Is church on a break?
Is church on a break?
That's what it feels like right now. It's now been over a month since we've gathered for worship and other church-related activities. In a certain sense of what you and I might commonly think of church--yes, much is on a break. Consider all that we've postponed--Sunday worship gatherings, weekly Life Groups in homes, shared meals with others, meaningful fellowship with new and old friends, Magnify nights, and our cherished monthly prayer on the second Sundays. But, what if all those things are merely expressions of our identity, not the core of our identity? All these activities are not an end in themselves. They are strategies for living out our calling to magnify God's glory, live as God's people, and engage in God's mission. Our calling as God's redeemed people (the church) doesn't change even when our circumstances change. In fact, in order for our mission to stay the same, our strategies must change.
My hope for us in these times...
My hope for all of us is that even though much about church is postponed, we don't forget the story into which we have been called. The story that reminds us that in Christ we are "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once [we] were not a people, but now [we] are God's people; once [we] had not received mercy, but now [we] have received mercy" 1 Peter 2:9-10. We were made to worship, made for meaningful community, and made to proclaim the good news to others. The global pandemic doesn't change our identity and calling.
"My hope for all of us is that even though much about church is postponed, we don't forget the story into which we have been called"
Any change in culture--in our present case, pestilence and disease--opens up the potential to stray from our gospel convictions and to unknowingly settle into habits and practices that don’t flow out of our identity as God’s redeemed people.
In light of these challenges, we are exhorted to "stand firm and to hold to the traditions that were taught [to] us…" 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and to "be watchful, stand firm in the faith…" 1 Corinthians 16:13. This essentially involves the activity of remembering, believing, and resting on the truth of who God is, what he has done for us through the substitutionary work of Christ, and living in light of those realities.
A Strengthened Mission
What would it look like to continue to live out our mission as a church to magnify God’s glory, live as God’s people, and engage in God’s mission in these times? The form of our worship, the way we pursue meaningful fellowship, and the way we proclaim the gospel to others will look different in many senses—but our calling remains the same.
We were made to worship, made for meaningful community, and made to proclaim the good news to others. The global pandemic doesn't change our identity and calling.
Let us not forget in these times the beautiful story to which we belong. "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24).
Below we describe our three ministry fronts and offer some tips and encouragements for how to live out our calling--in order to have our entire human experience defined, saturated, and sweetened by the humble, glorious, powerful, honest, gracious, and cheerful gospel reality.
1 - WE EXIST TO MAGNIFY GOD’S GLORY
We magnify God’s glory by resting in the gospel story and understanding how we fit into it. This story is the message about how we are rescued from God’s punishment for our sin and how we come to enjoy all that God intends for us. The gospel is the good news about what has been done by Jesus Christ to put right our relationship with God.
Honor the Sabbath / Home Worship
God has uniquely designed the church for true worshipers to experience, enjoy, and be edified by their common life in Christ—and nothing can adequately replace this experience on Sunday morning. Even though we are not meeting in person, we can continue to be reminded of the gospel story and engage in a weekly rhythm of worship and rest from our work—in our homes.
- Join us for weekly home worship by watching our virtual worship service online each week. Our worship service is available to view every Sunday morning by 9am.
- Pick a regular time each Sunday to sit down together as a household and watch the service.
- Be sure to check out our home worship resources online to access our weekly order of worship, printable activity pages for kids, and supplemental bible lessons for grades preschool - 5th grade.
- Sing along with us at home, join us in prayer, and listen attentively as God’s word is preached.
- After the service, find opportunities to talk with your spouse, children, Life Group, or a friend/family member about how the time of worship impacted you.
Personal Bible study & Prayer
It’s alarming how little time and intention we give to pursuing loving union with Jesus Christ throughout our day. The adjusted rhythm of this season gives us ample opportunity to slow down to invest in our personal relationship with Jesus. Here are some suggested tips:
- Silence: In silence we are still before the Lord in wordless prayer. This can be a daily time where we are patient before the Lord before or after a time of prayer or Bible study. It can be anywhere from 2 minutes to 20 minutes.
- Scripture Study: Spend time reading small portions of the Bible, seeking to hear God’s voice and to know God’s thoughts and heart. You can follow along with our church as we begin a teaching series through the gospel of Mark, or work through a book of the Bible on your own.
- Journal regularly: Journaling helps us slow down our thoughts and become intentional in our prayer life. It helps us to pay closer attention to our emotions in order to listen to God, express sorrow for sin and ask for God’s forgiving love, pray for grace, express gratitude, and work through our struggles.
- Read a gospel-centered book: We need to soak our thoughts and habits with the grace of God. A great way to do this, in addition to Scripture reading, is by reading through a book that highlights the gospel-centered life.
- Daily Examen: This is a tool that helps us to reflect on the day in order to attend to the movements of God’s Spirit in our life and to discern his will. Set aside a daily time to ask the following questions: 1) Where am I experiencing feelings of joy and peace? 2) Where am I sensing connection with God? 3) Where am I experiencing sadness, apathy, and a sense of life draining out of me? 4) Where am I sensing disconnection from God? It serves as a way of casting our cares on God and seeking his provision in our life.
