Let's learn together from the book of Acts!
"So are we going to reopen this Sunday?" Now that the governor has begun a phased reopening of Massachusetts, I've gotten that question countless times, and I totally understand why.
I’m super eager to gather again! I miss you all so much. I miss the energy of praising God together in a packed sanctuary full of friends. I miss our unplanned conversations as we bump into each other in the hallways, and the chance to catch up during fellowship time. So I absolutely understand the question, but part of me wants to reply by asking “how can Highrock re-open when we never closed?”
The church has always been much more than a building. The church is a worshiping community that joins Jesus on mission, and we’re doing those things today as much as ever, and in some ways, we're now able to do more.
Every week we gather for worship at Highrock at Home, and the number of people joining us has exploded since the days we were only meeting in buildings. Hundreds of Highrock households are tuning in for online daily devotions, which we’ve never done before in this scale, and many Small Groups are reporting that they've become closer since meeting up online.
Our ELL classes continue to grow, and for the first time, we have a participant who’s never even been to Boston, but heard about Highrock in China and is joining our classes and Bible studies from there. Likewise, groups in Japan have been able to join us online, since all the services are translated into Japanese. Last week we even began experimenting with translation of the service into Farsi!
In addition, Highrockers are serving our neighbors and people in need in countless ways through the Community Care initiatives and the #spreadthehope campaign; some of these efforts we’ve celebrated on Hope & Soap. We reallocated a portion of our general budget and added your contributions to our Community Aid Fund to give life-saving help to organizations feeding people locally and around the world, support to churches in low-income areas that are hardest hit by this virus, and care for health professionals.
Friends, the church never closed. We’re as active and effective today as we’ve ever been.
That said, I understand why people are asking this question. On Monday the governor of Massachusetts released guidance that created some confusion. Some people thought the governor was declaring it safe for churches to meet again like they used to, but that’s not what he intended. Respecting the first amendment, the governor’s trying to avoid regulating churches, and leaving the discernment up to our wisdom and compassion. So where do wisdom and compassion lead us?
First, we notice that while all of us are tired of isolation, the data haven’t changed as quickly as we were hoping they would. Secondly, if we look at the State recommendations, the venues that most closely approximate full-sanctuary church services, including theaters, sports arenas and schools, will not be allowed to re-open until phase 3. Finally, it’s important to notice that singing, shaking hands, hugging, and sharing food are among the most dangerous activities, and yet those are the very things we love to do when we gather.
What would worship in our church buildings be like if we couldn’t sing, couldn’t get near each other, and couldn’t have communion or soul food? We would miss some of the parts we love most. One day we’ll be able to do all those things again, but what are we going to do in the meantime?
When it’s safe, we’ll encourage people to gather in homes to share a meal and watch the service together. Meanwhile, our staff is developing a model for robust house churches, which we hope may endure even after our large services resume because that would allow us to reach even more people and personalities than services in our sanctuaries could on their own.
In that way I continue to insist that we can’t look at this period as an “interruption” before we get back to “normal”, but as the Holy Spirit’s invitation into new kinds of ministry that we’ve never been able to do before!
The digital world is here, but churches, including Highrock, have been slow to adapt because the old ways were “working” and wonderful for us. But while we were reaching many thousands of people that way, we were missing millions, and were at risk of floating contentedly toward irrelevance.
But like God used persecution in Jerusalem to force the first generation of Christians to follow Jesus into mission beyond their comfort zones, could God be using this pandemic to force our generation of Christians to follow Jesus into mission beyond our old comfort zones?
We’re embracing this call, so even when we are able to resume our beloved sanctuary services (which I can’t wait for!), we don’t ever want to go back to “normal”. God has given us a new vision, and if we’re faithful in this difficult moment, we can be more fruitful than ever.
All this means that we will resume sanctuary services as soon as it’s safe, which probably won’t be this summer, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it even happens during 2020.
But we’ll never close the church! We’re going to continue moving forward in God’s mission to heal the world through sacrificial love.
So for now, please continue joining us for Highrock at Home, daily devotions, Small Groups, and our other ministries, and be on the lookout for instructions about how to gather in houses as soon as it’s safe. In the meantime, keep serving God by serving others in the same beautiful ways I keep hearing about.
Church, I'm proud of you. I miss you. And while I don’t want to miss God’s invitation for today, I also look forward to the day we can all gather to joyfully praise our Lord and embrace each other in packed sanctuaries again.