2020, amiright? I know. That’s like the main topic of discussion. The year opened with promise, like all years, but it wasn’t long before it became evident that 2020 was not going to be just any old year. COVID turned everything upside down. And what started out as a virus, somehow became a political issue. Adding to that here in the US, not only were we dealing with COVID and all that brought with it, but there was also the presidential election and then all the chaos that has followed it. Who our president currently is all depends on who you ask.
When I think of 2020, polarizing is the word that comes to mind. The elections brought out the worst in us Americans, but then that’s nothing new. Politics in this country have long since been a topic avoided at family gatherings. Everyone has an opinion and in the age of social media, everyone now has a platform from which to shout their opinion. And also a platform from which to shout about why the other side’s opinion is wrong. The level of verbal attacks I’ve seen in the comment sections of posts has been brutal.
I’ve watched church leaders become political experts and virologists. I’ve listened as they have made snarky remarks about meeting in Walmart for church. Prayer marches for the elections. Protests because people were asked not to gather for worship. Facebook posts completely missing any compassion. All this bothered me, but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
Then I read an article from a friend in my Jesus Come! community and it all became clear to me. (You can read it here and I encourage you to do so.)
I’ve thought for a long time…years really…that the Western church had gotten off the rails quite a bit. In fact, my husband and I left our church a couple of years ago after serving faithfully for well over a decade. We were just worn out with it. Everything had become such a production. So planned out, right down to the minute. Buzz words and gimmicks. Always trying to figure out what will make people want to serve, what will make people want to give more money, what will make Jesus more interesting to the unchurched. Bigger. Better. Best. Like it was some code to be cracked or some formula to be followed. If we say these words enough, they’ll become part of our church culture. But you know, it just doesn’t work like that.
Enter COVID. And lockdowns and quarantines and gathering limits. Suddenly you can’t do things the way you’ve always done them. Everybody is scrambling to find a work around. Some churches get creative, trying to figure out how to keep going business as usual within the parameters given. Some churches refuse to submit to the gathering limits and mask requirements and continue meeting as usual, as if it was some sort of badge of honor to do so.
And I just kept thinking, maybe all this is meant to serve a purpose? Maybe suddenly having all the trappings of Western church removed was allowed by God because some or all of that needed to be stripped away? Maybe we have become too comfortable with our climate controlled spaces and our scriptures on the big screen. We’ve gotten too comfortable with being able to show up on a Sunday morning and sit and “consume” worship for an hour. We’ve forgotten what it means to lament. Based on the turnout for most of the prayer meetings I ever went to, we’ve also forgotten how to pray. People want to be entertained. People want to be comfortable. People want to be catered to.
And in all the scrambling to keep it going, to work around parameters, to ignore mandates, to protest and shout, what I didn’t hear very much of at all was repentance. That was the thing that was missing that I just couldn’t put my finger on until I read my friend’s article.
And as I read that line, I just thought, yes exactly. That’s exactly it. Where indeed.
We’ve long established this idea that church is something that happens in a building. We come, we sit in a seat and we listen while somebody else teaches us. Half the time we don’t even bother to bring a Bible with us to church, even though most of us probably have several sitting on a shelf at home somewhere, which incidentally is a freedom not allowed to lots of Christians around the world. (We think because the government temporarily closes our doors during a pandemic that we’re being persecuted? Go read up on the persecuted church around the world. You’ll find that we here in this country don’t have even the faintest idea of what persecution looks like.)
Church has become a place where we go to “get fed,” which is a phrase I despise. It says that I’m coming to church because I need somebody to give me something. I’m arriving on Sunday morning or Saturday night or Thursday or whatever cool day church gathers now because I need someone to meet my spiritual needs and teach me about God. But that’s not why we go to church…or at least it shouldn’t be. We go to church and gather corporately to offer God worship. We come together to bring him glory and honor and praise. You should “eat” before you come.
But then, I think that’s one thing many people either forgot how to do or either never really knew in the first place. We rely so heavily on pastors and Bible teachers that we’ve let ourselves get lazy with scripture. I heard a friend once say, well I’m no Bible scholar and to that I say, you don’t need to be. That’s just an excuse the enemy gives us to not have to study the scriptures for ourselves. You don’t need to be a scholar, you just need to be a lover of the scripture and a seeker of God’s heart.
“Where is the repentance?”
Maybe God has been using this time to call out his Church. Not little “c” church, but big “C” Church. The Church. Maybe God has been using this as a time of sifting. Maybe God hasn’t been calling us to fight, to protest, and to shout. Maybe he’s not calling us to scrape and scramble to maintain church as we’ve always done it. Maybe God has been calling us to our knees.
Maybe we’ve had freedoms afforded to us that have made living the Christian life easy and we’ve become accustomed to that. But it wasn’t ever meant to be easy. Because we live in a country that is free, we fully well expect to be able to just waltz through the doors of a church anytime we desire and we’ve come to take that for granted. We don’t show up with our hearts prepared for worship. We don’t come bowed low, humbled before an Almighty God, but rather stubborn, arms crossed during worship, waiting for someone to give us something, waiting to be served.
Maybe we’ve forgotten what it looks like to really seek the heart of God. Maybe we’ve been doing things a certain way for so long that we haven’t thought to ask God if we’re even going in the right direction. Maybe God’s desire for us is so far removed from what church staffs spend hours planning and creating for the masses that we’re missing the mark completely.
As my husband put it this morning, we have become receivers instead of givers. We’ve come to expect God to prosper us, to heal us, to speak to us…to fit into our parameters of who He is. We’ve become so familiar with God that we’ve lost our reverence of Him. We march willfully into His presence when we should on our faces.
Maybe God has been using this time to wake us up. To throw cold water into the face of all those familiarities and expectations.
Maybe God has been using this time as a mirror for us to see ourselves as we are. Have we been looking? And is the reflection we see looking back at us truly a picture of what God has called his Church to be or are we just dancing around a golden calf? Are we a church that is holding on with a death grip to the way things have always been, the way WE think they should be? Or are we a Church that is so fervently seeking God’s heart that we are desperate to humble ourselves and repent for all the ways we’ve chosen ourselves over God?
Are we willing to consider that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t an attack on our churches, but rather a shaking and a sifting meant to bring us to our knees in repentance? Maybe God is using this time to strip away the easy Christianity we’ve so enjoyed. To cut off the branches of “self”. To open our eyes wide to all the idols we have been serving.
Maybe God has been using this to ready us for what is ahead. Will we be ready?