Over the last 8 weeks as we have encountered “staying in place,” I have heard church leaders from across the country asking a lot of questions. Why wouldn’t we? We have been in unusual times.
First we asked “how we can deliver our services online?” We were inundated with many emails telling us (or selling us) ways to deliver the best possible services online (is there a chance we might change our language from “service” to something else like gathering?). Then I began to hear lament questions like “what have we lost?” Fair enough… there was grieving. People had lost freedom of movement, routine, and much worse. We had lost jobs, finances, ability to hug our relatives. And some had lost family and friends to Covid 19.
Then we entered another phase where we began to ask return questions such as “how do we prepare to regather after this is over and we go back to normal?” Do these questions and others like them not reveal our ecclesiology and expose some of the issues we need to face? Back to normal? Is that what we want? Is that what God desires? Now with talk about loosening some of restrictions, maybe the question we need to be asking is “what do we want to bring with us?”
In our series called “Missional Commons,” we have been engaged with the story of the disciples on the Emmaus Road. These disciples are on the way back from the most intense and disheartening Passover week they have ever experienced. Their world has been turned upside down. Everything they had hoped for, was flipped on its head and they are despondent.
A stranger approaches and walks with them. He too participates in the conversation and begins to share with them a new perspective on all that had gone before. Like good Jews (and perhaps more than intrigued) they invite Him in to continue the conversation around the table. As He breaks the bread, their eyes are open and their illusions are shattered. It is Jesus. And they cannot contain themselves. They must tell their new story.
As we have been in this text, we too have asked questions that seem to have significance for our own situation. We started by asking “where are we?” This was an attempt to locate ourselves in the story. Were we also like to two despondent disciples uncertain of what to do with what was happening? Will the church ever be the same? In round two we asked the question of “what is God saying to us as we reflect on what Covid is doing to our neighbours and neighbourhoods?” This was important for us as we continue to journey along the path of growing in discerning God’s voice through interactions with others.
But now we are eight weeks into this liminal place. With talk of loosening of restrictions (whatever that will look like or how long that will be?), we are headed to our third round of discussions. Just this week I received an email with one person/organization giving us a long list of things we need to do to prepare our church (although I think they may have meant building) for returning to a new normal after Covid 19. Now I am as practical as the next person, but I was visibly saddened that it seems to me that we may be missing the lessons we need to pay attention too. Isn’t it true that you will likely get the wrong answers if you ask the wrong questions?
So I want to push hard in this time. What if we asked a different set of questions like ….
- What is it God is saying to us as His people in this time?
- If God is at work in our neighbourhoods, what is He saying to His people through neighbours that don’t even know Him?
- What am I learning about myself? My neighbour? My God?
- How is my theology being shaped by what is happening? My missiology? Our ecclesiology?
- Is it possible that there is some repenting that we need to do?
- What opportunities do we have in this strange journey that we must not miss?
- What must I never return to? What must we never return to?
- What do I want to bring with me from this time into the next season of life?
Starting next Tuesday May 12th, we will begin our third round of conversations around the reshaping of God’s people in Canada. We will dive into the text in John 21 where the disciples meet the risen Christ, after they have gone back to fishing. We will be asking neighbours this same question so as that we make sure not to miss what God is saying to us. “What do we want to bring with us?” Come and engage in this third conversation at the Missional Commons as we explore what God is saying to the church in Canada by asking a different set of questions, and perhaps hearing answers in which we will be surprised.