I suspect that there are few in our world today who have not been impacted by COVID-19. It has disrupted both our personal lives as well as our national economies. Its impact would have been hard to imagine even 6 months ago. Social distancing; banning of gatherings, including church services; massive unemployment; and shortages on the grocery stores. All things that have disrupted our lives.
The restrictions that have been imposed on gatherings have had significant impacts on the life of the church. Our buildings stand empty. Our ministries grind to a halt. No songs are song, no sermons preached, no offering collected, no Bible studies taught. How can we be a church if we cannot get together? It’s like we’re in exile.
A Time of Exile
Exile! Israel experienced a time of exile. Their exile was a punishment from God in response to their continued rebellion. I don’t mean to suggest that what is happening to the church today is for the same reason. But I do find some interesting similarities between them.
When Israel went into exile, their temple was destroyed. This temple had been the center of their religious life. All of their worship centered around it. And it was gone. How could they continue to be a covenant people of God without that temple?
Our exile will likely not last for 70 years, like Israel’s did. And our church buildings have not been destroyed. But we still are faced with how to be God’s people, his church in exile, unable to assemble together.
During Israel’s exile their religious life was transformed. Synagogues became the primary place for gathering and instruction. The written word of God became more central to their practice. They moved from a people focused on a central building and priesthood, to a distributed religious life built around the Bible and their rabbis.
The New Normal
Many of the ‘experts’ today warn us that life will never go back to what it was last year. That COVID-19, or related diseases, will be with us for the foreseeable future. Social distancing and mask wearing will be a part of our way of life.
And that will have long term impacts on our churches as well. What will we do when we can no longer pack ourselves into a big room to worship together? Will we look for new ways to be the church? To assemble together, evangelize and disciple? Or will we attempt to cling to the past and old ways of doing things? What will the church in exile look like in the future?
Life for the Church in Exile
Today, the church I am a part of is live streaming a sermon on Sunday morning via Facebook. Our worship teams are producing videos for worship and publishing them to YouTube. We are having prayer meetings, Bible studies, and other meetings via Zoom. Our youth and children’s leaders are producing online content appropriate for their age groups. We are learning new ways of ‘doing church’ during our exile.
I expect that we will be able to come together in person before too many more months have gone by. At least in some form. But I hope and pray that the lessons we have learned during this time of exile will not be forgotten. That we will continue to embrace the technologies that have enabled us to stay connected. And that we will continue to explore ways to reach our world with these new tools.
As Israel was transformed by their exile, my hope is that we will also be renewed and transformed by our exile. Rather than complain about our circumstances, let’s look to what the church can become in this new world that is coming.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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