In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American church is met with several challenges and quite a few questions. One of the most important questions we are faced with is, “What have we been doing? Will it still work? Should we even have been doing it in the first place?”
In some cases, these questions have pretty easy answers.
Previously: We were meeting together in buildings by the 10’s, 100’s, and 1000’s.
Now: Ten people or less. Online only.
Should we keep doing what we’ve been doing? Of course not! Right now, it would violate directives from our elected officials and it puts people in harm’s way. People are dying and we can’t figure out who’s sick quickly enough to keep from spreading the virus to more vulnerable people. Simple: stop having church at the church house.
The follow up questions are where I think we can get hung up a bit. What happens after all of this? Are people going to flock back to sanctuaries and cathedrals all quick-like as soon as stay-home orders are lifted? Perhaps some. Won’t be me! However, at some point, it is going to be perfectly reasonable for those who once gathered to gather again. I think we should! I mean… we can’t stay home forever, can we?
For about the last month now, schools have been closed—at least they have been here in Texas. Kids have been sent home, resources provided digitally, and parents (many of whom are also home) are now with their kids all day. I’ve heard mixed reviews. Most commonly, parents want their children to leave. Go away. Open the schools and take these children, please and thank you. This sounds awful, cruel, and unbecoming of a good parent unless you have kids and have been stuck in the house with them for extended periods of time.
Parents are now finding out that the teacher ain’t been lying on Johnny. Johnny is part demon. Their sweet little angel has fallen. Many of us are faced with the harsh reality that our kids are just unruly and there’s no two ways about it.
In light of these findings: pay teachers better.
On the other hand, I have heard of parents discovering that their children, some of whom may have received less than stellar behavior and citizenship marks, are not the people they have been painted to be. Some parents are learning how truly brilliant their kids actually are. They are seeing that in the absence of the traditional school and all that comes with it, their children are thriving!
What is a parent to do with that information? When COVID-19 is subdued, has become less of a threat, and the all-clear is given; how does a parent adjust to this new normal with this new information? The answer to that question is as unique as each child, the circumstances they were born into, and the environment they are being raised in. For the church, however, I have a few thoughts.
Gathering > meeting
Don’t just meet. Gather together. Assemble.
Now, before you say, “Keith, these are the same things,” give me a moment. Walk with me. Yes, I’m playing a bit of a game of semantics, but play along. I’m going somewhere.
Words have meanings.
Hebrews 10:23-25 | ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ‘
Hebrews 10:25 says that we (Christians) should “not [forsake] our own assembling together…” (New American Standard Bible). Other modern translations or versions of the Bible use the word “meeting” instead of assembling. There are a few that say “gathering.” When translated directly from the original language, the word used translates to “assembling together.” This doesn’t mean versions of the Bible that say “meet” are wrong—not by any means. The idea is still conveyed. Again, this is a game of semantics. Stay with me!
Look up the words assemble, gather, and meet in the dictionary. Go ahead… look them up. It will seem like a distinction without a difference, but the difference I want to point out is the words the definitions contain. Definitions for ‘meet’ contain the words ‘assemble’ and ‘gather’, but not the other way around. All assemblies and gatherings are meetings, but not all meetings are gatherings.
You ever attend a meeting that could have been an email? Exactly. By definition, assemblies and gatherings have a purpose. Not every meeting has a purpose.
I said all that to say: coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Church in 2020 must not simply go back to meeting on Sundays. Let’s assemble—gather together, with purpose. One reason many people…no, scratch that—the reason EYE don’t like going to church sometimes is that I sometimes leave and wonder why I went. I have sat through elements of a worship services and felt like they did it just to be doing it; or worse, because it’s always been done.
purpose > preference
When we come back, lets remember why we’re supposed to be doing it. There is a purpose. Identify it and lets do our best to fulfill it; individually and collectively.
What we thought was working may not have been working at all. It may have just worked for us. That might be one of the reasons church growth has stagnated in recent years. Don’t be so quick to blame those who don’t want to participate in our religious activities for the decline in church attendance. Who really wants to participate in “religious activities” anyway? When we make it about what we want and not what it needs to be to fulfill its purpose, we make it religious activity. It’s not about what we like or want.
In my 20 years as a professional musician, primarily playing music in churches, I have played a thousand songs I didn’t feel like playing; at least 100 I didn’t even like. There’s a short list of songs I can’t stand. …no. What I will tell you is that when called upon to do so, I played them. When leading a music ministry, I have even taught songs I did not personally like. Why? It’s not about my preference; it’s about the purpose being fulfilled.
COVID-19 forced many (if not all) churches to venture into waters they had never explored before. Necessity pushed many of us into a realm of creativity that we had no intention of tapping into. People who hadn’t missed a Sunday meetin’ in a decade watched church online, from home, in pajamas. People used water and leavened bread or Cheez-its for communion (if you used Cheez-its, you are a pioneer). And no one has touched their neighbor in weeks.
There’s nothing wrong with [many of] the things we like and prefer in the way we “do church.” On the other hand, anything that stands in the way of us being the church is just that: in the way. Just like the student whose parent has recently discovered that a certain educational model hasn’t really been effective for their kids, the Church must see what is happening and make adjustments to become more relevant to the cause of Christ.
nothing is normal
One of the sermons I heard today focused on the possibility that what is really normal may still lie ahead. With so much talk on social media and the news about getting back to normal, we should consider that God may be moving us into where He wants us to be. We might have been comfortable with the way things were, but that doesn’t make the way they were normal.
In biblical times, it was normal for people to have indentured servants (called “slaves” in the Bible). While under Roman rule, it was normal for Jews to be forced to carry a Roman soldier’s things for a full mile—no matter what direction they were originally headed in, when instructed to do so. During the 14 and 1500’s, it was normal for European explorers and merchants to take humans from the African continent and sell them as property on the North American continent. Until a hundred years ago, it was normal for women not to be allowed to vote. 60 years ago it was normal to have separate entrances into buildings for people with different shades of skin in the United States. 25 years ago it was normal to illegally download songs from the internet onto DVD-like discs that only played music and call them “tapes.” In August of 2001, it was normal to greet loved ones at the gate when they got off of their flight. In January it was normal to shake hands. The use of the term COVID-19 only became normal about six weeks ago.
What will become normal for the Church after 2020? What will become normal for you?
Keith Goosby II is the founding minister of NET Church. He has served in ministry for over 20 years, in various capacities–including music, social media management, teaching, preaching, consulting, and leadership. Keith’s first church experience as a child was a home church. Since then, he has attended and served at churches sizing from just a few to over 10,000–of various denominations and affiliations. As NET Church is being planted, Keith continues to serve at his Dallas home church, Golden Gate MBC, in Dallas, TX, under the leadership of Minister Vincent T. Parker. Keith is married and currently lives in the Dallas area with his wife and three sons.