Church Has Never Been Easy or Safe

Historically and globally, church has never been safe.

Historically and globally, church has never been convenient.

I don’t want to downplay the difficulty of navigating our current situation. We want to walk faithfully as we fumble through our various challenges and frustrations and fears. Yet, perhaps this pandemic is revealing something about us. Perhaps our Christianity has become too preoccupied with the American idols of convenience and safety.

If we don’t value the local church the way God does, we are going to put personal preferences above faithful obedience.

Many of us are unhappy with the precautions our churches are making—masks or no masks, outside or inside, full capacity or not—so we won’t go until it meets our standards. It’s not that those decisions are unimportant, but we should consider whether they are dislodging what (should be) a deeper commitment to the church.

Currently, my church is meeting outside. Honestly, sitting under the beating sun in ninety degree weather is not my favorite. The heat is distracting. My kids are distracting. I miss how things used to be. Every week, I am tempted to complain.

So I keep reminding myself…

Around the world, there are Christians who walk miles to meet.

There are entire families who trek under that glaring sun (or trudge through snowy weather) because they so value gathering with God’s people on the Sabbath. For them, church isn’t merely a 1-2 hour service interrupting their Sunday. It’s an all day commitment. They do it because they know how essential it is for discipleship—they know life in Christ is intrinsically connected to life in His Body. When I read examples of Christians who go to such lengths, I’m so convicted. Who am I to complain about meeting in hot weather (especially when I have the luxury of driving home in an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned house)?

Around the world, there are Christians who meet without buildings or childcare.

Having to manage our kids during sermons might be unique to us, but it’s not actually unique. There are countless churches where children squirm, struggle to listen, babble, and have meltdowns during the church service. We frown upon the disciples who tried to prevent the children from seeing Jesus, but how often do we adopt a similar attitude by considering children in our congregation a hindrance? We have a profound opportunity right now to express Christ’s own heart in the way we welcome and love the rambunctious children around us.

Around the world, Christians meet despite the risk of persecution.

We have so much to learn from courageous Christians throughout history and across the globe who have denied comfort and safety because of the deeper call of life together. They keep meeting when their governments and neighbors and relatives threaten them. They keep meeting when their churches and houses are burnt down. They keep meeting when their pastors and members are imprisoned, beaten, and even killed.

Now, I know that a pandemic and persecution are two very different challenges. My point is to consider the weight of our priorities. Health and safety is a blessing worth protecting, but it was never supposed to be the Christian’s ultimate concern. When our persecuted brothers and sisters are facing frequent and severe threats in order to meet, should we really wait for the absence of a virus before we do? A concern for safety should certainly influence the precautions that we take, but let us make every effort to continue gathering as a church! Yes, there is risk. But isn’t that always true of following Jesus?

If God has called us to build and display his Kingdom together, we must actually be together.

It is good to consider how we can love our neighbors by slowing the spread of this nasty virus. We should joyfully lay aside our preferences to serve (I don’t like wearing masks, but that’s not a hill worth dying on! It’s a way to care for others). We should show particular care for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, manifesting our corporate commitment to anyone physically unable to meet. And certainly, we should do what we can to nurture the health of our own bodies.

But we must also care for the health of the Body. We are not just saved as individuals, we are saved as a people—we are collectively the Bride of Christ. Ever since the Church was established in the New Testament, this corporate identity is primarily expressed through local churches. Our gatherings aren’t just meetings. When we worship together, hear God’s Word preached, stir one another up to love and good works, and remind each other of the Great Commission and coming Kingdom, we are being who God has made us to be.

May we love the Church as Christ does, and joyfully sacrifice our comfort, convenience, preferences, and yes, even safety, for its flourishing.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25

5 thoughts

  1. Amy, I have greatly appreciated and often shared things that you post, but on this stance I’m going to respectfully disagree with you. Comparing religious persecution to the current pandemic doesn’t work for me. Yes, I too, would love to worship with my congregation right now with no restrictions, but out of compassion for those with compromised immune systems (in my own family there are many), out of respect for the medical personnel diligently caring for the ill, and out love for my neighbors, I am comfortable with following the guidelines recommended by the epidemiologies, virologists, and other experts.

    It’s not about being afraid or trying to protect my own health and safety. I may contract the virus and not suffer greatly, but I may pass it on to someone who will. This virus has affected our world for less than a year…we have so much more to learn about it. Perhaps we believers should be leading with patience instead of passion for being together physically?

    Since having to move to online worship, we’ve actually experienced growth in our church that we might not otherwise have had. Visitors who might not ever step foot physically in our worship center joined us online (it was less intimidating for them). Breakout rooms following the service allowed for deeper and more meaningful fellowship than what sometimes happens on a Sunday morning in the coffee hour. Over the summer when attendance on a Sunday may have been lower due to vacationers, attendance online was better than ever in July because they could join from wherever they were. Folks who were unable to attend an in-person Bible study on a workday evening were more easily able to join a Zoom Bible study, saving them the 30 minute drive to and from someone’s home. We HAVE continued to meet together, worship together, pray together. We are not being persecuted for our faith, but God is working this for His good. We ARE “being who God has made us to be.”

    Yes, I long for the day when I can sing at the top of my lungs, mask free, praising the Lord with fellow believers (and hugging my friends, too), but for now I am learning to be content, whatever the circumstances. I am not being persecuted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stacey! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your perspective!

      Just as a point of clarification, I’m not advocating for no restrictions. As you said, taking safety precautions is important for loving our neighbors! I agree! And I understand that pandemic and persecution are different challenges, my larger point was how we think about safety (and I think it’s common for Americans–even before all this–to idolize safety).

      But again, I appreciate you sharing! It is amazing how God has used this time to build the Kingdom. I praise God for all the people who’ve been exposed to the Gospel because of online church services!

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      1. Thanks for your response, Amy. I appreciate your point about how safety has become an idol to many Americans—I’ve spent a significant amount of time in other countries and the differences between the US and other countries is stark. However, if that is your main point in this post, it does not come across that way to me (and maybe I’m just dense).

        The central message seems to be: Christians need to not fear the virus or the inconveniences related to it and should attend church in person (BE together), because persecuted Christians go through much greater difficulties to worship together.

        If the idol of safety is your main point, perhaps using Sunday worship as an example is not the best example. And, personally knowing individuals in other countries who have actually been persecuted for their faith, the connecting of these two things is quite bothersome.

        I love part of your closing line, “May we love the Church as Christ does, and joyfully sacrifice our comfort, convenience, preferences, for its flourishing,” — AMEN!! I don’t believe “and yes, even safety” should be part of it. It is those safety measures that are helping to keep our neighbors from getting this terrible virus, that are keeping hospitals from being overrun, etc. (Unfortunately it has hit too close to home here.) Maybe taking a step back and realizing that the discomfort some felt when churches were online (not ideal or what we were used to) instead of meeting outside (which allowed us to see our friends, have a band, etc.) was the sacrifice we needed to make?

        I do really appreciate so much of what you write and share online. I just think this one missed the mark. I do look forward to reading more from you, though, about this safety idol. It’s really something that need to be addressed.

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