Our Guide to Re-Gathering
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. — Acts 2.1–2
I want to humbly ask you watch the video and to read the ENTIRE POST (yes, I am aware :-).
I’ll start with the things most people want to know first.
What’s the Plan
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” — Matthew 16:18–19
His CHURCH (us) WILL RISE AGAIN!!! And as His Kingdom people meant to live by His Kingdom power for His Kingdom glory, the gathered church is they way He will equip His army to storm the gates of Hades! Don’t let the enemy win by making you feel isolated, alone, angry or apathetic. Eleven weeks apart has caused many of us to forget how good it is to be together and to start to believe we don’t really need to gather. But if the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are what He did while He was here on earth in a physical body, the message to the church in Acts through Jude are what He is doing now on earth as the body of Christ. WE, the church, are what He is doing NOW! So let that be our rallying cry as we Re-Gather back together in these coming weeks.
THIS Sunday, May 31st at 10am we are meeting in the gym building at the Southwest Indian Ministries Center located at 73rd Ave and Thunderbird (be sure to enter off of Thunderbird road regardless of what your navigation program tells you. SEE PICS BELOW).
We want people to feel comfortable getting reengaged at whatever level they feel led (more on that later). So I wanted to provide the basic outline of the entire morning for your decision making.
We also plan to provide a Zoom Feed for the gathering but we have some technical hurdles to overcome and this will be a 1st-time trial for us so please be patient. We will upload a video of the gathering ASAP on Sunday afternoon as well.
[All times and transitions are only approximations to help you plan your day. The desire is to have a seamless discussion together with our God. Please feel free to move in and out of these times whenever you feel comfortable. NO, TRULY. There is NO expectation and MUCH grace to go around here. Come for the whole time or just part of it. And remember to invite others into the FRamily.]
10:00am Worship in Prayer
10:30am Worship in Song
10:45am Calling Passage and Pastoral Prayer
10:55am Gospel Moment and Prayer
11:00am Worship in Song
11:10am Teaching/Discussion Time
12:00pm Worship in Communion (Sensitive to current concerns, it will be a little different than normal.)
12:10pm Worship in Song
12:20pm Announcements and Sending Passage
12:30pm Worship in Fellowship (IF you want, bring your own lunch and stay to eat and catch up with others. However, this is NOT a potluck. Bring food for your family. We will have water bottles available.)
[We will also have a time to pray for Jeff and Tina who will be taking an 8 week time away for June and July. You can learn more about it on their video post here.]
Why the different format?
The question I have been asking myself since this started in anticipation of our re-gathering is, “What does it look like to make Sunday more conversational and participatory and feel less like a presentation to spectators?” (Every Sunday afternoon for several years I have had a wrestled in my soul about whether anything we just did really touched and shaped souls for the Kingdom.)
So, in a nutshell, how can our gatherings become even less about something we go to and watch, and move even further down the road of being something we enter into and actively engage in? It is not about being IN church, but about being WITH people.
That is our desire — to increase the opportunities for the Holy Spirit to move on all of us to come to the gatherings ready to bring something to share with one another, even as we receive something from one another. From the time we started praying for REVIVAL in March of 2019, I have said that revival is not just God doing the status quo, but bigger. No, revival is God shaking things up and getting us out of our comfort zone. I get that this less structured and potentially messy format may feel uncomfortable for many — me included. But for us to get back to what the church is meant to be, a place of belonging, of true koinonia fellowship, we must open up our comfortable little boxes to let the Spirit (and each other) in. We need to make room for things to be a little messy, even as we know our God to be a God of order and purpose. TOGETHER, as we seek His face and the Spirit’s still small voice, we will find the exact right space He wants us in as a faith family. I CANNOT WAIT to see what He does in these coming weeks!
What will it look like — REALLY?
There is such a wide spectrum of what people believe our Re-Gathering should look like — everything from not meeting at all to we should have never stopped meeting; from no masks to requiring masks; from not singing to full band; from not allowing people to linger to having a giant pot-luck afterwards. We want to take make every effort to let all of these people know what is happening so that you can make well-informed decisions about what you feel comfortable engaging in.
As I mentioned in my post last week, the gym space we will be in is large, clean, and has plenty of tables and chairs. Everything is disinfected prior to the start of the service and any refreshments and communion elements will be prepped and/or sealed to take extra precautions. Some other specifics include: (and please read the reasoning below too)
Hand sanitizer will be available at the door.
We recommend limiting physical contact with others, but at least making sure those you are in contact with are comfortable with it as well.
We fully support those who choose to wear a mask for the protection of their health and/or the health of others they interact with.
Remember, there are many reasons that have nothing to do with faith or fear for why someone would choose to wear a mask at this time. So let’s kill criticism here and now!
There is no childcare available (not a massive change for us, but we don’t even have a classroom).
