The spread of COVID-19 has everyone from governments and business to families and churches trying to tell what the future holds and how they should respond. We’ve been confronted with a disease we’ve never seen before. Yet, this time we’re seeing unprecedented steps, like whole nations being put on lock down, to prevent and contain its spread. When uncertainty runs high, panic and fear begin to reign.
Knowing what the future holds has been the domain of tarot card readers, fortune tellers and science fiction writers – with dubious amounts of success. Christianity is no stranger to prognostications about the future. It seems with every new year a new date for the second coming is set. And while many of us may scoff at such ludicrous speculation, we also feel a duty to know how to respond to where society is heading. What does the future hold and how should the church respond?
It seems that in every age we all need the men from Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32). We don’t need time travellers and soothsayers; we need those who are filled with the Spirit, who offer wisdom and insight and are able to makes sense of cultural patterns and are sensitive to the leading and presence of God in the midst of the chaotic and transient.
The church in Canada is in a transitional space. Christendom is squarely in the rear-view mirror, but the way ahead is still fogged with mist. We aren’t looking for people who can give the right answer as much as we need people who can ask the right questions. People who can name realities that we feel so that, just in naming them, they lose a part of their power over us and quell that panic and fear which presses in. We need people who are sensitive to the Spirit of God, teachers who “hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Is. 30:21)
If I have learned anything from the Missional Church Movement, I’ve learned that hearing, discerning and following are the keys to missional engagement. Even though we may see “only dimly” and we “know in part” it is critical to lean into understanding our times in this way.
This will no doubt mean listening to understand with those we disagree with, hearing the marginalized and the other. It will take time – much time. Often more time than we feel we can spare or care to wait for as God, all too often, slowly sheds slivers of clarity to light the next step in our path.
COVID-19 may be the latest crisis weighing upon the earth, but it is not the most critical for the Church. There are spiritual realities demanding our attention. We must be listening, discerning and sharing together as we seek to navigate a new course into an uncertain future.