Has the Church left the building?

Mike Gore has seen faith spread, thanks to COVID restrictions

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on our lives and the lives of those around us.

For many Christians in Australia, one of the biggest challenges has been getting used to what church looks like, how we evangelise, how we serve, and how we worship.

Churches have decreased their focus on content [and] increased their focus on connection.

Through the work around the world that I am part of with Open Doors Australia, we’ve seen authorities restrict Christians in Asia from accessing medical treatment and supplies – based on their faith.

Across the Middle East, we’ve seen the enforcement of quarantine laws which have forced Christians back into the homes of those who persecute them (often, their own family members). In countries such as Iran, we’ve heard stories of Christian doctors and nurses being forced to run COVID-19 clinics with no PPE as their governments believe that Christians are expendable.

But during this tough time for so many, we’ve also seen people driven into a deeper and more trust-filled relationship with God.

Isolation has served as an intense focussing tool as it strips away so many of the comforts we experience in life. It has allowed us to see that when all we have left is Jesus, Jesus is all we need. Even though this period of isolation has felt claustrophobic and oppressive, what if this isolation is actually a hand on the back from the Lord, pushing us in to a more beautiful, focused relationship with Him?

At the height of Christian persecution in China during the ’50s and ’60s, the church was dispersed and forced into homes. I can see some similarities with that forced move and what many regular churchgoers in Australia have experienced this year, due to coronavirus restrictions closing many church buildings.

In the words of a Chinese Pastor: “Before persecution came, we practised our faith and our love for God in the church – and almost nowhere else. But when persecution came, it dispersed the church, and we practised faith in our homes and, because of that, everywhere else.”

As I have watched churches respond to the pandemic, and the effect had on their congregations, I have seen actions which initially seemed to come from fear and control. People were worried as they questioned the meaning of the pandemic and how they could keep their church together.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen people become more comfortable with this current situation – and churches have decreased their focus on content as they increased their focus on connection.

We’ve also seen the gospel reach cities, suburbs and neighbourhoods that never previously had a “church”

The persecuted church around the world has taught us valuable lessons in its response to COVID-19.

Open Doors has heard from the pastor of an underground church in the epicentre of Wuhan, who reminded us that the love of Jesus cannot be quarantined.

Another underground pastor told us that when the “church” is forced into homes, people have been waking up as pastors of their own families, learning to share the gospel in their own home. We’ve also seen the gospel reach cities, suburbs and neighbourhoods that never previously had a “church”, yet now find themselves with a house church.

What we’ve learned from the persecuted church is that when the church is forced into homes, the battleground shouldn’t be around the best deliverable content. The battleground is personal connection.

Stripping back all the distractions of culture, and the things we found our identity in – whether it is church, work or socialising – we’ve realised that even when they are gone, we’re still okay.

I’m hoping we’ll see a far more unified Church arise from this pandemic.

One of the risks is that we will look back on this time in history and see a decline in the number of regular church-attending Christians. For others, their routine will be forever interrupted by the change in church setting and they won’t go back to the building as often.

But we will also see a broadening of the gospel as people become used to receiving information online – from a variety of sources.

I also believe we will also see a reduction of denominational lines and the patriotism and division that sometimes exists between denominations.

I’m hoping we’ll see a far more unified Church arise from this pandemic.

I have personally learned so many lessons during the coronavirus pandemic, about my own faith and the areas in my life where I have let culture guide me more than Christ. This has included the areas of refinement and growth that have left me spiritually stronger and with a deeper sense of identity in Christ rather that my social status.

When faith is brought out of our church, it enters the rest of the world.

Isolation has amplified the small things in life and taught me to be more thankful for the simple things in life; clean air, a bed, the ability to go for walks each day, the beauty of nature outside my front door and the power of personal connection with my wife and kids.

When faith is brought out of our church, it enters the rest of the world. That’s one the most beautiful realities of what we’re experiencing now; faith has become a part of our household.

COVID-19 has not been the death knell so many believed it to be.

It has been a hand on the back from the Lord stripping away all the distractions in life and allowing us to find peace, safety, assurance and comfort in the face of uncertainty.

Let us use this opportunity to help grow the Church as we see God working throughout this pandemic.

Mike Gore is the CEO of Open Doors Australia and New Zealand and has been with the ministry for more 10 years. Mike lives in Sydney with his wife and two daughters. He has travelled extensively to meet persecuted Christians around the world.

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