Being the Church at Home
David H. Cortes Plata is a Doctor of Ministry student at BJU Seminary serving as assistant pastor at Iglesia Bautista Puerta Abierta, in Tijuana, Mexico.
On Friday, March 13, I watched pastor after pastor announcing to their members via Facebook that, because of the restrictions or recommendations of their state’s governor, their church services, only 2 days away, would not be able to physically meet together. Although my church was not under those restrictions yet, I knew we would be soon. As our pastoral staff scrambled to figure out how we could prepare our church for this monumental change, we realized that God had actually already begun to prepare us for this new way of “doing church.” In a recent Sunday-school series, we had just finished studying the six purposes that God had given the church. The Lord reminded us that we were not only to preach to the congregation, but to lead them in being the church, even from home. God’s purposes are to be met whether we are gathering in our building or at home.
The Church Glorifies God
As hard as it is to swallow the idea, staying home at this time truly glorifies the Lord. First, it does so by allowing us to care for our family from foreseeable danger. Second, it demonstrates respect and obedience for authorities that have been appointed by God for our protection (Rom. 13:1-5). Third, it provides the believer an opportunity to give close attention to his walk with God (1 Cor. 15:58). All of these characteristics are crucial to the life of the believer, and God has ordained that they be cultivated during this time of isolation. Preaching is essential for our church because this is the key way that the church shepherds God’s people by addressing issues like these (1 Cor. 1:21-24). Therefore, we have to work hard at addressing people’s needs through expositional preaching with applications that are relevant to our situation. It is great that our people can listen to great preachers, but they need their own pastor’s ministry of the Word.
The Church Worships God
We do not gather only to hear our pastor preach. We also gather to lift our hearts to the Almighty God. So we feel sort of silly singing with our congregation in their homes, but we believe that they need this expression of worship. As a pastor, I feel strange preaching into a camera, so how is singing any different? The song leader feels ridiculous singing and waving his arms to an empty building. At any rate, people need to worship the Lord now more than ever. So, even if families sing together at home, this will help us put our focus on God (Eph. 5:19).
Worshiping, however, is not only done through music. Our reverence before the Almighty is truly of utmost importance. And this might be the hardest part of worshiping at home. We listen to God’s Word being preached on the same screen that we watch our favorite series on Netflix, the latest viral video, or the news. Our TV, computer, and smartphone screens place us in the position of judge—we get to pick what to watch. But while the Word is being preached, we must not allow our hearts to judge the quality of the video, sound, lighting, the pastor’s outfit, or the topic of the sermon. Our attitude should be one of submission to God’s word. Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus said this in the context of church discipline, but it applies just as well to our families tuning in to the Sunday sermon. So, if this is true and we are in the Lord’s presence as we gather electronically, we must fight the urge of treating it as just another activity at home. We need to pay attention, put our phones away, and save our conversations for the end of the sermon.
The Church Has Fellowship With One Another
Okay, now it is time to pull out those smartphones! Facebook, iMessage, WhatsApp, Zoom, Instagram, or whatever we use to communicate may be used to reach out to other believers. We try to help our people think beyond COVID-19 and share a verse, a song, a praise, a burden, or a prayer. This is how we edify one another (I Thess. 5:11)! Also, we can and should have fellowship with those in our homes first and provide opportunities for our little ones and teens to have wholesome fellowship with their peers.
The Church Serves One Another
Serving members of our church while quarantined requires some creativity, but if we ask the Lord for wisdom, he will help us discover ways that we can serve. Perhaps we can deliver care packages to those who have special needs. However, we also found that our families needed to learn how to serve within their own homes. There is laundry to be done, dishes to be cleaned, lawns to be mowed, not to mention children to be schooled and attended to. What a wonderful opportunity to learn how to serve sacrificially!
The Church Disciples the Believers
Perhaps you have heard that divorce rates are going up in China after the lock-down. It makes sense, since we are all selfish sinners. Could this happen with believers in our churches? I think so. So we need to address the spiritual well-being of those at home. We all face temptations of becoming impatient or angry with family members. We experience irritation because we are secluded and cannot do our normal work. Our church folks face financial stress. We let down our guard and engage in entertainment that is ungodly and damaging to our families. Therefore, we need to focus on the Word, filling our minds with its truth. Our families need to read and memorize portions of the Bible that deal with life’s challenges. Can we make this a time of spiritual growth rather than spiritual withering for those in our sphere of influence?
The Church Preaches the Gospel
Although we should not have close contact with others outside our home, we can still reach out to the lost. Even though we are keeping our distance, we can give a word of hope and point people to God. Perhaps we could share the link to our church services or set up distance meetings with friends and family in order to share the gospel.
Amid the hardships we are all living through, we have found, as you probably have, that there is joy in seeing our church strive. May the Lord use his people to glorify his Holy Name.