Everything is shutting down. Here in Illinois, public restaurants are closing seating areas tomorrow. All manner of other public places have been closed for several days. And school’s out for both my son (high school) and me (grad school) … I suspect for the rest of the semester. And Saturday morning early the announcement came: our wonderful, traditional, 250-member EFCA church would not be meeting this morning. To be honest, I wanted to cry.
As you know, we believe God is calling us to plant a network of house churches. We were planning to move south in June, and officially launch in our new neighborhood in September. So, yesterday morning when I learned there’d be no gathering of the church today, I — very much the planner — was totally not ready to start our house church. But apparently God was.
Let me back up a minute…
We moved into this neighborhood a couple years into my seminary tour, seeking to get closer to school, invest in and love our neighbors, and find a new, smaller church where we could really engage in ministry. Four years later, as graduation approaches, God has done immeasurably more than we could ask or think. We love our church, and God has really given us a ministry there, including teaching me a ton about being a pastor. We have so many great friends, are part of a thriving life group ministry, and are investing in people left and right. We also love our sunny next-to-nature townhome, which we believe was pretty much God showing off (ask me sometime!). And we love our neighbors. We’ve built some real relationships, and have so enjoyed having them over time and again — BBQ’s, Sundae Sundays, chili nights, and the like.
But we have never really sat down with our neighbors and overtly shared the gospel. And we’ve been increasingly feeling the weight of that as the time of our departure draws near. As much as we love Jesus and as excited as we are to serve Him, we haven’t talked enough about Him with our neighbors. Until today.
When our church announced they were closing up shop yesterday, my wife and I decided there needed to be an assembly of God’s people, even if only in our immediate sphere. We invited our cul-de-sac and our life group to join us for church today in our home. We went door to door checking in on our neighbors re: coronavirus, particularly the elderly, and asked if they needed anything from the store (we were making a run). And we invited them to church. Many were politely disinterested, but one agreed to come, as did several from our life group.
I prepared a discussion on John 3:1-21 and an order of service based on the model in Acts 2: Fellowship, the Apostles’ Teaching, the breaking of bread, and prayer. We brewed coffee, chopped up a loaf of bread, bought a bottle of red wine, setup a bunch of chairs, placed a stack of bibles in the middle of the room, and prayed. This morning, seven people joined us for Sunday gathering — we don’t like calling that “church”; we are the church, we don’t go to church. Five were from our life group, and two from the neighborhood. Woohoo!
We invited people to check in and share concerns and prayer requests. Many, of course, were related to the coronavirus, but others weren’t. And then we prayed for each other. We threw phones on the ottoman to play songs, discussed the passage in John at length, and participated in the Lord’s supper together. It was wonderful.
Then tonight, we had more neighbors over for our annual St Patrick’s Day corned beef feast, and talked to them about Jesus. Amazingly, they want to come to church as well, as do some others in our life group. Praise the Lord!
So, as I’m preparing for bed after a great weekend with and before the Lord, I can’t get this song out of my head by Sidewalk Prophets… Come to the Table. We played it during communion this morning, and I think it perfectly captures my wife’s and my heart about this weekend.
The coronavirus is evoking fear and anxiety and even panic like we haven’t seen before in our lifetime. The craziness just keeps mounting, and as it does, the total inability of the world system to save us or even explain what’s happening is laid bare. It’s our hope that it will become more and more obvious to more and more people that we all need a Savior. Like Jesus said to Nicodemus, “we must be born again!” (John 3:7). Unless we are, the world will never make sense and the coronavirus will be terrifying … and we’ll never enter the kingdom of God.
So, really, COVID-19 pushed us into starting our house church early. Not only that, but I suspect it will lend greater legitimacy to a movement toward house churches that I really believe is inevitable. And that’s not all bad … especially if it ends up being the backdrop against which many are invited to come to the table.