Not only has our world changed over the past two years, but for many of us, our concept of church has been shaken.
In Matthew 16:16-18, Jesus and Simon Peter are engaged in a conversation about who the world says Jesus is. Peter says that some claim Jesus is John the Baptist, others say he’s Elijah, and still others say he’s Jeremiah or another prophet. But in response to the direct question from Jesus, Simon Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus goes on to say that this bedrock truth—that Jesus is Lord of all—will be the foundation on which Jesus will build his church.
We know this intellectually and biblically. Though we erect buildings, sanctuaries, ministry centers, and the like, none of these edifices are the church. Many of us have understood from an early age that the church is not a building. It is the grouping of people held together by the unshakable bond of the Holy Spirit. The church is the living, breathing body of Christ bound together by the new life given to those who surrender to him.
Despite this, when COVID-19 forced us to close the doors on our church buildings beginning in March 2020, when we had to leave our comfortable edifices and lean into a lonely world connected only through technology, many of us found ourselves asking, “Are we still the church?”
Can we be bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit as one body even though our physical bodies are forced to be separate? What does it look like to worship together, pray together, and engage God’s Word together when we are often not proximate or physically together?
I praise God for what he has done in the church during this difficult time. Though there are many reasons to lament, there are also many reasons to praise God. Though the doors of many church buildings were closed for a long time, we celebrate that for most people, access to the church could not be more open.
Congregations who have historically viewed themselves as neighborhood churches have recognized the fact that there is a hunger for the Word of God that extends beyond their communities—and that individuals from far and wide now have the opportunity to visit and hear God’s Word through their online services. Church leaders now find themselves trying to navigate how to cater to two groups of congregants: the in-person crowd and those listening and engaging online.
This and many other changes have become our new reality, and I believe God will be able to use it for good and for the further spread of the gospel. Our expression of what church is has changed, and it may never be the same, but by God’s grace, the new configuration can be even more powerfully used by God for God’s glory.
One need only read a few of the stories in this section of The Banner to see that truth unfold. Whether it is microchurches in Michigan or using smartphone apps in China, the church is adapting and the gospel is being shared as a result.
Though we are all walking through difficult times, may we embrace the new reality that God is allowing us to experience. May we live day by day with the expectation that with each new day, with each new breath, God is revealing God’s will through a new opportunity to connect to another member of God’s church.
To God be the glory!