We will have tables and chairs set up around the gym for seating during the entire gathered time. They will be closer together up front and spread out as they move back.
Sit together as families and with other families who are at your level of comfort at this time.
If you need to be more removed right now, sit at the outside tables. If you need an even greater distance, we will make that happen. We just want you to be comfortable being together — whatever that looks like for you.
We will be singing but we don’t use song-books and are choosing a fully-acoustic, more subdued song selection so the voices can be heard regardless of how many participate or how loud we sing.
The elements for the Lord’s Supper will be placed in small cups (put together sanitarily) and will not be handled by anyone else.
You can still be prayed for if you wish, or just take the cups on your own.
These details above will come and go over time — but our MOTIVATION in making these efforts to practice love should never change. This Re-Gathering season will give us great opportunity to PRACTICE PREFERRING ONE ANOTHER as Romans 12:10 commands, “Give preference to one another in honor…” So LEAD with LOVE and EXTEND GRACE to those who may not think or behave like you. Even if you are somehow ‘the right one’, the Gospel compels you to PREFER you brother and sister. Remember, “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not seek its own…” — 1 Corinthians 13. You are the sweetest most accepting people I know and I have NO DOUBT you will love others well. And there are NO EXPECTATIONS on you other than to NOT EXPECT OTHERS to do what you are comfortable doing. Let us not pass judgement on one another for anything — Romans 14:13. Everyone has a story, and we don’t know every detail of it. There are SO MANY reasons that people may feel the way they do about what is needed in this time. So rather than judge others’ actions, let’s commit to sharing in each others’ stories.
What is guiding these decisions?
First, your elders love you and take very seriously the care of the flock among us. We have been meeting regularly and having ongoing discussion about this from before we first shut down. I have spent numerous hours meeting with other area pastors and walking through and weighing all the implications of what I discuss in detail below. And I have read the guidelines from the Governor’s Office and the CDC. Additionally, your leaders have been in earnest prayer and fasting throughout this season. Finally, and most importantly, we seek our counsel in the Word of God.
Three passages have governed my thoughts on this whole thing from the time the shut-down started 11 weeks ago:
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (Along with John 13.35)
24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
But, although scripture is truly our bright light and our clear lamp, how to apply it is not always clear and is always the issue in our souls. What is the balance with which we weigh each of the above passages? That is the quandary and the question. All of these passages MUST be considered in this discussion — but at what levels?
If one weighs heavily on the Hebrews passage, they will tend to not listen to what the government recommendations for all large groups are or care as much about the witness to the neighbor/community and will gather even when it is, in my opinion, not only not safe but a potential obstacle to seeing others come to faith in Jesus. (There is a church near us that shares our theology, that has never stopped meeting any differently through this shutdown.)
If one values the Matthew passage more, they will tend to discourage gathering until everyone is feeling completely OK with how we gather. (A church near us that shares our theology is not planning to gather again until July because that is the earliest they see it ‘getting back to normal’.)
If one values the Romans passage strongly, they will tend to look to diminish in some form the supernatural entity that is the church and follow a more man-centered line of reasoning; seeing the church like any other organization or institution subject to government direction.
If one devalues any one of these entirely, they are not promoting the full truth of God’s Word either. So the struggle really is in finding the balance; and every congregation will need to do what is right for them before the Lord.
Here is an example to illustrate the point. To many, something like requiring masks at our gatherings may seem like a very simple and easy to implement suggestion. And in so many very real ways, they would be correct. But to others, having to wear a mask would cause such a struggle that their ability to worship would be diminished to a point that they would not, or could not, attend. For some of those people this could just be a ‘strong preference’ that they may need to work to let go of in order to love others well. But to others, there are genuine issues that would make a ‘mask mandate’ something they simply cannot work with. For example, I was invited into a conversation with 30+ Children’s Ministry directors around the valley discussing how to open back up. Although there was ZERO consensus, the one thing they 100% agreed upon was that mask are scary (and to some, terrifying) to many children. Not to mention that managing to keep masks on even older children can be a difficult and distracting task to parents at best. And for others, masks are so constricting (almost like claustrophobia) that the ability to focus and worship would not be possible. You can see these are not easy decisions. We covet your prayers.
Here is what I am convinced of: this will not be the only time in our lives that this will happen. This is not a ‘one-off.’ When the enemy finds something that works, he will return to it — next fall, spring, in a year, another virus, etc. Some version of this will become the ‘new normal’ and the churches that don’t just weather the storm of the change of structure from ‘social-distancing’ to gathering, but manage the transitions in and out of those repeated seasons, will be the churches that not only survive but have the greatest gospel-impact for the Kingdom of God.
So what are we to do? Love God wholly and love others well. Lead with love and extend great grace. Get rid of our expectations on others. Kill criticism. And I have no doubt that our loving FRamily will do just that as we Re-Gather together beginning this coming Sunday May 31st. I am beyond excited to see you.