Stephen Mitchell on Making the Church Essential Again

It was Easter Sunday morning, and being that I’m a pastor, I was sitting in my office, getting ready to preach, looking over my notes at my desk, when suddenly, I just paused from looking down at the papers in front of me and looked out toward our fellowship hall and realized how quiet and empty it was in our building.

This was Easter Sunday morning, the busiest and noisiest day of the year for the typical church in America, and here I was, sitting in my office, alone, with total, almost eerie quiet. I half expected Rod Serling to come out and tell me that I had just entered The Twilight Zone. But I think it was at that moment when it really, fully dawned on me, just how surreal this whole pandemic church shutdown has truly been.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine pastoring virtually, seeing our doors shut to the public, and preaching regularly to an empty sanctuary. Yet the last two months, I believe, have also been one of the most exciting and unique opportunities God has given the church in our lifetime, to have a real needed show stopping, plan interrupting, rude awakening, time of reflecting on who we have been in light of who we are, and what we should be doing instead of what we, largely, have been doing.

As the scale of the virus became clear, and states around the nation began shutting down all aspects of society in an effort to curb and contain the spread of this highly infectious contagion, I didn’t think much of the term, non-essential relating to churches as anything other than the official government term for a business or organization that is not deemed as providing “life-sustaining” services that are “critical for a functioning society.”

But perhaps there is a larger spiritual significance to being designated this term, that we should think about. To be clear, I have been personally supportive of following the health guidelines given to us, fully understanding why houses of worship were deemed unsafe to host in-person gatherings and our church has been able to weather this storm through staying connected virtually.

The unprecedented public health crisis required unprecedented action, though there are understandable concerns and debate about those actions. Yet I would put forward that, as a result of this health crisis, we have the chance to face the music of an unprecedented spiritual crisis that has been building for decades facing the Church in America: Becoming irrelevant in our society

We have come a long way in our country and society from the observations of Alexis Te Tocqueville, a 19th century French Politician who penned, Democracy in America, and observed, “There is no country in the world where Christianity has greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”

We have come a long way from the church being seen as the epicenter of communities, or from pulpits as being considered the megaphone that would shape a generation or from Christianity influencing the culture around it, rather than the culture influencing Christianity.

Long gone are the days of Blue laws that encouraged Sabbath rest and worship, of church involvement and participation being a priority for the average American. And if statistics are any indication, our window to reaching the next generation for Christ might soon be gone as well.

“The Church put itself on the non-essential list a long time ago,” Bishop Patrick Wooden said in a viral sermon recently, and I believe there is a lot of subliminal truth to that, and I believe the cause is becoming neglectful with what should be essential.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Stephen Mitchell

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