For many of us, the church has begun to feel like a long-distance relationship. Since March 2020, many of us have had to re-learn how to connect meaningfully with the body of Christ. Whether your church is meeting in-person with new protocols, meeting online, or doing a hybrid approach, these changes create both challenges and opportunities for our involvement in the church.
Here are five ways we can strengthen our engagement in the local church in the midst of the pandemic.
1. Begin by reaffirming your commitment to your local church. There’s never been a better time to remind ourselves that the church is the “household of God” and “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The church has a unique calling to manifest the presence of God, as his dwelling place in the world (Eph 2:21, 22). This remains true, even with the limitations created by the pandemic. We need the local church, and our churches need us.
2. Lament the real losses of the pandemic. It’s hard to be physically cut off from our brothers and sisters, to lose aspects of corporate worship, fellowship gatherings, group Bible studies, and ministry opportunities. These are real losses that we should grieve. God has given us lament as a way to take the pain of our suffering to him with both honesty and hope. Spend some time meditating on the Psalms of lament (Psalms 6, 10, 38, 42, 43, 130). Then turn them into prayers about the losses of the past year.
3. Don’t wait to find community; initiate new ways to develop it. Even in the best of circumstances, community is not magically discovered. It develops as God’s people move toward one another in relationship. The past year has limited many of the ways we experience community. However, it’s also opened up opportunities move toward others. This is a time to lean into these new opportunities to practice the one anothers of the gospel.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” Romans 12:10-16
This will mean utilizing the means of connection that are available to us:
Pray through your church directory. Who might need a phone call or encouragement card?
Send a note telling someone in your church what you appreciate about them and why you are glad they are part of your church family.
Make time for longer phone conversations. Those who’ve been shut in for months will appreciate unhurried connection with a brother or sister in Christ.
Ask your deacons who might need help with errands or other physical needs.
Invite friends to join you in an online prayer group, where you pray through the Psalms of lament.
Open your front lawn to church friends and neighbors for times of fellowship and prayer for your community.
4. Create continuity between church and home. Virtual worship is not ideal. Nor is the loss of ministries that helped our kids grow in their faith and stay connected to the body of Christ. But these losses also create opportunities for families to re-commit to family worship. Discipleship begins in the home. Whether your church currently meets online or in-person, commit to worshiping as a family and discussing the sermon together. Initiate opportunities to read and discuss Scripture with your kids. A season of reduced church programming can enable families to recapture the vision of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
5. Remember that the Good Shepherd is leading us. This is a challenging time for the church. Perhaps it feels like we’re wandering in the wilderness and our under-shepherds (pastors/church leaders) are weary. But Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, is leading us. He’s not uncertain or confused about the way forward. He leads us in his infinite wisdom, sovereign power, and steadfast love. And he will never leave nor forsake us. Through this difficult season, Jesus knows the way forward.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.
Questions for reflection:
What has been hardest about staying connected to church over the past year?
What rhythms of church life or life in general have you lost due to the pandemic? Have you taken these losses to the Lord in lament?
What opportunities do you have to foster community within your church family?
What are three ways you can help your family better engage in worship at home?
How does knowing the Chief Shepherd’s leading help us support the work of his under-shepherds through this difficult season?