In this blog Dr. Robin Johnston discusses how COVID-19 is changing the church. Dr. Johnston serves as the editor in chief and publisher for the United Pentecostal Church International. In addition he is the director for the Center for the Study of Oneness Pentecostalism and an adjunct professor at Urshan Graduate School of Theology.
How is COVID-19 changing the church? What are the theological implications?
If there’s a gift in COVID-19, it’s that it reveals for us trends that have been happening gradually. When an event like COVID-19 comes along that radically alters the way we do church, it magnifies those trends.
If there’s a gift in COVID-19, it’s that it reveals for us trends that have been happening gradually.
From the early days of Pentecost, in the words of Grant Wacker, early Pentecostals tried to recreate Heaven on earth. Even though they believed in the soon coming of the Lord—a part of the focus of their devotional lives—they attempted to create a piece of Heaven on earth by creating church communities. Church became central, the organizing principle on which they built their lives. That meant they went to church a lot.
Several years ago, Tim Dugas and I interviewed an elderly saint. She told about going to church many decades prior. She worked all day in a match factory and then went to church afterward. She mentioned going to church every night. I asked who was preaching the revival. She said no one was preaching a revival; we just went to church every night.The pandemic is calling us to develop a life of personal devotions that can sustain our faith apart from gathering often during the week. Click To Tweet
We’ve transitioned from church every night of the week, with revival campaigns that lasted three or four weeks, to having church less and less. For many people, church consists of Sunday morning and hopefully midweek Bible study. That trend is not without repercussions.
Personal Study and Devotions
When we were in church all the time, we didn’t think as much about people’s devotional lives
We have drifted into not having church as much without actually creating an alternative and a means of focusing on creating a personal devotional life on a daily basis.
because they were getting spiritual connection through Bible teaching and preaching each day at church. Now that we’ve moved away from going to church as often, we need to think about what people are doing at home to grow spiritually.
It wasn’t that early preachers didn’t think about personal spiritual life; the need was not as apparent as it is now. In the face of COVID-19, while it has been painful, it has been prophetic in a sense. The pandemic is calling us to develop a life of personal devotions that can sustain our faith apart from gathering often during the week.
That’s not to suggest church gathering is not a good thing. Of course it is. But we have drifted into not having church as much without actually creating an alternative and a means of focusing on creating a personal devotional life on a daily basis.
People who stop attending church regularly aren’t likely to develop spiritual practices on their own. We depend on the community to help us develop spiritually. So how do we adapt now?
We aren’t going to develop spiritual practices without a catalyst to inspire us. One of my grandkids is three and doesn’t have much of an appetite. He certainly doesn’t enjoy eating, even though his little sister eats everything. I’ve watched his mother and grandmother try to lead him in developing right eating habits. They use an hourglass. Once the hourglass is turned over, he has to stay at the table until all the sand goes through, even if he doesn’t eat.
If COVID-19 has taken from us the sense of community we had, the church community has to encourage individuals to sustain their own spiritual lives.
While it’s not a perfect analogy, his parents provide encouragement to help him develop positive habits and an appetite; they are key in helping him develop an appetite. In the same way, the church must figure out ways to encourage individuals to develop a spiritual appetite. If COVID-19 has taken from us the sense of community we had, the church community has to encourage individuals to sustain their own spiritual lives. The solution won’t be guilt. If guilt doesn’t work on a three-year-old, it won’t work on a thirty-three-year-old either. We must find ways to be positive and show the benefits of developing a deepening spiritual life. This begins with developing an appetite and involves pushing beyond the comfort zone to try something new.
Resources and Links by Dr. Johnston