Webster’s Dictionary defines lesson as “something learned by study or experience.”
Throughout my 40+ years on this earth, I’ve learned countless lessons about life. As a young boy, I learned that’s it not a good idea to touch a hot stove. As a Little Leaguer, I learned that quitters never win, and winners never quit. As a college student, I learned that I was not as smart as I thought I was. As a newlywed, I learned the value of good communication. As a new father, I learned how to change a diaper. Life has a way of teaching us lessons that we never forget.
During my nearly 15 years of ministry experience, I’ve also learned many lessons about the church. While I would never have claimed that I knew everything about the church, I was confident that my knowledge was adequate. But then, COVID happened. And God has been showing me since then that I have much to learn about His bride.
So, today’s post is as much for me as it is for you. The Lord continues to teach me lessons about the church during the pandemic, and I want to make sure I record them as a reminder in the future when the pandemic is finally in the past. Therefore, here are six lessons that I have learned thus far:
- The church is resilient. When the pandemic began, churches had to pivot quickly to online services. A few months later, the church had to learn how to regather safely. Since then, churches have been walking a tightrope between protecting the health of their congregations while also providing opportunities to worship and serve the Lord. As church members have contracted the virus, many churches have moved back and forth between online and in-person gatherings. To say that 2020 has been challenging for the church would be a gross understatement. Yet, through it all, the church has persevered. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve learned that because the church is Christ’s bride, it is incredibly resilient. As Jesus once proclaimed, the gates of Hades will not overpower the church (Matthew 16:18), and neither will a pandemic!
- The church still has a mission. The mission to make disciples still applies, regardless if we are in a pandemic or not. So, the what hasn’t changed, but the how has (for many churches). I have witnessed several churches get creative with their outreach efforts and have heard testimonies of many new professions of faith in Christ. The good news is that God is still in the saving business, and so is His church! While it may look different right now, the church still has a mission, even in a pandemic.
- The church can be simple, yet effective. Years ago, I read Simple Church. I found it incredibly helpful in theory, but difficult to implement within most established churches. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger describe 4 steps to becoming a simple church: (1) Clarity, (2) Movement, (3) Alignment, and (4) Focus. Most church leaders could clarify their discipleship process without much trouble. Unfortunately, the remaining three steps were much more difficult to implement. However, what “simple church” leaders have struggled to accomplish for nearly ten years, COVID accomplished in less than ten days. Every church became a simple church overnight. Most churches have been slow to bring back the majority of their ministries and activities, yet they have still been able to fulfill the essential functions of the church (albeit imperfectly). Church leaders like myself are learning not every ministry is an essential ministry. Churches can be simple, yet effective after all.
- The church needs to experience community. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is how much the church needs to experience the community of fellow believers. While technologies such as Zoom and Facetime are wonderful, they cannot replace the experience of gathering together corporately for worship and in smaller groups. As I have talked with both church leaders and church members, the one thing they miss most about the pre-COVID era is the fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Social distancing and isolation have taken a significant toll on the church. How significant remains to be seen.
- The church must minister to its minister(s). While the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, it has been particularly challenging for pastors. (Here are some of the reasons why.) Soon after the pandemic began, church health experts began to predict a significant rise in the number of pastors experiencing burnout, along with a subsequent increase in pastor resignations. While burnout is difficult to measure, pastoral transitions are not. Although I haven’t conducted a statistical study on the topic, I am beginning to hear about more pastors resigning due to COVID-related burnout on social media. The reality is that the demands, division, and the duration of the pandemic have taken a toll on pastors. My prayer is that church members will recognize that their pastors need encouragement, just as much as they do.
- The church is not home yet. This final lesson is more of a reminder. The struggles and challenges that we’ve faced since March simply remind us that we live in a fallen world – a world ravaged by the effects of sin. A world that will ultimately pass away. As the bride of Christ, the church recognizes that He is preparing a place for us and that He will come again and take us there to be with Him (John 14:1-3). That place will be a place where every tear will be wiped away. That place will be a place where death, grief, crying, and pain will be no more. That place will be a place where He will make all things new (Revelation 21:4-5). That place will be our eternal home, where we will gather with people from every nation, tribe, people, and language to praise the Lord forevermore. And we won’t have to worry about social distancing there! So, this pandemic has taught me that we’re not home yet. Although we are in this world, we are not of this world (John 17:14-16). In this world, we will have trouble, but we can have courage because Jesus has conquered the world (John 16:33). When we have fulfilled our purpose in this world, He will take us to our eternal home. Praise His glorious name!
The Lord has used this pandemic to teach me many lessons about the church. As the pandemic continues, I’m sure the Lord will teach me even more. What has He been teaching you?