2 - WE EXIST TO LIVE AS GOD’S PEOPLE
Another essential ministry front is to live as God’s people. In all the biblical analogies of the church, it is implied that the relationship between a Christian and the church is one of unity, commitment, and love. Especially now, it may be incredibly difficult to imagine how we are to have meaningful friendship with others in the church, while practicing social distancing. We may be tempted in these times to sink into habits of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-protection, self-importance, and self-will. The gospel rescues us from a life focused on the self and binds us in relationship to others, in Christ.
Life Groups (virtual)
Being made in his image, we are meant to reflect his likeness by being in deep community with others. The main context for these regular relationships have been through Life Groups. Physical meetings have been suspended, but here is how they can look going forward:
- Life Group leaders should schedule regular, weekly, video conferences for all who desire to join for the purpose of prayer, catching up, and discussion on the week’s previous sermon.
- A simple sermon 4-question discussion guide is available to interact deeper with the scripture.
- If you are not currently in a Life Group, but desire to find a small group of people to interact with regularly and pray with, go to our Life Group page and fill out the interest form and a leader will follow up with you.
- Share your pains and joys with your group and group leader so they can be praying for you and considering ways to support you in these tough times, as able.
Organic, meaningful connection with others
It is too easy in these times to feel isolated and disconnected. Many will experience increased emotional health struggles, loneliness, depression, and despair. We can do a lot to express our love and concern for one another. Here are some tips for connecting with others.
- If you have someone on your heart that you’ve been thinking about, send a note in the mail, a text message, or give a call.
- Plan a virtual game night or hang-out via video conference with a friend or family in the church whom you haven’t seen in a while.
- Call and pray for someone or just let them know you were thinking of them.
- Check in on a church member to see if they have any needs that they could share with the deacons or elders.
3 - WE EXIST TO ENGAGE IN GOD’S MISSION
The church stands right now with an incredible opportunity to bring good news to a hurting world. Possibly more than any time in our lifetime do we see more people looking for hope, peace, security, and rest. We believe that whatever role we play, and whatever mix of gifts we have, every follower of Jesus on earth is a missionary insomuch that everything a Christian is, says and does should be missional in its conscious participation in the mission of God. In an age of social distancing, our convictions remain the same but our forms must change. You may be wondering, "How do I bless my neighbor, share the gospel, and cultivate relationships with those who don’t know Jesus?" Here are some ways we can still engage in God’s mission in these adjusted times:
Engage in the B.L.E.S.S Practices
B.L.E.S.S. is a simple tool that we use to help us think of ways to bless those around us.
- We BLESS others by thinking of simple or big ways to serve in tangible ways that enrich and bring wholeness to the lives of those around us. This can be our family, neighbor, co-worker, or even people at a distance. It can include economic relief or spiritual encouragement.
- We LISTEN to others empathetically and actively by giving time to hear their struggles, thoughts, or prayers.
- We EAT with others as we see our meal time not simply as a way to nourish our bodies, but to engage in soul-nourishing fellowship and opportunity to demonstrate the gospel.
- We SPEAK with gospel intentionality in our everyday conversations, in truth and in love. We speak to God in prayer.
- We SABBATH, regularly taking time to rest from our work, celbrate and enjoy God's gifts, and recreate together with our family.
Support the ministry of the church
- We encourage you to continue to give cheerfully and generously to the work of the church, as you are able. Our financial gifts are much more than a way to keep the lights on, so to speak--they are a sacrificial act of love for God, his people, and the ministry of the church. You can give at holycrossgive.com
Support local businesses
- Consider ways to support local businesses in your neighborhood.
- Be friendly and generous with your tips for baristas, to-go orders, and other workers you come in contact with.
Seek the welfare of your neighbor
- Holy Cross will continue to follow the best public information from our federal and state officials for how to limit the spread of the virus. The Christian response to the coronavirus ought not be one of fear, but love for the welfare of our neighbor. And what our neighbor needs right now is not our presence, but absence.
- The church remains the church whether gathered, or scattered. Our absence can make our presence that much sweeter when it happens.
Be a Prayer Warrior
We list this last, not as an afterthought. It's at the end becuase it ties everything together. Without God our efforts are pointless and fruitless. But with God, all things are possible. We earnestly seek God's will and favor in our prayers.
- Pray for our church-supported missionaries and ministry partners. You can see a list of our partners here.
- Consider following our 30-days of prayer guide. There, you can find suggested prayers and prayer topics.
- Let us know how we can be praying for you by filling out a prayer request form.
Finally, church, I want to encourage you that we all have a personal responsibility to soak our lives in prayer in order to be free from anxiety and fear. These are not normal times, but God is faithful, good, great, and gracious. Worship is essential to our flourishing. Spending time in prayer, contemplation, solitude with Jesus, and connection to his church is essential to who we are called to be. It has never been more important to send a little note to someone to let them know you care, to reach out by phone or zoom, or facetime; to share your needs, and burdens so that others can join you in prayer.
I am praying for you. As your pastor, I'm so proud of the ways you are navigating these tough times in faith. I pray that we will look back on this time and see that it was a unique time in our lives, our church, and our families, where our greatest energy was spent on the worship of God and expression of love for one another.
Glory to God,