In this unique Covid-19 season, things have become very different.
Most congregations are not congregating – in close physical proximity anyway.
This means that almost all of our regular activities are on hold. No Sunday gatherings. No midweek services. No youth group or kids ministry. No meetings, pot luck dinners, Bible studies, Sunday School…
So, what can we do?
We can, of course, bring needed supplies to people who shouldn’t go out at all. We can talk on the phone. We can email and text message and use social media.
But as far as our normally scheduled activities…
Basically only what can be modified to be done online or over the phone.
Some things are easier than others in these formats. One on one conversations are pretty easy. We can share together, encourage one another and pray over the phone or on a video chat.
We can share music and teaching via video or live streaming.
What about Sunday? That’s a question on top of many churches collective minds.
The vast majority of congregations normally congregate on Sunday sometime.
We usually call these worship services. Interestingly, as far as I can tell, the New Testament never calls gatherings of believers ‘worship services.’
Most of our Sunday gatherings include singing, praying and teaching. Most include the Lord’s Supper, whether weekly or less often. Baptisms when needed. For us in the Churches of God, feetwashing.
These things are all good, of course. Very good.
Teaching (sermons, talks etc) can really happen anytime, as can singing and probably all the rest.
But all of these come second in the New Testament to the most important thing:
The most frequently cited admonition in the Bible for the regular gathering of believers encourages us to get together not to hear sermons or sings songs but rather…
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…Hebrews 10:24-25
Notice this scripture doesn’t tell us that we should keep meeting together in order to worship. Worship has less to do with a time and a place and more to do with the orientation of our lives.
The priorities are meeting together for encouragement toward love and good deeds (actions).
According to Paul, part of the purpose of our singing to God is directed toward the good of one another.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.Colossians 3:16
When Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians, he envisions an interactive, Spirit led experience.
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.1 Corinthians 14:26
In sum, we can see pretty clearly that the vision of the church in the New Testament era is in-persona gatherings that are participatory with the aim of building up the whole body so that we might love and serve more fully.
But right now we can’t – or rather shouldn’t – gather in person.
So what’s the next best thing?
Here are my thoughts. They come without judgement for those who make other choices – especially in this time where we are all trying to do the best we can while dealing with several different dynamics.
An online ‘gathering’ at the same time is better than something that’s out there to watch ‘at your convenience.’
Something pre-recorded can help accomplish the important objectives of ‘encouragement’ and ‘spurring on toward love and good deeds.’ This is a good thing.
What the pre-recorded option lacks, in my opinion, is the togetherness that’s already significantly compromised by now being able to be in a gathering at the same physical place.
For that reason, I think we should try to do at least some ‘gathering’ in real time. Something like a ‘Zoom’ meeting accomplishes this well because everybody and talk and even see each other. A ‘Facebook Live’ stream could be considered second best because there’s one person or location on the screen but other people can interact and chat in real time.
But ultimately, it’s all a compromise from what we really want to be doing. And there are other obstacles. Some people still don’t have internet access. Others have trouble connecting to new platforms. Some don’t have cameras and microphones on their computers. There are other challenges as well to bandwidth capacity on various platforms and times.
But the takeaway (for me at least) is this: First, keep in mind the biblical priorities. Having a ‘worship service’ is not something that we’re commanded to do. So don’t stress not being able to have one.
What’s more important is gathering, encouraging, growing in love and good deeds, and using our various gifts to build up the body.
Let’s do the best we can in the situation we’re in toward these. And not stress about it.
We’re all in this together. And God will word for our good because we love him and are called according to his purpose.
It’s that purpose that we’re living into.