discipleship
Throughout the entirety of its history, the church has deployed the use of technology to fulfill its mission to make disciples of all Nations. Everything from the printing press to planes to iPhones has exponentially increased our capacity to spread the Gospel. What this crisis has caused the church to do is to think prayerfully, critically and strategically about how the church utilizes technology in a fruitful and thoroughly biblical way. We have to think now about things we thought we might have to think about in 5-10 years. The timeline has been accelerated by necessity which is how the mission has typically advanced throughout church history. It was sudden and fierce persecution that caused the spread and advancement of the Gospel in the mid-1st century. (See Acts 8) We are also seeing, importantly, what technology cannot do. It cannot replace the importance of the assembled church. It cannot replace the intimacy of a cup of coffee with a struggling friend. It cannot replace the hug of a close friend in a moment of mourning and loss. In short, this crisis is forcing every church to see the missional opportunities technology provides and the incarnational necessity of physical presence in the life of the local church.
Perhaps things will continue to get worse before things get better for our society and the local church itself. But things will get better. And on the other side of this pandemic, the church, as it always has, will be better for it.