The Church has left the building
The Church has left the building
4 August 2020
We all know of, and have experienced, the huge impact COVID-19 has had on our lives and of those around us. As Christians in Australia, we have had to adapt what church looks like, how we evangelise, how we serve, and how we worship.
Through the work I do with Open Doors Australia, we’ve seen authorities restrict Christians in Asia from accessing medical treatment and supplies based on their faith. Across the Middle East, we’ve seen the enforcement of quarantine laws that have forced Christians back into the homes of those who persecute them, often their family members. In countries like Iran, we’ve heard stories of Christian doctors and nurses being forced to run COVID-19 clinics with no PPE as their governments believe that Christians are expendable.
But at this time, we’ve also seen people driven into a deeper and more trust-filled relationship with God. Isolation has served as an intense focusing tool as it strips away so many of the comforts we experience in life and has allowed us to see that when all we have left is Jesus, Jesus is all we need.
Even though this period of isolation has felt claustrophobic and oppressive, what if it is actually a hand on the back from the Lord, pushing us into a more beautiful, focused relationship with him?
COVID has brought the Church to places it has never been before
At the height of persecution in China in the 1950s and ‘60s, the Church was dispersed, and forced into homes – much like we’re experiencing now.
In the words of a Chinese pastor, “before persecution came, we practised our faith and our love for God in a church – and almost nowhere else. But when persecution came it dispersed the Church, and we practised faith in our homes, and because of that – everywhere else.” Scattering has brought the Church to places it has never been before.
As I watched churches respond to the pandemic, and the effect it had on their congregations, I saw actions originating out of fear and control; people were worried as they questioned the meaning of the pandemic and how they could keep their church together.
Over the last few weeks, I have seen people become more comfortable with this situation, and churches have decreased their focus on content as they increased their focus on connection.
The persecuted Church has taught us valuable lessons in its response to COVID-19. We’ve heard from the pastor of an underground church in the epicentre of Wuhan, who reminded us that the love of Jesus cannot be quarantined. Another underground pastor told us that when the ‘Church’ is forced into homes, people have been waking up as pastors of their own families, learning to share the Gospel in their own home. Through the creation of more house churches, we’ve seen the Gospel reach cities, suburbs and neighbourhoods that never previously had a ‘church’.
A fight for unity
What we’ve learned from the persecuted Church is that when the Church is forced into homes, the battleground shouldn’t be around the best deliverable content – the battleground is personal connection.
Stripping back all the distractions of culture, and the things we found our identity in – whether it is church, work or socialising – we’ve realised that even when they are gone, we’re still okay.
One of the risks is that we will look back on this time and see a decline in the number of regular church-attending Christians. For others, their routine will be forever interrupted by the change in church-setting and they won’t go back to the building as often. We will also see a broadening of the Gospel as people become used to receiving information online – but from a variety of sources.
But I believe we will also see a reduction of denominational lines and the patriotism and division that sometimes exists between denominations. I’m hoping we’ll see a far more unified Church arise from this pandemic.
I have learned so many lessons during the coronavirus pandemic, both about my own faith and the areas in my life where I have let culture guide me more than Christ. This has included the areas of refinement and growth that have left me spiritually stronger and with a deeper sense of identity in Christ rather than my social status.
Isolation has amplified the small things in life and taught me to be more thankful for the simple things; clean air, a bed, the ability go for walks each day, the beauty of nature, and the power of personal connection with my wife and kids. When faith is brought out of our church, it enters the rest of the world. That’s one of the most beautiful realities of what we’re experiencing now; faith has become a part of our household.
COVID-19 has not been the noose around our necks so many have believed it to be. It has been a hand on the back from the Lord stripping away all the distractions in life and allowing us to find peace, safety, assurance and comfort in the face of uncertainty. Let us use this opportunity to grow the Church as we see God working throughout this pandemic.
Mike Gore is the CEO of Open Doors Australia and New Zealand.