From scratch | Jesus’ Creed
Chicago is called “The Second City” because most of it was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire. Some of the iconic Chicago Skyline architectural buildings were constructed around this time in the city’s history. If you take the historic river tour, the guides will almost celebrate the Great Fire. According to their account, Chicago wouldn’t be the city it is if the fire hadn’t destroyed everything.
Our lives seem to be made up of a succession of moments when everything is taken seriously. We finish high school and we leave a world of successes and failures, friends and enemies and a place where at least we knew who we were and then we go to college, join the armed forces, or let’s start a career and we start all over again. We change jobs and start over. We get married and start over. We have kids and we’re starting over. We retire and start over.
Some of these restart times are predictable and anticipated. Other times, like a hurricane making landfall, these moments happen suddenly and overwhelm our lives, leaving us with only memories and the struggle to continue.
And there are times when the church is destroyed as well. Throughout our history, the church has been forced to go back to basics after some sort of catastrophic event. The Roman Empire falls so the monks hide in the monasteries and copy the scriptures over and over again. The Bible survives because of their dedication. The bamboo curtain cuts off Chinese Christians from the rest of the world. After decades of isolation, the world feared the Chinese church was lost. When communications were restored, the world discovered that the Chinese church not only survived, but prospered. By perfecting the house church model, Chinese Christians had reached millions of their neighbors with the gospel.
Now with COVID, it’s happened again. Like most natural disasters, the pandemic storm has wiped out our churches. The functional structures of most of the churches have been destroyed and some of them will not return. Like hurricanes and earthquakes, our landscape has been changed forever. Everything we build will be very different from what was once there.
Let’s not minimize this reality – COVID has devastated churches across America. Staff salaries were cut and others were made redundant because donations were declining. Attendance has not yet fully recovered and most pastors I know face some level of exhaustion.
Having said that, we have to recognize that COVID has given us a chance to start over.
And that’s not a bad thing. How many pastors have said, “Give me a handful of committed believers and we will change the world.” Guess what? The Covid has brought us back to a handful of committed believers. The quarantine gave those who did not want to come to church permission to stay at home. They are not coming back. Others have found, like working from anywhere, that they can go to church anywhere. These members will connect to the streaming service from time to time, but they will quickly lose connection and walk away from the church. As most lovers can tell you, long distance relationships rarely work. They also do not last in relations with the church.
The first temptation will be to immediately rebuild what was there before. We will restart our youth programs and children’s programs. We organize concerts and special events. We will fall back into the same trap of keeping our people busy in church without ever making them grow in the likeness of Christ. Our old structures weren’t working and COVID proved it. We no longer need to waste time trying to keep these operational dinosaurs alive.
The next temptation will be to try anything. There will be enough snake oil merchants to tell the church what to do next. There will be lectures and books on how to make your church a superstar congregation after the pandemic. These ideas will work in some places, but they won’t work in most places.
What we need to do is relax and remember that we have been here before. The resurrection of Jesus swept everything away and the church started from scratch. The early church met in small groups and in houses. The church in China was shut down and started from scratch. They met in small groups and in homes.
Do you see a pattern here?
Every missionary who lands on an unknown shore starts from scratch. Now, thanks to COVID, we have the same time. In the power of the Spirit of God, we can rebuild from scratch. We will start from small groups which develop into other small groups. These groups will develop churches. These churches will send missionaries and these missionaries will go to new places and form small groups.
COVID has taken the church in North America to the ground. Praise God. We’re going to start over. After all, resurrections just aren’t for Easter.