Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33 /ESV)
We had warning, but we did not have experience. We knew the coronavirus was infecting people in China, on cruise ships, in Italy, and throughout Europe. We had warning, but we never experienced a global pandemic until it came.
Once the virus stormed the borders of the United States, we began to mobilize and fight back with hand sanitizer, social distancing, testing kits, and ventilators to buy time for a miracle vaccination and to flatten the infection time curve. We’re Americans. We can do this.
The virus caught the church off guard as well. In one weekend, we had to adjust by beaming pastors’ sermons into the living rooms of church members. All of a sudden, 10,000 churches became interested in technology to allow congregations to meet in homes.
And so, we began to make new plans, set new strategies to rebound in the face of the coronavirus storm. We’re the church. We can do this.
BREAK OUT THE PADDLES
We conquer our problems by analyzing, strategizing, mobilizing, and measuring like crazy. No challenge is too big that we can’t break it down into manageable bites and solve it bit by bit.
As the people in Noah’s time once felt raindrops, arguably for the first time, so we now experience the raindrops of a global pandemic. We grab our umbrellas and rush to safety in the ark of the church— God’s provision for His people who live in this world but are citizens of another. We have lived as if this kind of catastrophe could never come. We are comfortable and often compromised in the land we have settled. We enjoy eating, drinking, and being married to the culture and pleasures of the world.
Now it’s raining coronavirus pandemic, so we run into the ark while we try to figure things out. We break out the paddles and prepare to row! Never mind that it has only just begun to rain. Never mind that the flood has yet to lift the ark off the ground. Let us row! Let us do something! Let us figure out how to hold church meetings outside our buildings!
“Let us” might remind us of the building of that infamous tower when people said, “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower… and let us make a name for ourselves…” (Gen. 11:4). Babel’s fatal flaw was not the engineering feat, but the let-us, or we’re-in-control, attitude in man’s heart. It’s our nature to take matters into our own hands. So, now, let us paddle!
ARKS FLOAT WITHOUT STEERING
Reminder: arks float. They don’t use paddles. They cannot be steered. And they don’t float until there is a flood. The rain has just begun, and the ark sits still on its construction base. We’re paddling, but we are going nowhere with our plans. The flood is coming. It might now be with a coronavirus pandemic, but it is coming. God wants us to know that. Why else give John the Revelation? The flood is coming. Even if it is not today, it IS coming.
Jesus said that He would build His church (Matt. 16:18). Our job is not to design His church, but to follow Him. The point? We don’t need to paddle; we need to trust. We need to pay attention to the rain because the flood is coming— maybe not today and perhaps not with the coronavirus pandemic, but it is coming.
SOLVING THE WRONG PROBLEM
We seem to be asking the wrong questions. In one weekend, thousands of churches couldn’t gather. We immediately sprung into action and asked how we can meet virtually in people’s homes. We have ZOOM and Skype and other platforms for streaming the morning service into living rooms. It’s not ideal in the long run, but it works for now.
Though navigating the maze of technology is undoubtedly a many-faceted problem, in reality, we are addressing the wrong problem from the vantage point of the church’s mission. Our call is to make disciples of all nations. So, the question is not how to beam services into homes, but how to make disciples without relying on the attractional model of large worship gatherings.
Again, there is nothing wrong with large worship gatherings. They are a blessing. They are just not always possible. Besides, disciples are hand-fashioned one at a time as the body of Christ functions together in its gifts and as it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:16). We can worship in large groups. We cannot make disciples that way.
How we communicate to homes is not the pressing problem. How we make disciples is. Maybe these current raindrops of God’s severe mercy will lead to rethinking how we make disciples. Perhaps it’s the correction we need. Perhaps it will lead us to a genuine revival that is not engineered by our strategies.
SOLVING THE RIGHT PROBLEM
It is counter-intuitive to our American sensibilities, but the first step is to stop trying to paddle the ark— stop trying to fix the problem of a leak when we are facing a flood. Put the paddles down and ask God what He thinks. He seems to be much more interested in providing workers for the harvest than in how we might solve the current shut-in crisis (Luke 10:2). He seems to be mostly concerned with us making disciples who make other disciples one heart at a time.
Maybe this spring rain allows us to declutter church and to turn our attention back to making disciples one heart at a time.