Together in Unity
If you have followed my writing at all in the time since the Bethel Blog began, you will have noted that nearly everything that I have composed has been proactive. As a counselor, God has burdened me to consistently challenge people beyond their theology and philosophy to practical application. I intend to continue that trend at a later point in today’s submission. However, I would first like to share a few reflective thoughts I have been mulling over the past few days.
Space for a Season
Like all of you, the cultural mandates of COVID-19 imposed significant change on my life and routine. Ninety-nine percent of my counseling and meeting load now take place over a secure media platform. Eliminating factors that were once every day like drive time and the need to meet in my office at the church, have even generated a greater efficiency in my area of ministry as those and other more ancillary time commitments no longer apply! Then, when I finish most days and walk out of my home office, my wife and children are immediately there to greet me.
Additionally, “going to church” has changed as well. While having a role in Sunday morning services is not uncommon for many Bethel staff, my role has significantly changed in accomplishing that. I am one of a few pastors who serve across the various social media platforms that we use to broadcast our services, and I have the tremendous privilege of engaging in corporate worship with many of you from the comfort of my dining room table, with my wife and kids all doing the same. Sometimes I even get to Zoom, private message, or email with someone I talked with during the service, shortly thereafter, to pray, fellowship, encourage, etc. And once again, when all my responsibilities are completed, I close my computer, I stand up, and I am already home. These have all been tremendous blessings.
Speaking only for me, as I know the last few months have resulted in hurt to others, I have seen the good that Romans 8:28 is referring to, in my life, during this season. In this way, 2020 is going to stick with my family. And while I have more specific application to the point of this submission below, I’ll challenge you with this now: what is the Romans 8:28 good that you have seen from the last three months? Can you name it? If not, I would encourage you toward healthy introspection as there may be something God would like you to consider.
Why share this? Because for the first time since COVID-19 restrictions began, my digital responsibilities for “church online” were shifted to another staff person and I had the privilege of being at church this past Sunday for the purpose of corporate worship. I sat in the front row, sang loudly with the others in the room, and listened to God’s Word preached live and in-person.
It was amazing. I was honestly a little unprepared for how good it was. I stopped at one point during the service and texted my wife to share: “It *feels* right being back in church.” Because it did. And as I sat in the room for corporate worship, the Lord brought a passage of Scripture to mind repeatedly…
“Behold, how good and pleasant it iswhen brothers dwell in unity!” (ESV)
That was exactly what I was sensing. It was good to be back in the church building with God’s physical people. It was pleasant to be with them/you. I loved giving the elbow of fellowship! Don’t get me wrong, I still love my new routine. My counseling and meetings still may be online for a lengthy season to come. I love being a part of our digital church community on Sunday mornings! But I can’t wait to be in church again.
When I left later that afternoon, I called my wife, echoed that sentiment to her once again, and then proceeded into the rest of our afternoon.
The Message Reaffirmed
Not long after that call, my family and I went to the prayer rally that Pastor Dexter, our Gary Campus Pastor, hosted at the campus. As you may have seen across the church’s social media, it was a needed time of lament, healing, and community as the multiethnic group prayerfully sought the Lord together. Due to having my kids with us, my wife and I stayed toward the back (at first) in order that our kiddos would not be disruptive. This afforded me a visual perspective on the event that cultivated growth in the soil that God had tilled earlier that morning…it was good to be with the people of God. While the reason we gathered was rightfully somber, as the event closed, there were black, Latino, and white brothers and sisters in Jesus fellowshipping, dialoguing, and simply being together. And as I objectively stepped back and surveyed the event multiple times, the Lord repeatedly prompted me again with Psalm 133:1:
“Behold, how good and pleasant it iswhen brothers dwell in unity!”
While the unity God impressed upon me was different from the church service in the morning to the prayer rally in the afternoon, God impressed upon me not just the need, but a growing desire to be back in physical community.
Bethel Church, I commend this to you: it is good and pleasant to be in physical proximity with other Christians! And while the reasons for gathering were very different this past Sunday, and there are certainly other takeaways from both Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon that warrant blog posts of their own, a significant realization I want to encourage us to consider is to—commensurate to your safety (wear gloves and masks if you need to)—pursue being in the same physical space as other believers! I believe it will bring life to your soul!
How to be Together in Unity
First, I cannot encourage you enough to join us on a Sunday morning for in-person worship services, regardless of your campus. As of this past Sunday, Crown Point (9:00am), Cedar Lake (10:45am), and Hobart/Portage (10:45am) are all offering in-person services. Our Gary campus will start offering them as of June 21. Our Chinese congregation is still working through the details, but this is also on the horizon! You can sign up to attend any of these services here.
Second, now that the weather is warm and you can meet outside, I am going to encourage you— with social distancing and safety precautions for those who desire or require them in place—to gather as an in-person small group if you are willing and able. While Zoom and other social media platforms are, and will likely remain, a blessing for connectivity, the actual gathering of the body of Christ described in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere simply cannot be replaced. If there is a means by which you can be in physical community with your closest Christian brothers and sisters, I cannot recommend you pursue this enough.
Third, over the last few months, many have shared that they have developed new relationships with neighbors they had not met or interacted with much prior to the pandemic. Again, now that the weather is warm and people are naturally going outside more, get back out there and continue to cultivate those relationships. At their greatest, they are unique gospel opportunities that can lead to a new soul in the kingdom of God. At the very least, we can remember that God designed us for physical community, and that these relationships provide needed connectivity that is intrinsic to being human. They will help you feel connected in a season of isolation.
Fourth, look for opportunities like the prayer rally from this past Sunday to gather with other Christians. The gathering was socially distanced, with many wearing masks and gloves. This did NOT inhibit the quality of fellowship at all! I repeat, this did not cause any issues with in-person connectivity between people. While lamenting, brothers and sisters were happy to be together, unified around racial sanctification. There will be other opportunities to gather for different purposes in the future, and a number of them are being considered to meet this very human need we have for being connected. Things like…
The list could go on. The point is, as opportunities arise, go; (wisely) be a part of them!
Fifthly and finally: I recognize that for some, there is the real need to remain at a physical distance. Please continue to make phone calls, use video calling available via Skype, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Zoom, and other apps, to communicate! We are designed for community. Get as much of it as you possibly can!
In closing, while this past weekend lent itself to many areas of prayerful consideration for me across a myriad of topics, I am genuinely grateful for the encouragement I found in being with other Christians. My heart in composing this is to share my personal experience as coming from a position of acceptable comfort in my new norm. My encouragement and recommendation, not as a pastor or a counselor, but as a human, is as you are able, please gather together in person again. I believe God will do for you as he did for me, and bring Psalm 133:1 to life in a new, real way.