LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN: Musings on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Church and the Spiritual Lives of Believers
I am sure we all agree that 2020 has been quite the year, with its biggest bombshell being the COVID-19 pandemic. We just weren’t ready. We weren’t. This pandemic came and affected every sector, and religious bodies weren’t spared.
The outbreak at the Shincheonji church in South Korea reinforced public opinion that churches be closed down till we figured things out. This move was a big blow. Many people took to the streets to jeer at pastors because of the economic implications of the restrictions. It was pretty disheartening to see “Christians” join in the attacks.
Church is a big deal in Christianity. Right after we ask a person, “Are you a Christian? “, we go on to ask, “Which church do you fellowship with? “, if the answer to the first question was a yes. Prior to the pandemic, a few people held the view that it didn’t matter whether one attended church or not. “Christianity is a matter of the heart” is the slogan, i.e. once my heart is right, nothing else matters. When churches had to close their doors, the voices of the few went up – and so did their numbers. People realized that life can go on without church. So after some months, we adapted to spending Sunday mornings at home doing one thing or the other, while a service streamed on our laptops or on our television screens. We didn‘t really pay attention to what was being said in the service, but we left it on anyway, just so we wouldn’t feel bad (This was definitely me a few months ago, and I know I wasn’t alone).
Church does matter. The New Testament teaches us that fellowship was a key pillar of the early Church. And that‘s what church is supposed to be about: fellowship. If the Bible is true — and indeed it is — fellowship contributes immensely to our Christian walk. The absence of it is often detrimental. 1 John in particular makes a strong case for the need for fellowship. Church is a part of the main course, and not a starter, dessert or even a side. Church does matter.
So when churches were closed, I felt it. I asked a few friends, and some admitted they felt it too. The meetings were serving a purpose, so when they stopped, there was a void that needed filling. As I pondered over the developments and their implications, I came to a few conclusions that I will share with you.
First of all, fellowship mustn’t be limited to church alone. The fact that the physical doors of the church are closed doesn’t mean fellowship must be put on hold. It is important for every Christian to maintain a small circle of believers who keep one another‘s fires ablaze. Jesus assures us that His presence will show up wherever two or three are gathered. And thanks to technology, our communication can go on unhindered. We should make the effort to keep Christian fellowship going. My conversations with friends in those times, filled that fellowship-sized void in my heart.
Secondly, I had to admit that in many ways, churches had lost their focus. Churches had become all about “the man of God”. People had begun to think consciously and subconsciously that the only way to meet God was through the man of God. And it is for this singular reason that many people will not be returning to church even after in-person meetings have resumed. Because like I said, they‘ve come to realize that life can go on without church. Sadly, many of these people will end up backsliding. Churches should be focused not just on making disciples but also on encouraging them to know God for themselves. I wish I could type that three times. Isn’t that what God called us to do? Rather than always organizing programs that tell the masses to come and meet and receive from God, why don’t churches also teach that God can be encountered every day in our closets? For some people, when churches were closed, their link to God was gone too. Man of God, rather than focusing on whose head is bigger on the billboard, focus on how you can help each member of your congregation develop a personal relationship with God. Aren’t you bugged by all the people that are always coming to you for a word from God? Or are you enjoying the fame and clout?
Lastly, I‘m pretty excited that churches have opened their doors once again. But I have realized that church was never meant to be the main pillar that holds up my spiritual life. It is my personal relationship with God. So the practices that go to develop that aspect must receive all of my attention. My quiet times, prayer times, personal Bible study, etc. have to be intensified. We must be hungry for God and be intentional in our pursuit of Him.
I want to suggest that you take time and assess yourself and find out where you stand. After the long hiatus, are you closer to God or further away? How robust is your personal relationship with Him? Do you grasp onto the words of your “spiritual father” at the expense of the Word of your Heavenly Father? Are you connected to a group of believers in order to keep the fire burning? Thank God for His Grace and Mercy. I pray that God stirs up a hunger in our hearts that we will seek Him, and yearn to be a people in whom He delights. Let the Church say Amen.
Dr. Jedidiah Appiah