Last night one of our elders passed along the latest recommendations of the CDC, which strongly suggested no public gathering with more than 50 people for next 8 weeks. We’d been anticipating at least a month without the ability to gather, but now this number has grown to 2 months. And as the news continues to come, we’re aware that this could go on longer. This is no longer a blip on the radar.
As a community, we’ve strived to teach a healthy perspective on our gatherings: that the Church is not a hour-long service on Sunday, but rather a people… a family. If you’ve been around Restoration for any period of time, you’ve probably heard this repeated. We’ve intentionally chosen habits and practices of simplicity in regards to our gatherings, wishing to invest more of our resources outside of Sunday mornings into the lives of others. From a visionary perspective, we’ve been unknowingly preparing for this moment from our inception.
Yet this doesn’t make the news tonight any less jarring. As a pastor, I love gathering to worship with our Restoration family! I love the leadership of Hannah and Jimmy leading us in worship. I love the casual, come-as-you-are environment where anyone can feel welcome. I (and I never thought I’d say this) even love the hard work of pulling all of our equipment out of the corner, setting it up, tearing it down, and putting it up again. Gatherings never have been our everything, but they’ve been a significant part of our practice of loving God and neighbor.
And now, circumstances have forced us to learn how to navigate a world without a Sunday gathering as the primary connection point for our Church. On one hand, I grieve the time we are losing together. Yet on the other, I see these days ahead as an opportunity to step more fully into our calling to be a restored people who restore the world. As I’ve repeated several times in the last few weeks, our services may be canceled, but Church is not.
So where do we go from here? Because Church is family, maintaining and growing in community throughout these coming months must be an intentional focus. For most of us, we’ll likely not be in a room with more than our family or a few other folks. As leaders, we’re committed to two important steps in the coming days: (a) to invest and equip our people through online resources and connection points (like social media or video conferencing) and (b) meeting the tangible needs that will inevitably rise moving forward, both inside and outside our walls.
This week, I’ll be launching online community opportunities via Zoom Video and/or Google Meets. These are video platforms that will hopefully be accessible to the majority of our people and provide interaction and encouragement through the days ahead. For those who won’t have access to these tools, we’re committed to finding ways of equipping them with resources and connection as well. This may even stretch into our Sunday mornings through interactive approaches to messages and worship together. We’ll experiment, see what works, and keep growing forward!
On top of this, we’re aware of the financial strain that many of our own may be facing in the days ahead. On Sundays, we’ve had an “Acts 2 board” that’s made known both needs and resources for people inside and outside the walls of the Church. As this crisis continues, we anticipate these needs to grow exponentially, and we want to be the kind of Church where “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them (Acts 4:33b-34).” Church is family, right? Together, we can be that family through caring for the needs that arise. So in the coming days, if you find yourself in need, please – do not hesitate to contact us.
Finally, I want to encourage us as individuals moving forward in following Jesus. Being quarantined in our homes and away from those we love is staggering. In the days ahead, it will never be more important to care for our souls through practices of both loving God and loving neighbor. As I’ve sought to navigate what is ahead, here are some of the practices I’d encourage you to press into moving forward:
Disciplines of devotion. We must remember who we are and Whose we are in these troubled days ahead. This doesn’t happen by accident. In the weeks ahead, renew your commitment to abiding in the presence of God through Scripture and prayer. We will continue to equip you with resources, but it won’t happen by accident. Allow the Story of the God in Scripture to be the lens through which you see the world around us – not the other way around.
Limit the news. It’s important that we be informed and follow the guidelines that our authorities give us for our protection. Yet it’s one thing to be informed… and another to be engrossed. Spending our days in the constant stream of information and opinion will only further our anxiety and drive us further into scarcity and fear. As a discipline, learn what you need to know, then love your neighbor and yourself where you are. It’s ok to turn it off for some time.
Care for your physical needs. I don’t know about you, but this change has thrown every rhythm I’ve had completely off. On my own, I’ll spend too much time sitting around, distracting myself with entertainment and not taking good care of myself. It’s important in the weeks ahead to care for our physical needs through exercise, eating as healthy as we can, and rest. Should be Sabbath even if we aren’t working? Yes! Let this season teach you the difference between escape from work and true, Sabbath rest.
Reach out. Mother Teresa famously said that our greatest poverty is loneliness. We already live in one of the most isolated and lonely cultures in history, and this difficult season will surely accelerate the problem. In the days ahead, make it a habit of reaching out to 2-4 people every week. Check in emotionally, pray for one another, learn of needs that may need to be met… in short, be family. Whether by phone, text, social media, or otherwise, make it a discipline to be grow relationally with others in the days ahead. And when online community groups launch, JUMP IN!
Love your actual neighbor. Unless you live deep in the woods, you have neighbors. And in these troubling times, they’re probably feeling the same isolation and fear that we are facing as well. In the coming weeks, reach out to your neighbors. If they need groceries, a yard mowed, or just a conversation, don’t hesitate to be the hands and feet of Jesus right where you are by loving your literal neighbors!
Intercessory Prayer. Finally, intercessory prayer should be central to our lives in these moments. Intercession is simply asking God on behalf of other people, places or situations. Think of it as partnership with God towards restoration through prayer! In moments like these, the Church needs to mobilize in prayer for the healing and wholeness of our world. May we be quickened to prayer for God to break the power of this sickness over our world and bring healing!
Lastly, (seriously, I’m a preacher – I say ‘finally’ or ‘lastly’ at least 4 times!) in the days ahead, take courage. In an anxious world, let your faith steady you and embolden you beyond your own interests towards a love that looks like Jesus. Have the courage to love well. In the words of Paul, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).”
Restoration, I love you. This challenge is an opportunity. God is present and at work among us, and I can’t wait for the stories of his faithfulness to rise and move us forward into a bright future.
March 16, 2020