This past Sunday April 26th marked the seventh week of City Church doing exclusively online services due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I praise God that we have had the ability to stay connected digitally in this season of “scattered togetherness.” I also know that our current church setup is far from ideal. I would imagine that many of you are going stir-crazy at home and perhaps growing weary of this whole situation. We are all feeling the pain.
Recently, I have observed a new layer of complexity with respect to the COVID-19 issue – it is increasingly becoming another avenue of political and personal division – even amongst Christians.
This is a brand new challenging reality for me as a pastor for a couple of different reasons. First, we have Godly folks on all sides of the political spectrum in our church who love one another deeply. Loving one another when we have differing thoughts is always a challenge. We have always stated that we are “A-Political” at City Church (meaning we try to do our best to stay out of the political fray of candidates and issues, especially in a presidential election year). Our “A-Political” status allows us to keep the preaching of the Gospel and God’s Word our main priority. I am watching the COVID-19 issue become another battleground where Godly people become divided. This breaks my heart as a pastor. Secondly, each of our personal and political persuasions are likely to influence how we will feel about an eventual, safe, and phased reopening of City Church. Some folks’ views on the COVID issue might not be connected to their politics per se. Instead, it may be more of a reflection on how they feel about sickness and germs. I’ll call myself out here. I catch colds when people sneeze from a mile away. For whatever reason, it’s been that way my whole life. I’ve prayed for God to change it and (like Paul’s thorn), it’s just been something I have to endure by God’s grace. So I feel I have been social distancing my whole life (😂).
For a moment, I’d like to ask all of us to set aside our personal views and affirm some things (I hope) we can all agree on.
- We are all struggling in different ways right now.
- None of us are experts; we are all students and learners right now.
- We all long to be reunited in person.
- We all have the same goals – to advance the Kingdom of God, to build Jesus’ Church, and to love and support one another.
Though these shared objectives likely won’t change our personal or political views, they might help us navigate our interpersonal conversations as they pertain to this virus. For us at City Church, I am hoping these shared objectives keep our focus in the right place as we move forward. With all that being said, here are our thoughts on an eventual, safe, and phased re-opening of City Church.
PHASE ONE – Our staff will return to working at our physical church location once the “stay-at-home” order is lifted.
I realize this does not mean much to you as a church attender; but it will be significant for us as a team. We have a lot to do to get our physical location back up to par. Our Sunday services and our small groups will remain online only during this phase. During this phase, we will continue to improve upon the online broadcasts that we have been able to provide thus far while also addressing much-needed issues on campus.
PHASE TWO – Limited gatherings will begin.
2. (A) Thoughts on obeying God and submitting to the government. The Governor of California stated that it would be “months, not weeks” before church gatherings of any size are allowed to take place in our state. The Bible speaks directly to obeying the laws of the land where Christians live (See Romans 13:1-7). At the same time, there are definitely occasions when Christians are called to defy government orders and entrust themselves to God. Acts 5:29 is a primary example of this when Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” To put that comment into context though, Peter was being directly told not to preach the Gospel anymore. You’d better believe that if ANYONE out there told us not to preach the Gospel, we would defy that order. In our case, governments are not telling churches not to preach the Gospel; they are telling us not to gather in person for a while. We are able to preach the Gospel online. We are also able to continue to hold our small groups with video chat services. Because of those two factors, the current inability to gather in person is not a persecutorial reality to the proclamation of the Gospel or to the critical operation of our church. It’s frustrating. It is severely limiting in terms of outreach – but it’s not crushing to our ministry. We can and we will endure this. At this time, we feel it is reasonable for us to submit to requests from our government leaders not to meet during this time. For those of you who feel government “lockdowns” are unjust, you have every right to feel that way, to express it, and to seek to change it. We also feel the pain you are feeling. We don’t like the status quo either. We just don’t think our calling is to try to protest/change that issue. Our calling is to continue to proclaim the Gospel and teach the Word of God. Secondary to that, we want everyone to feel safe at City Church. Right now that looks like online gatherings. When we can do a safe gathering, we will implement it. Here is some information as to what that might look like.
2. (B) What might those limited gatherings look like? The simple truth is – we don’t fully know yet. There aren’t any guidelines available at this time since the situation is fluid. We are going to have to perpetually adapt as we learn new information. Our best “guesstimate” right now is that the limited gatherings will be smaller than what we are used to (perhaps capped somewhere between 50-100 people in a room). We might wind up using a reservation system of some type to ensure the size of the room does not exceed the capacity. It’s also possible that type of system may not work well logistically. One strong possibility is that children’s ministry may not be possible as we have known it for a while. Every business that re-opens will be required to guarantee social distancing measures can be performed. I have two toddlers and that simply isn’t possible! We do not want to alarm parents but we want to prepare you for what the future could look like. We are bracing ourselves for a host of potentialities and we ask every one of you to do the same. Many simply might not feel comfortable coming to a gathering for a while and might opt to just continue to watch the stream. We get that. The fact is: we will do our best to hold in-person gatherings, even if they’re limited, when it is cleared and safe to do so.
PHASE THREE – The resumption of full gatherings.
Our third phase will be when gathering limits are fully removed. We simply don’t know when that will be. I am PRAYING it happens before Christmas so we can have an AWESOME celebration over the holidays. I’m actually praying it happens MUCH SOONER than that. Nonetheless, let’s all look forward to that day with hopeful anticipation. In the meantime, let’s all bear with this situation as much as possible as it currently stands.
Thank you so much for being understanding in challenging times. Thank you for your faith. Thank you for being an amazing church.