Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord– Colossians 3:15b-16 NKJV
By any measurable standard the last year and a half was bumpy for everyone. The world was collectively awestruck at how quickly a weird little virus could lead to compulsory lockdowns, financial uncertainty, social unrest, church closures and the shutdown of most schools. The gloom brought on by those unwelcome changes took a heavy toll on everyone, including most Christians (James 1:2-3).
Unparalleled world events swiftly exposed a whole host of systemic and potentially lethal problems lurking in Western churches. Most believers lacked the spiritual tools and community support necessary to keep their faith vibrant over a year of forced isolation. Even fewer Christians were prepared to answer the questions that surfaced out of the COVID crisis. Questions like: where is God when we suffer? What role should government play in faith communities? What does honoring authority look like in a global pandemic (Romans 13:4-6)? Is online church a suitable substitute for the real deal (Hebrews 10:25)? Furthermore, local churches struggled with an unprecedented loss of attendance and financial support. Many pastors suffered a crisis of identity when they learned exactly how expendable most political and public health authorities felt their contribution to society was.
Thankfully, the worst seems to be passing. I am personally overjoyed, no one hated COVID world more than this girl. That said, we should all have some very real reservations about churches returning to the “normal” we foolishly embraced pre-COVID. Our Western Church version of normal was anything but healthy and live-giving from a spiritual perspective. The last thing the church needs is more of what created the problems that became evident during COVID. Instead the church needs a twenty-first century reformation that begins with:
An end to the Christian celebrity culture-
Little good has come from idolizing Christian pastors, musicians, and influencers. Most of the men and women put on pedestals by the Christian community have become prideful and arrogant and proven themselves to be completely unteachable. Too many “celebrity Christians” have embraced a life of sin and destroying the reputation of Jesus and other Christians in the process. Some have become so addicted to media attention that they eventually denounced Christianity altogether to keep the spotlight on them. It’s time for Christian to say “no more” to the celebrity culture. Instead we must be intentional about looking within our own local churches for faithful men and women to hold up as examples of the faith (1st Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17).
No more shallow teaching-
A shocking lack of doctrinal depth has become standard in Church world. Like most of our mistakes this one was made with good intentions. Dumping discipleship programs (Adult Sunday school) and replacing them with small groups was intended to build community and make unbelievers more comfortable in the church. It did neither. All it did was shrink the Church and produce a generation of genuinely ignorant and spiritually immature Christians. If we want to save the Western Church we need to find ways to make Sunday school cool again.
Theology that empowers the church to deal with secular authority in a biblical manner-
It’s simply a fact that Christians are called to obey secular authorities. However, early Christians continued to meet together (sometimes daily) despite the fact it was forbidden by “authorities” on and off for more than three centuries. If they hadn’t the church probably would have disappeared altogether early in the first century. Leaders and individual Christians need to do some soul searching and decide what sort of edict is worthy of violating the command to “gather together” before the next round of shutdowns.
An openness to a movement of the Spirit of God-
Sadly, there are two equally stupid views of the Holy Spirit that have prevailed in most denominations over the last century. On one end of the spectrum there is a history of gross excess. This group has taken 1st Thessalonians 5:19“Do not quench the Spirit” to mean that almost anything done in the name of the Holy Spirit goes with or without any biblical precedent. Period. This has been a huge turnoff for those on the other end of the spectrum who have declared anything they see as out of the ordinary (speaking in tongues, raising hands in worship, prophetic utterances) as evil and “of the devil” even if that thing has biblical precedent. Both attitudes are wrong, Truth lies in the middle. It is not our job to manufacture the work of the Spirit in the name of “having an experience”. Neither is it our job to dictate to God how He can or cannot work. Our job is to seek the Spirit with an open heart asking Him to reveal more of Himself and His truth to us. However, we also need to understand that any genuine work of the Holy Spirit will be accompanied with a greater desire to obey God. The Holy doesn’t do anything without the purpose of bringing greater obedience and purity to God’s people.
We are made in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1:26). We need each other. Period. Churches have to figure out how to create authentic faith communities in the midst of twenty-first century busyness. If we don’t the church will continue to lose people.
It is the churches responsibility to be ready to offer hope, help and healing when the worst happens. Most churches weren’t ready for any of that with COVID. Welcoming a movement of God, building community in the church and being prepared to answer tough theological questions is how we get ready for whatever comes next.