Unplugging from Church During COVID-19?
Several weeks ago, most of us were forced into isolation. A week before that, as a staff member at College Park Church, I watched our executive pastors jump into action to form a COVID-19 response team. On Tuesday morning, during a staff meeting, we walked through a four-phase plan. At the time of the meeting, we were at the beginning of Phase 2; and, potentially, Phases 3 and 4 would be a few weeks out—if we even got to those phases. However, by the end of the next day, we were already in Phase 4.
While government officials issued warnings for those considered at high risk, gave instructions for social distancing, and announced restrictions on sizes of gatherings, staff teams across the church planned how to work from home and how to continue holding Sunday services. Our worlds were being flipped upside down.
There were so many questions floating around that day but never the question of whether Sunday services would be canceled altogether, even if we couldn’t gather in person as a church body.
Some would argue that live streamed services should never be a replacement for people gathering together regularly, no matter the circumstances. The Bible exhorts us “to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:24). At College Park Church, our own member covenant states that we are to “attend its services regularly.” Our church leadership would wholeheartedly agree that, ultimately, the church is called to gather regularly for the preaching of God’s Word and to worship together.
The pain of not being able to gather in person on Sundays right now is felt by all of us. We long to worship together just as God intended! Yet, what does that mean about these unprecedented times in which we are holding services online? Why does it even matter if we spiritually engage during an online service rather than unplugging from church during COVID-19?
For pastors, it’s a matter of conviction and obedience. Second Timothy 4:2 says they are to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” They job of a pastor doesn’t cease when a pandemic arrives, and neither does the role of the congregation to submit and learn from their pastor(s).
Now more than ever before, we are seeing the blessing of technology. God has given us this technology to stream real-time services. It is such a blessing to continue the edification of his people while we wait for clearance to meet in person again.
We are warned many times in Scripture to “watch yourselves” and to “abide in (the teaching of) Christ,” (2 John 1:8-9; Acts 20:28-38; John 15:4-5 to name a few). By maintaining our habit of Sunday teaching and worship, we hold ourselves and others accountable to not coast through this season—a season in which our testimony speaks loudly to a world in desperation.
4. Continued Growth
God gave us shepherds and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:12, 16b). This work of being built up in God’s love through his Word doesn’t take a break just because the world is in quarantine from COVID-19.
Times of crisis often cause people to seek after God and to look for hope when they are anxious and fearful of present circumstances. With so many churches across the globe streaming their services online, thousands of unchurched people are tuning in. This is one of the largest platforms we’ll ever have for the gospel to reach the ears and hearts of people who’ve yet to believe! For that reason, continuing in ministry is crucial not just for our local body of believers, but for the world around us. This digital ministry field is ripe for harvest.
A Time for Ministry
Many things have changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Along with live streamed church services, Christians are connecting through virtual Small Groups and Bible studies. We’re using social media platforms as venues for online prayer meetings and live teaching sessions. We’re Zoom-ing and calling, emailing and texting. If ever there was a time to be plugged in online, the time is now. We were created for community—even under social restrictions.
Recently, our church’s lead pastor, Mark Vroegop, reminded us of Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17. There, we read how Jesus longed for unity and for the Church to be one. Even in these unprecedented times of separation and isolation, Christ’s prayer for us remains the same:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (vv. 20–23).