What will it be like when we are able to assemble again in person? Will you be comfortable shaking hands like before? Parents, will you be comfortable sending your children into a classroom for their Bible class? Will we sit close together in the auditorium, with nearly every pew occupied as before? Will we pass the Lord’s Supper and contribution plates like we did before the virus? These are some of the many questions going through our minds during this challenging time of “re-opening our country.” In light of these questions, I thought it would be profitable to offer a few scriptural principles all of us should keep in mind.
- Be flexible, there are some things we don’t know yet. We don’t know whether groups will be limited in size at first. Imagine a law allowing normal worship services to resume, but only up to a maximum of 50 people. Consider the possibility that certain age groups, especially the elderly, might be delayed for health or safety reasons. The point is, we don’t know how all of this is going to unfold. Federal and state guidelines are being devised and implemented, and possibly no one knows how they will finally play out. So we need to be flexible. We need to be willing to adapt and change to a developing situation. We need to be like Paul, who said, “I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you,” (Phil. 3:13-16). It takes flexibility to “forget the things which are behind” and stretch forward. And it takes flexibility to admit that we don’t know all the answers which will eventually be provided.
- Think outside the box. We have already had to make a lot of innovations, haven’t we? I mean, this situation has nudged us full-bore into live streaming, Facebook Watch Parties, Internet broadcasts on YouTube, and a host of other good things which we might never have developed otherwise. Each of these can potentially be a tremendous tool for the cause of Christ. Maybe the Lord is leading us, pushing us to develop and explore new ways to spread the gospel. Maybe he is challenging us to come out of our comfort zones and start thinking outside the box. When faced with the emergency of persecution, the early church “came out of their box” in droves. They went into Judea and Samaria and spread the gospel like wildfire, (Acts 7-8). It was because of these efforts that the church grew and multiplied at that time. But have you ever considered what would have been the course of the church had they hunkered down and refused to move? What if they had said, “Well we have always stayed right here in Jerusalem, and we are not about to change.” It would seem that sometimes the Lord allows circumstances to come upon us which are difficult at first, but end up furthering his cause. Let’s not limit the Lord, but try to imagine the possibilities of fully and faithfully serving him.
- Watch for ways to benefit. This is not to minimize the horrific losses caused by the coronavirus. Nor the pain and suffering it has brought to so many. But, could it be that the Lord might use this experience to actually benefit each of us? Is it possible that we, individually and as a congregation, will be stronger as a result of it? I think I have already seen evidence that this is happening. And, if we proceed prayerfully and scripturally, the whole thing may end up being a blessing. I don’t know how, but I know that the Lord is able to make “all things work together for good to them that love him,” (Rom. 8:28).
- Keep the Faith! The new normal after COVID-19 may look very different, at least for a while. Some challenging issues are going to have to be thought through, and difficult decisions made. This is true for each local congregation, and the answers to the questions may vary from place to place. What makes sense here may be out of the question in some other areas. But with patience and prayer, and with a strong reliance on God’s help, we will get through this transition together. My prayer is that the new normal will end up being a brighter, better place. Stay tuned, the Lord is still at the helm, and he loves his people dearly.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.