By God’s mercy, the “COVID-Cloud” is beginning to clear over Australia and this is cause for much celebration and praise. There’s a lot we have to look forward to in coming back together. But it’s also important to understand that while lockdown was swift and well-defined (apart from a few hair salon memes, of course), the road back is looking to be long and complex.
As we’ve all discovered already, this slow easing of restrictions has opened our eyes to see that the world has changed from what it once was, bringing with it a host of different feelings and challenges. However, can I put it to you that we’re living in inspiring times right now. Why? Because we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring gospel change into our communities like never before.
In the book of Acts, just before Jesus heads back to heaven, he commands his disciples to take the gospel from Jerusalem – where they were living – to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Yet for seven chapters everyone’s just hanging around Jerusalem. It was their “normal.” But then persecution breaks out. And in Acts 8 this crisis becomes the catalyst for gospel change, as “all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1), thus birthing a new normal: world mission.
In the same way, the current crisis has thrust upon us an environment of change in a way Village has never experienced. Our task now is to harness that change for the glory of God. As a church we want to seek God’s direction as we’re forced to consider what space he wants us to gather in, what neighbourhoods he wants us to occupy, who of our family, friends and neighbours does God want to bring into his Kingdom and what ministries do we need to start, stop, or tweak in order to see that happen?
Lord willing, we hope to be meeting together again in some new way come mid-July, as restrictions continue to ease. We’ll have a lot more to say about this as the weeks unfold. But can I urge us all to view this moment, right now, not as a holding pattern but a readying stage? That is, we want to ask: how can I be preparing myself right now for what God has in store for Village Church?
For example, pray that we’ll remain a resilient community as we adapt to new changes. Pray that these next few months would be a time of increased unity, not a cause for division. Please consider how those who’ve found their way into our community over the last few months will be taken along with us as we gather together again.
Now is the time to open our homes to share a meal with others. Now is the time to introduce new comers to the wider Village community. Now is the time to start gathering again in small groups, where it’s safe and wise to do so, for mid-week Bible study or tuning into the Sunday service together. Now is the time to put our hand up to try new things, as we consider the opportunities we face.
The future of Village begins now. So how might we prepare ourselves for this once in a lifetime opportunity?
The Village Ministry Team
Stage Two: How to Make Decisions
Making decisions is tough at the best of times. For example, last time I treated myself to some take-away it took 45 minutes to decide where to eat. So how can we navigate all the decisions that go into bringing us back together again?
Well, here’s the framework we’re using to help us make these decisions. That is, we want to be directed by our (i) theological convictions, informed by (ii) government laws and denominational guidelines and aware of (iii) pastoral sensitivities. Here’s what we mean.
(i) Theological Convictions
We want to ensure that as a church we don’t lose sight of our identity and what it means to be the church. For example, as we look to Scripture there are a least three things we want to keep at the forefront of our mind when thinking about what church is. That is,
- Physical presence is real presence. As Paul opens his letter to the Romans he says, “For I want very much to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (Rom. 1:11). As powerful as Paul’s letters were, he knew there was a limit to his ministry that could only be made up for by being physically present.
- Gathering is essential to what church is. The New Testament word that we translate as church literally means ‘gathering’. We are who we are when we’re gathered together.
- We gather together in order to build one another up. Consider these words from Paul again: “And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14). Now ask yourself: how many of these things can you do when you’re sitting on you couch tuning into the Sunday Service each week? Very few to none.
So it’s imperative that in order to express our identity as a church and continue growing as followers of Jesus we need to be gathered together. But, it’s not as easy as simply rushing back the first chance we get. At least, not without carefully thinking through the implications of our gathering. And that’s where the next two strands come into play.
That is, listening closely to government laws and advice from our denomination is crucial during this time.
(ii) Government Laws and Denominational Guidelines
For example, all the data suggests that Stage Three, which allows for 100 people to gather together while practicing social distancing will be in place for at least the rest of the year. That means whatever we do to get back together will need to be not only sustainable but also able to continue our mission for the medium-long term.
Not only that, but the look and feel of our gatherings will be dramatically different at certain points. For example, both the Government’s health advice and our denomination are gently urging us not to sing when we’re gathered together until it’s considered safe to do so.
Now, I literally can’t imagine church without singing. But when it comes to the risks associated with spreading the corona virus, singing is in the same category as sneezing (watch the video below for more insight – careful, it’s gross). And if we want to love and serve our neighbours well then we need to take on board the advice from our government and wider church family.
(iii) Pastoral Sensitivities
We want to know how you, Village, are feeling about coming back together. What are your thoughts? What are your concerns? What’s your capacity right now? What excites you most about gathering publicly and how might we be able to build your confidence in meeting again?
So here’s where we get to the pointy end. We’ve put together a survey that we would love for you to fill out. There are a few brief questions that are aimed at taking a temperature reading of our church. The more transparent you are, the better you’ll assist us and the elders in thinking through our re-entry into public gatherings. So can you please follow the link below and carefully consider the questions asked there?
Now, next week we’ll speak a bit more practically about how our mission and vision will shape where we meet. That is, how we anticipate where, when and how Village Church will gather in the months to come. But to help us lock down those plans we’d love to hear from you first.
Because even if our re-entry into public gatherings isn’t perfect, we nevertheless want to start reclaiming our identity as God’s people united by his Spirit and gathered together in Christ.
The Village Ministry Team