CLEVELAND, TN: After this past Sunday, there is no doubt that the church has left the building. While some churches had canceled services the previous week, on March 22 most Church of God buildings across the country were dark, with the exception of the pastor preaching to empty pews, and to an iPhone or video camera. Although not voluntarily, there was no doubt that the church had left the building.
By Tim Hill
Sunday’s forced “experience“ was one that many ministers had feared for a long time – a Sunday when no one showed up for church. Actually, that is a misstatement because the “church“ is not a building, but rather the people. What I and countless others witnessed this past weekend was the church going into the community and being the church.
Pastors found unique ways to “have church“ this past Sunday and those innovative ways will most likely continue for at least another few weeks. From preaching towards a camera in an empty sanctuary to standing on a trailer or some other makeshift platform in the church parking lot, “having church” went on in unique and different ways across the country.
Instead of sitting home and watching Sunday service on the internet, I decided that I would visit several of our congregations in the Cleveland/ Bradley County, TN area on Sunday morning. I truly experience the church leaving the building. In just a few miles from my home, I experienced Church of God congregations having parking lot church, livestream church, Facebook Live church, and small group church. In some cases, the pastor stood behind the pulpit in an empty sanctuary but preached to literally thousands through social media, while in other cases the pastor stood on a trailer, in the bed of a pickup, or on some other makeshift platform, preaching to people sitting in their cars. But in every case, the Gospel went forward.
The resourcefulness of our pastors and their resilience to the coronavirus pandemic was encouraging and enlightening. I truly learned that when forced outside of the four walls of a buildings, the Church of God can still be an effective witness to a lost and dying world. Our pastors stepped up to the challenge and delivered.
In talking with pastors across the country after services yesterday, my heart was strengthened by the responses that I received. While things were not as comfortable as usual, and while some experienced technical difficulties, “church” went on and the grace of God was shared across community after community around this great nation.
There is no doubt that there will be adjustments and changes in our services this coming Sunday and throughout the week. We will learn from our experiences and put that learning into better transmitting the Gospel to our congregations and to our communities. But through it all, God will be glorified as we meet each challenge that comes before us.
During this crisis, the first few verses of Psalm 91 have taken on even more meaning to me: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.’” Whether I am worshipping in a church building or a parking lot, I just want to always be in the “shadow of the Almighty.”
When this virus is over and the pandemic has ended, and most of us are looking for “normal“ to return, it is my prayer that Church of God congregations across this nation and around the world will continue to leave their buildings and reach out to a community that needs to know our Lord and Savior. My hope is that the church has truly left the building for good.
Tim Hill is general overseer for the Church of God