Magazines 2021 Mar - Apr Panniversary: Lessons for the Church from a year of pandemic

Panniversary: Lessons for the Church from a year of pandemic

22 March 2021 By Phil Wagler

Can we find a deeper place of Christlikeness and missional awakening? What we need to do now?

We’re at the one-year mark of the felt reality of the virulent Covid-19. Can we call it a panniversary? I know it’s nothing to celebrate – myriads have lost their lives and there’s barely a place not impacted and isolated in some way. What began in Wuhan, China in 2019 and will make 2020 live in infamy has now imposed itself on 2021 and altered almost every aspect of life – including our lexicons.

Listen to a March 2020 message by Johannes Reimer, global director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s public engagement department – it’s even more poignant one year later.

This year has been the most inspiring, challenging and wearying of my ministry. This, it must be said, reveals a humbling reality: what I (and we together) have faced in Canada are a trifle compared to what has been the past and present experience of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe. This is not to dismiss what we’re exhausted by, but to put it all into perspective and centre my own heart.

A year into this pandemic I am noticing that the common goodwill the majority of Canadians, including churches, contributed to (do you remember the 7:00 p.m. banging of pots for frontline workers and hearts in the windows?) is increasingly being replaced by frustration, fear and discord.

There is a ratcheting up of attempts to get governments to change what seem to be inconsistent measures (like churches being asked not to meet in-person while bars are open). There is increased polarization in our politics (shaped by news headlines and the bottomless well of internet searches and algorithm chasing) and deep pain and grief that always seeks a way out.

How are we to be the church now?

I’ve pondered all this deeply, as I’m sure you have. I’ve been asking the Lord for wisdom. I’ve conversed with other pastors – even globally. I am troubled by my own weaknesses and blind spots. I’ve wrestled with my convictions. This is most certainly a time to live into our role as the church, and a most challenging time to discern what that means.

Can we find a deeper place of Christlikeness and missional awakening? What we need to do now?

Can I make a few suggestions for us to wrestle with for the glory of God?

  • Be patient. The Israelites spent generations in slavery, and Moses spent 40 years tending sheep before the people got desperate enough to cry out and the Lord heard and acted. The Psalms are full of waiting on the Lord (Psalm 27:14; 37:34; 130:5). David waited years between his anointing and kingship. The Jewish exiles waited 70 years in Babylon until restoration came their way. There is 400 years of “silence” between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus. A key New Testament theme is patience (a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23), perseverance, and endurance (2 Peter 1:3–9; 3:9; Revelation 1:9; 2:2–3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12).

    Yes, this last year has been hard and exhausting, but it’s been one year. If God is so patient in his ways, can’t we be patient too? If God has always used long-suffering to shape and transform people, why are we being so restless? “God’s mission is unhurried and unstoppable” writes Alan Kreider. Why are we so hurried when God is not? Will our anxiety hasten God’s deliberate work in history, our churches, or our lives (Matthew 6:25–34)? These are questions for our wearied souls and our frantic churches.
  • Rejoice in pruning and refining. The LORD is a refiner (Malachi 3:3). Jesus talks about the need for good ground (Mark 4:1–20) and the necessity of pruning for greater fruitfulness (John 15:1–2). Affluent, consumerist, therapeutic – and sometimes angry and uncharitable – Western Christianity needs some refining and pruning. Let’s rejoice this is happening and embrace it as a sign we are loved (Hebrews 12:6) and of the promise of greater fruitfulness.
  • Make disciples. This is the ultimate task given by our Lord. Now is a time for walking with others, learning together the way of Jesus, growing in obedience to His ways and immersing those God has entrusted to us (beginning with our own households) in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Every Christian should be expending energy here. The future of our churches post-pandemic will depend on the quality of disciples we make in the pandemic.

    And, furthermore, now is a time to take responsibility for our own personal spiritual growth. He wants His sheep to hear His voice and obey Him (John 10:27; 14:12–15). Don’t depend on more information – like that 10th sermon you’ve streamed today – get to know the Great Shepherd. Jesus invites you to follow Him with others, even if that circle of others is necessarily small right now.
  • Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Christians serve. Christians love the poor, the marginalized, and their enemies. Christians even suffer for truth and righteousness where necessary. Justice, mercy and humility are to set God’s people apart in every age. When this humility has been abandoned is when our greatest sins have occurred. We should be at the front of the line doing good and bringing peace when the world is drowning in fear, apathy, anger, discord and, yes, onion layers of spiritual, emotional and physical sickness. It is the sick who need a doctor, said Jesus, and we are His medical corps (Mark 2:17).
  • Do not say the Church is “closed.” The Church is the Body of Christ, the ekklesia, and when Jesus stepped out of the tomb the door opened for good and always. The Spirit of God empowered the Church for open ministry before the world (Acts 1:4–8; 2:1–12, 42–47). The Church is never closed; she is always advancing against the gates of hell.

    Yes, we need to make sure we don’t give up meeting together to spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24–25), but such gathering to encourage others on the journey doesn’t need to happen in an auditorium with a few hundred people (as much of a joy as that is and will be again, Matthew 18:20). The Church, as the people of God, is open for action everywhere and every day, filled with the Spirit and therefore always able to fulfill the commands of Jesus in word and deed.
  • Love the Church and contend for the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2–6). There is much that can now rip apart the Body of Christ. Let us beware self-inflicted wounds and friendly fire. The devil is roaring about seeking to destroy (1 Peter 5:8–9). So, wherever the Lord has placed us and with whom He has brought us into fellowship, let us contend for unity. We will not always agree, but we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

    So, let us model love, long-suffering, charity, truth-telling, forgiveness and kindness as we obey Jesus’ commission to be and make disciples. Let us speak well of one another, even those who come to different conclusions, so long as Christ is proclaimed and the good deeds of the Kingdom bring glory to our Father in Heaven (Philippians 1:15–18; Matthew 5:13–16).

    At the end of the day to be “in Christ” is to be a part of His Body. So, let us love God with all we are and our neighbour as ourselves. Let us love the Church; after all, Jesus does. Let our love reveal to whom we belong (John 13:35).
  • Pray. Let us give ourselves to personal and corporate prayer like never before. Jesus dared us to ask in his name for greater things (John 14:12–14; 15:7, 16; 16:24). It’s time.

Phil Wagler is North American network coordinator for the World Evangelical Alliance’s Peace & Reconciliation Network and lead pastor of Kelowna Gospel Fellowship in British Columbia. Photo of Covid mask by Adam Niescioruk on Unsplash. This blog series is produced in collaboration with the WEA PRN. Read all the posts at faithtoday.ca/reconciling.

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