I don’t want to read anything more about Covid, and I’m sure you don’t either. I don’t have any insight on the best way to handle the virus or the timeframe for when we’ll regain some normalcy. There’s only one thing I know: It’s really hard to be a pastor during Covid. That’s not surprising because it’s hard to be a church member during Covid. And that’s not surprising because it’s hard to be a human during Covid.
As I look at the other churches around me, we’re all doing things differently. My church family is meeting in backyards around our area to talk through Scripture, encourage each other, and pray together. Other churches are meeting in their parking lots or under tents on their church property. Some churches are fully online right now. Some churches have chosen to continue meeting indoors. I don’t know of any churches that haven’t changed course a few times.
The bottom line is this: we’re all just doing our best. Believe it or not, the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically how to do a church service. (I know, right?!) We get some descriptions of what the first Christians did when they gathered, and some corrections of specific churches when they veered off course, but you simply cannot read through the New Testament and walk away saying, “Yes, the way my church gathers is the one and only biblical way to do it.” You seriously can’t. And yet, miraculously, so many seem to be doing that right now. To be honest, I have to fight that impulse in myself.
A famous pastor and his megachurch recently chose to defy California Governor Newsom’s ban on holding indoor church services, saying very clearly, “We cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedient to our Lord’s clear commands.” I personally find this so frustrating. The “moratorium” in California right now is on indoor gatherings. So which “clear command” of the Lord tells us that we must worship indoors?
But this is exactly the moment I need to stop myself. I don’t need to agree with this pastor. I think he and his team are doing the best they can to be faithful in their context. It’s so hard to be a pastor right now, they don’t need me telling them they’re doing it wrong. I’ve seen several videos make the rounds online with pastors literally yelling at other pastors for not opening their churches back up. That is so out of line! I could yell back that our church is still open, we just aren’t meeting indoors. I don’t need these guys yelling at me for not doing exactly what they’re doing. They don’t need me yelling back at them that they’re doing it wrong. Honestly, we need to stop telling each other what we’re doing wrong and instead focus on following Jesus in our unique cultural moment.
Early in the pandemic, I had to delete Twitter from my phone. I had anxiety as I read opinion after opinion (which is all social media gives us, by the way) about what the virus meant and how it should be responded to: If you keep meeting in person, you’re murdering people. If you stop meeting in person, you’re caving to government and disobeying Jesus. If you meet only online you’re impoverishing people’s spiritual lives because we’re made for human interaction. If you meet in person you’re compromising your church’s witness to the community and no one will ever love Jesus again. If you stop meeting in person your church has abandoned its mission to share the love of Jesus with the community.“In the Bible, Satan is called ‘the accuser of the brothers and sisters.’ So when we accuse each other regarding how we’re doing church right now, it’s not the Lord’s work we’re doing.”
It’s stupid, it’s wrong, and perhaps most significantly, when we make these kinds of accusations at each other, it’s not the Lord’s work we’re doing. In Scripture, Satan is called “the accuser of the brothers and sisters” (Rev. 12:10). That’s literally Satan’s job. He accuses us of wrongdoing, of not being enough, of being unforgivable, of being unredeemable. And here we are, claiming the name of Jesus even as we step out in a complete lack of grace and accuse one another. As Paul warned us, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15).
When I look around, I see a creativity in churches that I’ve never seen before. Losing this one approach to doing church that we all held to be sacred has led so many churches to innovate and try to find life amid new constraints. That’s a good thing! It’s not a virtue to step up and accuse other churches or other Christians. (I am, of course, talking here about preference issues like whether to meet indoors, outdoors, or online. When it comes to sin issues, abuse, etc., darkness must be named and brought to light and justice.)
The kingdom of God doesn’t look like hatred and strife and division and self-exaltation and political jockeying. This current cultural moment has given us yet another opportunity to be jackasses in the name of Jesus. But it’s also an opportunity for love, grace, and encouragement. So I want to fight the impulse to accuse and tear down and instead look at so many of my brothers and sisters who are simply doing their best and say, “Great job! Hang in there! You’re doing well, and I know God will continue to guide you.” May God use this time to shape his church into what he wants it to be for this time and for the times ahead.