We are heading through this transitional season of phases into our new normal. It is exciting to make progress. I have been getting questions of when we are going to “re-open the church.” The truth is that we never closed. Crosswinds continues to know God and make Him known. I have been so encouraged by how my local church family has proved that the church is the sum total of God’s people who do the work of the ministry in the Spirit’s power and leading. We are not the church so we can gather, but we gather so we can do the work of ministry as we scatter. God has been faithful, and so too has my church family.
Now, I get it. When most people ask when the church will re-open, they are actually asking when we will again open the campus for weekend services. This is a good question. However, one that can’t be answered with any certainty until we can be assured we can do so safely, answering the reasonable concerns of our church family and community. We need to be able to provide a service that is inviting to guests and meaningful to God’s people while maintaining a solid witness to the communities where we live throughout this region.
Pastor Rick Warren, who wrote the book The Purpose Driven Life, coined the phrase that “God is more concerned about our character than our comfort.” This is true, but I also believe God is more concerned about character than our calendar. What do I mean by this? I believe God is more concerned about how we return to weekend services than when we will return to weekend services.
It is difficult to answer the when question. This answer is determined by some things outside any of our control. The how question is clearly answered in the Bible. No matter when we gather again for weekend services, God calls us today and always to be one, united in love, and in purpose. Jesus nearly two-thousand years ago prayed for us: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). Our unity as believers comes from our participation in the unity of the Father and the Son. This deep unity of purpose in the bond of love is to be a convincing witness to the world that Jesus came from God. In other words, the way we act and relate to one another, as Christ’s church, either present a positive witness for Christ or a negative one.
It is important to acknowledge that people have different confidence levels as it pertains to gatherings of any size, especially large gatherings. Pastor Kevin Meyers of 12Stone Church, an acquaintance in Atlanta, Georgia, describes people in three categories. He uses the image of a green, yellow, and red streetlight to describe these three groupings of people. The green light represents those who can’t wait. They have their shoes on and ready to gather. Some estimate this group as comprising of 20% of our population. The yellow on the light is composed of those who are cautiously walking back. This group represents about 60% of our friends, families, and neighbors. This group wants to carefully process what they see and experience before they return to a church building. The last group, those represented by the red light, will not be coming back soon. They will remain connected online and through other means. This group represents about 20% of our population and is partly made up of our vulnerable population, as defined by the CDC (65 and over and/or have underlying health concerns). All three groups can back their beliefs by science. It’s not about right or wrong. Our higher call is to move forward together to honor Christ and present a positive witness to those yet to receive Him as Lord and Savior.
The Apostle Paul, understanding the nature of all of us to want to be right, writes: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Paul calls all believers, in the power and leading of the Spirit, to do away with selfishness and conceit. He is not challenging Christians to have an inferiority complex. It is not about thinking less of one’s self but thinking about one’s self less. Through the power of God’s love, we should give honor to others rather than claim it ourselves.
I see this violated in the mask debate. Those who wear masks declare those who don’t as uncaring, while those who don’t wear masks call those who do foolish. We need to stop shaming one another. In fact, we need to determine where the other person is on the streetlight (green, yellow, or red) before we proclaim our light color. We need to humble ourselves and act and react loving despite our differences by the grace of God.
We read in Ephesians 4:1-7 Paul’s call and instruction on how-to live-in unity. It is worth noting that Paul is writing while a prisoner in Rome. He writes to show consideration to others, making allowances for differences and even shortcomings. This is a part of godly love bringing unity and peace. As part of God’s church, we are to preserve unity. Unity is not extinguishing differences, but loving one another amidst differences. After all, the church is one body by the one Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is our one Lord in whom we have a common faith. God is the Father of all the Christian family. As God is one, so His true church is to be one. We also discover than in Christ, every believer has been given the abilities needed to build up His church in the unity of peace.
Unity is not effortless, but we do have the power to live in peace with one another in Christ. We bow to Christ, and He leads and empowers us to lift up others. Through the Spirit, we can bear with one another. Why do we need to bear with one another? Because sometimes people act like a bear or we do. As Christ showed mercy from the cross, He calls and gives us all we need, in Him, to do the same. This brings glory to God, unity in His church, and provides a mighty witness to those yet to receive Christ.
When everything is said and done, the real win is not returning to weekend worship gatherings. Although I, for one, greatly anticipate us doing so. The real win is growing in Christ, and while making Him know, make disciples. This is currently happening in and through Crosswinds. By God’s grace and power, this will continue. Crosswinds’ leadership is looking to the calendar as to how we can continue to grow in Christ and minister safely in and through the phases leading to our new norm. We will gather again, but as we move forward together, let’s encourage one another to allow the Spirit to form Christ’s character in us. After all, this is what God desires most for us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!