The smell of warm cedar in the quiet cottage had Pastor Shipley drowsy as he sat in an overstuffed chair in the sunshine pouring through a full-wall bay window that looked out onto a boat dock and the small fishing lake beyond. He said a brief prayer of thanks to God for the generosity of the Morgan family who had gifted him and his wife with a free week at their lakefront retreat. This retreat gave him the space and the privilege to process …
Like every pastor he knew, and like most of our society, Pastor Shipley was exhausted by the 15+ months of pandemic panic caused by COVID-19. It wasn’t physical exhaustion so much as mental/emotional and spiritual exhaustion from trying to care for and lead his congregation through an ever-changing array of guidelines, and interpretations of guidelines, and differences of opinions regarding the guidelines and their interpretation and application, along with the emotions attending the several opinions about the guidelines and their interpretation and applications, etc. Just to reflect on it caused a physical response as his joints ached.
The warm sun felt good.
The silence was welcome.
He could pray. He could ponder. He could rest … mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually … in the grace of God in Jesus that he knew was available and ever-present.
What had he learned through the pandemic shutdown? His drowsiness dissipated as he sensed the “still, small voice” inviting him to engage in rest-filled contemplation. He grabbed his handy pad of paper and jotted several quick items for which he was thankful through the pandemic’s most intense period:
He had learned that:
- He is not a tele-evangelist, but he is capable of communicating God’s Word via internet.
- The internet will/must continue to be an essential part of ministry/mission going forward.
- Several new leaders stepped up to initiate listening groups and study groups on Zoom using recorded sermons and Bible studies. That was pretty great! So, technically, more small groups existed than before!
- The congregation’s Board of Directors can have very effective Zoom meetings and take care of lots of details in a much shorter block of time monthly.
- God provided financially for His Church through His faithful people … and even older members learned how to use electronic giving!
- Members are most willing to make caring phone calls to fellow members and neighbors. More contacts were made in the last year than any year in his tenure as pastor. And because more people stepped up to make calls, no one had an overload of responsibility.
- Hymns and songs of praise aren’t much fun without a congregation to join their voices in the celebration. Words are still good, but something is lacking.
- Some members felt comfortable inviting friends and extended family members to listen in on the worship services! Several people are on the list for Adult Instruction class now!
- Celebrating the Lord’s Supper isn’t just about receiving the elements of Christ’s Body and Blood, as important as that is. It’s also about the “Communion of Saints” or the community of our common confession of Christ.
- Only about 60% of the regular attendees from before COVID have returned to in-person worship even though the doors are completely open now.
That thought jarred him. He had known that little tidbit of demographic detail before as he and other pastors had compared notes a few weeks ago at their summer golf outing; but now he was led to consider the matter more closely.
Why should God’s people physically assemble in the sanctuary to worship God together and receive His good gifts through His Word and Sacraments? Why not just continue to listen in from the comfort of their homes via the internet as we encouraged them to do for so many months, especially if they were at risk regarding their health?
Before Shipley completed writing out the questions, three passages of Scripture came to mind: Acts 2:42, Hebrews 1:1–3, and Hebrews 10:24–25.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” Acts 2:42
Here the marks of the birthing Church are listed:
- The Word of God (Apostles’ Teaching)
- The fellowship (Koinonia: shared concern, mutual support physically/ emotionally/spiritually and shared purpose/mission)
- The Lord’s Supper (The breaking of bread … some may see this as only the sharing meals together but …)
- Prayer for and with one another.
- We can certainly teach via the internet but generally the communication is “one-way only.”
- True Koinonia is missing without sharing space and gathering physically together.
- The Lord’s Supper by its very nature is very “corporeal” with the physical eating and drinking the very Body and Blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine; and the “communion of saints” in our common confession of faith in Christ.
- We can certainly pray without being physically present with each other, but we have the assurance of Jesus when he says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son … the Son is the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word …” (Hebrews 1:1–3).
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