As pastors and churches, we didn't start off 2020 planning and preparing for the decentralization of the American church, but here we are, some still 'sheltering in place' and others just coming out of it, all wondering what life and church looks like on the other side of this experience.
In some ways, as the Church, this is the very thing we've sat around tables and talked about. Many of us have dreamed of a church not dependent on Sunday, a church that reaches beyond the walls, the lights, the preaching, the teaching. A church not constrained to a few vibrant personalities standing on the stage. A church that is people, called by God, empowered by Holy Spirit and determined to spread the Good News of the Gospel to neighbors and community regardless of situations and circumstances.
Movement and momentum are evidence of Holy Spirit. Sure, we can manufacture movements and we can create momentum, but human movement and momentum must be sustained by human heart and hands, and for those of us who have experienced the exhaustion of an overworked schedule and an undernourished soul, we won't lie; it is impossible to maintain that which we've had to manufacture.
I don't know what Covid-19 has taken from you. I don't know how you are struggling in the midst of these unprecedented circumstances. I know my heart is heavy for you. I'm sorry if you are sick, if you've lost your job, if your small business is barely keeping its head above water. I'm sorry if you are scared, anxious, or lonely. I'm sorry if you've been working fifteen plus hour days on the front lines of this pandemic, not seeing your family or friends, all the while knowing your health is in jeopardy. I'm sorry there are sides, and that people on both side seem to bring out the worst in one another. I'm sorry that fear lurks around every corner threatening to rob us of our freedom and our security.
But, as I embrace this reality I see evidence of something else happening. Something that I won't be sorry for. I'm not sorry our churches have been shaken. I'm not sorry we've been scattered. I'm not sorry we've been decentralized. I'm not sorry, as pastors, we've had to lay down our agendas, our plans and our preaching and use our voices to empower our people. I'm not sorry that right now people are realizing, it is for such a time as this they are called, they are equipped, they are anointed and they need to pastor. In fact, they have within them, the same power and presence of Jesus as I have within me. They can minister to their families, they can proclaim the Gospel to their neighbors, and they can go to church, quite frankly because they are the Church and the Church within them never shuts down.
I am not sorry that our tables have become our churches and our churches have become our tables.
Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to be together again in cooperate worship. I actually can't wait to hug my people. I can't wait to hold your hand while we pray. I can't wait to preach the word, from the stage, to actual people and not a camera. There are many things I can't wait for, but at the same time, so many things I will patiently wait for, if the Church needs more time.
I would wait all day long if it meant you got to become the pastor I know you are. If it meant that you recognized your voice, stepped into your authority and found His power unleashed within you.
The Father could have chosen to do this any way He wanted and He chose to do it through ordinary people. He didn't become great (He was already great), He became nothing, so that He might then lead us to everything. He became like you and like me, no title, no prestige, no following, no easy road and He did it as evidence that we could also do it.
It's the story of the early Church. This is how it all began. Their growing together was dependent upon their going and growing separate. The disciples had been with Jesus for years now, in fact, they hadn't done this Gospel life without Jesus. They relied so heavily on their Rabbi. He was the anointed one, He was the direct link to God the Father. And now - post crucifixion and resurrection- He was gone. They were without what they relied on and confused at how to go forward. So great was some of their confusion that many of them just went back to doing what they had done before Jesus.
Jesus spent his post resurrection/pre-ascension days regathering his disciples. He met them in their new reality, spoke into their intimidation. Reassured them, they didn't have to navigate this space without help. Holy Spirit was coming, when He came, they would have all they needed to take the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. The Jesus that was with them had to go so Holy Spirit could be in them and they could go.
Holy Spirit did come and the place they were gathered was shaken. The home in which they waited, was physically impacted by the coming of Holy Spirit. And this encounter led these everyday, ordinary men and women to step away from their fears and doubts and into their identity and calling. They all became pastors that day; teaching and preaching the Good News to anyone who would listen, all in different ways. They faced persecution and judgment and yet, they persevered. Jesus was gone and the Gospel was spreading.
I love Peter and John's words as they stood before the leaders, the scribes and the elders in Jerusalem. Having just healed a man in front of the Gate called Beautiful and powerfully proclaimed the Gospel in the midst of the Temple, the religious leaders arrested the two in fear of their message and how easily it seemed to spread. Knowing they couldn't charge Peter and John with anything because it was evident this man had been healed, they ordered them to stop speaking the name of Jesus and to stay quiet.
To which Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard," (Acts 3:19-20, CSB.) They couldn't stop. Before, the heaviness of being without Jesus caused them to prolong the start and now they couldn't stop. They had experienced too much.
The presence and power of Jesus is not constrained to a 'shelter in place' order.
Rather, He stands at each of our doors knocking (Rev 3:20.) Your faith is not dependent upon your pastor, it's built upon His presence. Your kids, they will develop and grow because of the Jesus that is within you. Your marriage, your security, your friendships, your future, your ability to read and understand Scripture, all these things may be enhanced by other people, but they are built upon Jesus. And sometimes the building must be removed so the foundation can be seen.
I'm convinced, this is your time and this is the invitation. You have been chosen. You are called. You are equipped. You are empowered. The disciples encountered Holy Spirit and the byproduct was movement and momentum that was not manufactured. They didn't have to figure out what to do, they simply followed what seemed to be unfolding inside of them.
When we regather as a Church, what if our time together isn't spent trying to get God to do something as much as it is spent celebrating what He already is doing?
What if Sunday pales in comparison to Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday? What if our tables continued to be our churches (what's feeding us) and our churches resisted being our tables? What if the fuel comes from the fire that burns within each individual and grows as we come together in unity?
If you aren't experience the fire of Holy Spirit in your home right now, go let Him in your front door. He's waiting for for you. He won't force His way into your space, but once in, He will change your space. You can do this because of He who is within you.