Lines by Lee

Back to Church


Late every summer we hear the term "back to school." There are back-to-school sales, band camps and fall sports practices. In some cases, parents are counting the days until the kids can return. Of course, while some children like to go to school, the thought of summer ending and them going back is something most youngsters dread.

One fine student who won't be going back to high school is my son, Micah. He is a member of the class of 2020 and with almost 4 million others he experienced the most bizarre senior year in history. I am proud of him as he did very well in school and did his best to keep in perspective what he missed out on this spring. He is hoping to be able to actually go to college in a few months, if they are open.

For the past several months people of faith have missed out on something most of us consider vital to our lives. Around the country church doors have been closed to the public. Services have been held online in various ways and with different quality. Supposedly even our president has been tuning in to some services. That cannot be a bad idea. One thing is certain. It is time to get back to church!

I have appreciated the efforts of so many Christian musicians to put encouraging concerts online from their homes. Pastors and church leaders should be applauded for having messages and worship music on the web. I recently recorded a six-minute message for the local baccalaureate service. It is much easier to speak to a group of living people (even if sleeping) than to a tiny camera in an empty room. It is time to get back to church!

While we all know that the church is not a building, there is great value in the people of God regularly coming together under one roof. I know of a number of churches who have helped their communities during the pandemic with providing food and pulling together resources. Churches that are alive serve God outside the four walls of the church building. But coming together strengthens and equips us for works of service and for being witnesses.

I understand some local churches began live services again last Sunday. There has been some confusion as to how to interpret directives from the state. Other churches (like mine) will hold an outdoor service this Sunday and then start normal services in June with social distancing provisions in place. I wish I would never hear the words social distancing again.

The church building is a place for social and emotional connection. We want to be a part of a church family so we can grow closer to God and people. Distance is not desirable for the people of God. My brother-in-law proposes churches should provide 3-foot-long sticks with artificial hands on the end so people can still shake. I doubt that those will be as popular as masks, but it may not be a bad idea.

The issue of masks is another interesting one. Will your church require them? If they are optional, will people wearing them look down on those who do not? Will unmasked congregants think those in masks are being extreme and failing to trust God to keep them healthy? Will youth groups have contests to see whose glasses can steam up the most while wearing a mask?

I also wonder what attendance will be like as churches begin to reopen. I think attendance will be way up because people have missed being with their friends and family in the church building. I am not sure how leaders will monitor auditorium capacities if people are lining up to get in the service. I am sure some churches will be strict and others pretty loose in that regard. It will be important for everyone to be patient and realize that getting back to normal as we get back to church will be a process.

Sadly, I fear that "fringe" people who may have attended church once in a proverbial blue moon will find it hard to return. They might have enjoyed sleeping in on Sunday mornings a bit too much. Being under the conviction of the Holy Spirit during a message can be uncomfortable. So why push going back to church? Besides, think of all the germs there! I hope people do not look for excuses to stay away in this new era.

A verse that has been quoted a lot lately as it relates to federal and state governments telling churches what to do is Hebrews 10:25. "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." Most people do not want someone in authority who may not even understand the great value of church involvement mandating our staying away from church. We need encouragement. Yet, we are also obligated to submit to the authorities (Romans 13:1). Whatever your church will look like whenever they decide to start up again, do your best to have a good attitude about decisions made by your church leaders. And remember that while God is our ultimate authority he is the one who puts human rulers in positions of authority.

When you return, recognize that the people in your church have dealt with some of the same fears, frustrations and limitations that you have. Some may be dealing with depression, financial problems, and family struggles. Be on the lookout for folks that you can minister to within your congregation. And don't forget that the church should be united in its goal to impact the world. People may be more open than ever to spiritual things. The church must be united, prayerful, and powered up.

The past several months have not been easy for pastors. For the most part these shepherds are people persons who have not been allowed to be with people in person. Church finances have been affected as not everyone has continued to tithe. With so many out of work, many may not be able to give much. Be as supportive and as generous as you can as you return. Look for ways to be a blessing.

Remember that God is sovereign even as the church deals with a pandemic. One either believes the Lord is in control or does not believe it. I like what Pastor John Piper said. Piper is 74 and being treated for cancer. The very sovereignty that rules in sickness is the sovereignty that sustains in loss. The very sovereignty that takes life is the sovereignty that conquered death and brings believers home to heaven and Christ.

I want to go back to church to worship my sovereign Lord with others. We need to find our strength in him and help others be on the path to heaven. "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).


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