The Lord is revealing through the pandemic the new normal for the church. It is obvious to some, but others may need a little help to see what the Lord is up to. Here is what the Lord has been showing me and others. Let me walk you through a bit of my own experience.
Around the time I wrote Neighborhood Initiative and the Love of God, I asked a class I was teaching at the Valley Vineyard, “If you were a farmer and you were given the responsibility of planting and gathering a harvest out of every area of our Valley, how you would go about it?” The answer was pretty simple. The participants said they would break the Valley up into smaller sections and assign farmers to each section. Each farmer would plant seeds in his field and before long a harvest could be gathered from every field across the Valley.
Consider the spiritual implications of this response and what Jesus had in mind when he said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field” (Matthew 9:38 NIV).
The Lord of the harvest has answered the prayers of many and has sent us out to work in each of our sections in His harvest field. The Lord has situated us in homes and apartments/condos so we can work in the field He has assigned to us. I remember in the early days of Neighborhood Initiative saying, “I dream of a day when we meet a Christian we don’t know that we will ask, not what church do you go to, but what harvest field are you working in?” The Lord is certainly bringing this dream to pass in our day.
Our pastor, Jimmy Reyes, made a comment that has stuck with me and I have pondered it over and over again. He said, “What will be the new normal for the Valley Vineyard when we come out of the pandemic? We can’t go back to the way it was.” What a profound thought. If we are merely looking to get back to normal, then we are missing a very important lesson the Lord is teaching each of us through the lockdown in our own neighborhoods. Those who live next door to us are very important to Him—He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. This unique opportunity is a lesson of a lifetime for us who are in His Church. He is orchestrating a new normal for the Church.
Change is Happening
We all don’t like change, pastors included, but when God introduces new wine to His Church, because of things that our happening on the world scene it is time for us to adapt to what He is initiating. One of the things, I believe, He has been introducing, for some time now, is the neighboring movement. What I see with this movement, which is not so with the church model we are more familiar with today, is that it is pliable like a new wineskin and can adapt to the drastic changes in our present culture. We see how a home-centered church can acclimate and stand strong in such places as China and Iran. The question we must ask ourselves, how has the American church stood up to the pandemic?
Before the shelter in place order, I was asked in so many words, “Why should Christian leaders rethink how we do church? Here was my answer for pastors at the time. “We must not be naïve about the future of our country. We may not be prepared for something that may strike at the heart of where the church is vulnerable here in the U.S. and that is we depend and rely entirely too much on our buildings and our pastors, which could very well be our Achilles heel. All you have to do is contrast how the church in China held up under persecution versus the church in Russia. Like the Early Church, the Chinese church is thriving under persecution, because the home is central and they are multiplying leadership. Whereas, the church in Russia was devastated by persecution, because there was too much dependence on the pastor/minister and the building. Leaders in the church today must prepare for persecution, which may very well be eminent. We must emphasize the centrality of the home for ministry and multiplying disciples who will carry on the Lord’s work. I don’t mean to say that pastors aren’t important, because they are. However, they need to encourage their people to take their eyes off them and make discipleship to Jesus central. If you as a pastor are not doing this, your people will not hold up as the winds of change are sweeping through our land.”
Making Disciples of Jesus
When I first got involved with neighboring at the Valley Vineyard, I put together a little neighboring handbook entitled Developing a Neighborhood Ministry. The subtitle was The Church’s New Frontier. A pastor friend of mine said to me, after looking at the booklet cover, “This is not the Church’s new frontier.” We responded to one another with a smile, because we both new that neighboring is what the Lord instructed His 12 disciples to do in Matthew 10 and the 70 to do in Luke 10 when He sent them out. He told them to go from house to house and search for a worthy person or a person of peace. Once they found one, they were to stay with that person and invest in their lives. The home was central to the advance of the Lord’s kingdom. The Church needs to move back to what Jesus instructed His early disciples to do. Because our church buildings are the center for ministry rather than our homes, we have lost sight of our mission in the world. Michael Green in his book Evangelism and the Early Church said, “Christians missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which the gospel could illuminate the surrounding darkness.” With this home-centered focus, the Early Church grew exponentially. The church today has moved away from this and the growth of the Lord’s kingdom has suffered. When those in your congregation begin to realize that their homes are the center for ministry and the pastor’s role is to equip them so they will love their neighbors as themselves, then you will find that they will begin to live their lives like Jesus did by becoming incarnational.
What the Lord is doing in our day is radical, which means getting back to the root. He is taking His Church back to its roots…what we read about in the book of Acts. Won’t you join Him where He has planted you?