One of the greatest challenges for the church through the season of social distancing has been the need to maintain and cultivate Christian fellowship. We have been told to isolate into our personal bubbles and to forsake assembly as much as possible through this pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control have encouraged social distancing practices from the beginning in order to flatten the curve.
If local churches are not intentional—this season of social distancing will flatten far more than a COVID-19 curve.
The Call to Assemble and Fellowship
The basic component of the local church is our visible identification with Christ in a public manner. Our conversion is something that happens internally as a work of the Holy Spirit. Our repentance may or may not be visibly seen at the moment when we call out to God. However, our profession of faith in Jesus Christ and the subsequent reality of our conversion is very much a public event at our baptism (Acts 2:38). Following our baptism, we are called to assemble together on a normative basis as the Christians gather in local churches for the purpose of worshipping and serving our Lord (Acts 2:42-47; Heb. 10:24-25).
The early church prioritized Christian fellowship in a way that is almost embarrassing to the modern local church. In short, there should be a clear difference between the friendship that is developed at the local ball field and the friendship that is developed in a small group Bible study in the local church. A friend that you fellowship with in Sunday school on Sunday mornings should have a deeper and more solid connection than your friend at your place of employment.
Social distancing is antithetical to the calling of the local church to assemble. Limitations on personal interactions and fellowship is a true hindrance to the God ordained functionality of the local church. We must beware of the damage that a pandemic can do to a local church family. We must see the threats of politicizing a pandemic and how that will have a massive impact upon the health and strength of the local church. We can do without restaurants and college football, but we cannot do without the local church.
The Threats of Social Distancing
With all of the talk of flattening a growth curve of the pandemic, many Christians have likewise flattened the growth curve of their local church. No, I’m not just focused on the numerical growth curve of membership. I’m referencing the growth curve of friendships that occur through the bond of Christ as well as Titus 2 discipleship opportunities.
Friendships take time to grow. The strongest and most valuable solid Christian friendships are cultivated over long periods of time where trust is earned and much of the development of such friendships occurs through service and worship opportunities within the life of the local church. While deep conversations over a good cup of coffee help—it’s the normal ebb and flow of serving together, worshipping together, and breaking bread together that serve as the bedrock foundation to genuine Christian fellowship. This doesn’t happen during a season of social distancing.
Social distancing threatens the unity of a local church. With more than five months apart, the members of the local church have navigated the pandemic differently. Some have taken in far less information from the media than others who are watching every news report and news briefing on a weekly basis. Just as our world is divided on many different political issues, the pandemic has created new dividing points regarding data on masks and other vaccine related controversies.
Add to the COVID-19 politics the ethnic division surrounding George Floyd and opportunities for division drastically increase. Unless the pastors and members are very intentional about maintaining the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), the cultural controversies can sweep right into the church and create massive dividing points.
What does maintaining the unity of the Spirit look like during a season of social distancing? How do pastors shepherd people when they aren’t assembling? How do members love one another and work out differences through pixels on a screen? All of this requires great sensitivity and intentionality in demonstrating love toward one another.
Personal Responsibility of Membership
It doesn’t matter if you are a member of a local church that does not have a specific church covenant that is recited every time you gather for the Lord’s Supper or if you have no official church covenant that makes up your governing documents. In either case—as a member of a local church, but the very nature of church membership, you are in a covenant with one another that is established by Christ.
We live in a day where there is a prevailing low view of church membership. People join local churches flippantly and then “transfer” their membership to another church down the road if they have something more attractive to offer their family. The idea of consumerism has replaced the covenant in the membership of the local church.
As membership who covenant together—we have a responsibility to engage in the life of the church. What does this look like during a season of social distancing? Regardless of the size of the church, both members and pastors have a responsibility to connect with the church family during this pandemic season.
Intentional Connection Opportunities:
- Physical Letters
- Phone Calls
- Text Messages
- Private Gatherings (unofficial church gatherings)
Some individuals who have underlying health conditions are unable to return to the life of the church as fast as others. However, there are still opportunities for such individuals to engage with the church. Consider online meetings and fellowship opportunities. While it’s not the same as in-person gatherings, it’s nevertheless an opportunity for reconnecting and having much needed conversation with church members.
If you have simply turned into a hermit and avoided the church for five months, you might be feeling the pain of isolation and the coldness that comes with a lack of Christian fellowship. In such cases, rather than blaming other people for how you feel, consider asking yourself what you’ve done to engage in the life of the church and overcome the challenges of social distancing during this season.
Since the call to Christian worship and church fellowship involves the basic component of public assembly—it is our duty to avoid isolating ourselves away and cutting ourselves off from the church for lengthy periods of time. Fight through this season. Exercise wisdom. Maintain unity. In order to make your church strong rather than weak, it will take effort on your part and other members and leaders in the church who are striving for God’s glory to be made visible through the love and fellowship of the local church.