What if I still can’t meet on Sunday?

I have previously posted about our first meeting back in our building on Sunday. You can read about that here. It was all largely as expected and surprisingly stress free.

Lots of us, however, are not able to meet at the moment. That may be because we rent buildings and cannot get back into them, we haven’t been able to sort out our own buildings yet so they are safe, most of our congregation might be unable to attend or we might feel, at this stage, there just isn’t the value in going back. As I said in my earlier post, I don’t think there is a right or wrong about all this. We all have to work out, with the wisdom the Lord has given us, what is best for our particular situations and context.

It is really important that none of us begin craning our necks to criticise what others are doing on this front. None of us have led through this sort of pandemic before and we are all trying to balance our desire to meet with loving our neighbours and keeping safe. Not only is there no ‘one size fits all’ solution, there is no specific right or wrong. Each of us has to be convinced that what we are doing is right before the Lord in our particular situations, whatever conclusions we end up reaching.

But what if you are keen to meet (as most of us are) but, for whatever reason, your church won’t be meeting this week either. Here are some things to bear in mind:

God remains sovereign

All the way through this pandemic, it has been a great source of comfort to know that the Lord has all of this under control. He was neither shocked nor surprised when the pandemic hit and nor was he taken unaware by the government response. All these things were, and are, under God’s sovereign control.

As much as that is true for the wider situation, let’s remember it is equally true for our specific church situation. It remains true if the decision has been taken out of your hands altogether and you have no means of meeting and it is true if a specific decision has been taken not to meet too. The Lord knew it all and hasn’t been surprised by it. He ordained it. So let’s take some comfort from the fact that he knows what he is doing, even if it feels like we don’t.

God gifted you with leaders for these sorts of things

Your leaders have been gifted to your church by the Lord. Just as he is sovereign over all things in general, he is sovereign over the leaders that have been appointed. And they have been appointed (in part) so that they might make wise and godly decisions about what to do in these sorts of circumstances.

If you trust your leaders with your spiritual health, and you are prepared to submit to their leadership at all, then it is probably worth giving them the benefit of any doubts you may have about the decisions they have taken about meeting again. The decision might not have been theirs to take at all – in which case, they are probably doing their best to mitigate that fact – but if they have taken the decision not to meet at this time, trust that they are doing so for good and godly reasons. I suspect almost all church leaders would love to be meeting again, so it is a fair bet to reckon that they might have some good reasons for choosing not to at this time too.

Remember your leaders probably won’t please everybody

Clearly, there is a divergence of opinions across the board as to how we should approach meeting. Some say yes with maximal return to normal, others say not not at all, and others still take decisions somewhere between the two. Within individual churches, that sort of range will be apparent too. There will be those desperate to meet together again as close to normal as possible and those who don’t yet feel its safe for anyone to do so.

Remember, your leaders are having to navigate this. If they meet, there will people who think they shouldn’t. If they don’t meet, there will be those who are adamant that you should. If they end up meeting, there will be a range of opinions of what should happen when you do. Your leaders are likely to be making some people unhappy whatever they do. You may or may not be one of those people, but it is worth remembering that the decisions being taken are their best judgement presumably after a lot of careful thought, prayer and taking into account the views of a range of different people in the church. Give them enough grace to know that someone, somewhere will be unhappy whatever they decide.

Remember God’s Word is not bound

We all know the church isn’t the building. Of course it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean we are all ‘doing church’ watching YouTube in our separate houses at home either. Church has always been traditionally understood to be a gathering. That isn’t to say the church is no more than a gathering, but it is to say it can’t be less (cf. this article by Matt Merker). If gathering is part of what a church is (more than what it does), then when we are unable to gather we are minimally unable to function as a church.

But even as we are unable to meet, we can nevertheless remember that God’s Word is not bound by buildings and gatherings. It isn’t good that we can’t assemble, but the Word can still work by God’s Spirit despite that being the case. Even if we are only able to tune into a live stream, and that is a mitigation for our not being able to meet at all, we can nonetheless give thanks that we have access to God’s Word, we can still hear it expounded and it can still do its work apart from our gatherings.

Look forward to when you can meet again

If this time achieves anything at all, I suspect for many of us it is a fresh appreciation for the importance of gathering. Most of the people at my church have not been jumping for joy that they can now live stream the service from their living rooms and don’t have to deal with all the hassle of interacting with people in person. Most recognise it is a poor substitute – even if better than nothing – for actually gathering together.

Leaving aside the knotty question of why, specifically, the Lord might have brought this time about (and, frankly, your guess is as good as mine), it isn’t wrong to observe that the desire to meet again and the newfound appreciation for physical gathering isn’t a terrible thing. If you aren’t yet able to gather as a church, let that increase your anticipation for the time when you can again. It is profoundly unlikely that this period will last forever. We will be able to meet back together again at some point. Let’s not waste the fact that we are desperate to meet, look forward to the time that we will be able and let it spur you on to not forsake the meeting together of your church when you are able to gather again.