May 20, 2020 Update
A Plan for Greater Fellowship, Hospitality, & Love
This week, we hope to actively pursue and enjoy greater fellowship, hospitality, and love—but probably not the way you think. In a minute I will explain how we hope to gather as a congregation, but first, let’s start by stating the obvious: Regathering as a church is going to be complicated. It is complicated by at least four factors:
We are living in a time of global pandemic and we want to lovingly protect one another from a potentially deadly virus.
The recommended measures we need to take to protect one another could hinder the joys of corporate worship. We can sing, but with masks on. We can see each other, but no hugs.
The pace at which individuals and families are willing to meet is not the same. Some are eager to gather with hundreds, while others are eager to remain quarantined at home.
We are all in the midst of a storm of conflicting information that most of us do not have the time, expertise, or energy to adequately analyze.
Pastors have an expression that often comes up when they run into problems that they do not know how to deal with: “Well, they sure didn’t teach us that in seminary!” This is true in our current situation, but it is not only true for pastors! Our engineers most likely didn’t learn epidemiology in college. Our doctors possibly do not have a vocational history in economics. Our teachers probably didn’t practice medicine during their student teaching. We are all in over our heads—humility is the universal need of the hour.
Now, humility does not mean shirking hard work. As a staff, we have been working hard to lead through this complicated time. We have been listening to government guidelines, reading medical reports related to corporate gatherings, meeting with some of our medical professionals (the plan I will unpack later was their preference), consulting with other local pastors, and—of course—interacting with many of you (though obviously not as many as we would prefer). There is always one more article you could read, but what follows is a humble attempt to explain the direction we think we should go after having done our homework.
We believe that, for the next month, we should gather in small groups in one another’s homes to live stream the service together (May 24th–June 14th). We believe that this way of gathering will add the sweetness of personal fellowship and hospitality to the joy of singing and preaching. We also believe that it will enable our Immanuel family to move together at a pace that allows us to love one another deeply and wisely. Let me explain.
First, let’s start with a contrast. What would it look like for a church our size to gather in our building again on the 24th? It would mean arriving about 30 minutes early to enter the building through socially-distanced lines both inside and outside the building. It would also mean sitting at least six feet apart from other members in the service, wearing masks while fellowshipping and singing. That’s not all. Meeting each week in multiple services would require extensive cleaning before and after each service. If we only held one service then we would have to take turns coming once every 2–3 weeks—there is no perfect solution at our building awaiting us this Sunday.
What would it look like to meet in our homes? Simply put, a lot warmer and a lot less complicated. A family like mine could invite a few singles over to sing and fellowship together. Some Gospel Community Groups could split up into two or three clusters and gather to sing, listen to God’s Word, and enjoy one another’s company. A group of roommates could invite over a few more isolated members to celebrate Jesus together. Without the complexities of a large central gathering, we could enjoy the grace of many smaller gatherings. We could add fellowship and hospitality to preaching, prayer, and song! We want to pursue Christ and Christ-likeness through the blessings of open homes, warm relationships, Christian teaching, small group worship, and fervent prayer. Therefore, this seems like the logical next step as we gather.
I am aware as I write this letter that some of you will not be comfortable gathering this Sunday at all. Your convictions—or simply your wisdom regarding your own health and well-being—prevent you from gathering right now. That is fine. Our Christian liberty provides plenty of room for that position. We believe that the way forward we are proposing will give you and us another month to assess the situation, and it will hopefully allow more of us to come together when we arrive at the next phase of regathering.
So, this Sunday, here are some ways you can show love:
Would you consider inviting some members of Immanuel to your place to watch the live stream at 10:00a? Maybe you could gather with some old friends? Possibly you could gather with some saints you suspect have been extremely lonely? If everyone who is comfortable gathering would show hospitality, then I am sure all of God’s people would feel welcomed and loved! You can find additional ideas from Pastor Jeff for how to gather here.
If you are inviting people over, would you candidly let your friends know how strict or loose you intend to be in following the governor’s “Guidance for Gatherings of Up To Ten (10) People?” We are encouraging all gatherings to consult with this guide, but we know there will be a spectrum of strictness when it comes to enforcing these guidelines. Will you be requiring face masks? Will you be spacing out lawn chairs in the backyard or just leaving some room between each person/household on the couches? Please help each other know where you are at.
If you receive an invitation to go over to someone’s house, would you delight to show honor towards the way they are leading their home? Romans 14 can serve us so practically here.
Would you let someone know if you don’t have somewhere to go? Feel free to reach out to a family or friend who you want to connect with. Do not be offended if they already have a full house. God will open another door or he may use you to open a door for someone else. Furthermore, we will do all we can to make sure everyone is cared for. Although you may or may not join with your GCG, we will be asking GCG leaders to make sure everyone who wants to gather in a home has a home to gather in.
Gathering together in homes this week allows us to spend our energies growing in love rather than growing in complexity. Gathering together this way means that we spend more time finding those in the body who are lonely and welcoming them in. It means we spend less time getting our building ready for a large, complicated gathering. Of course, there is nothing wrong with large complicated gatherings, but we would rather see you growing in pursuing, preferring, and planning to love one another. I pray God would allow us to grow during this time in the warm hospitality and sacrificial fellowship of Christ.
I hope and pray that the Sundays throughout this next month are filled with loads of hospitality, lots of wise love, and tons of worship, praise, and fellowship. I hope your neighbors will hear and see and want to ask what all the fuss is about. I hope that the fellowship you receive in small groups will be more personal than a large meeting where it is hard to really talk to anyone. I trust Jesus will bless these humble efforts in these complicated times.
With Great Love,
(on behalf of your elders)