Part two of two; reprinted from Workship.
Here are some of my suggestions for what a post-pandemic world could look like, with Christian input.
1. A renewed appreciation of physical connections
While the church has responded heroically in obeying bans on mass gatherings by moving services online, this should not become the new norm.
I support Brian Zhand, who warns, “Don’t let a pandemic turn you into a Gnostic.” Gnosticism was an ancient heresy that compartmentalized the physical from the spiritual, leading to a denial that Jesus could be both fully human and fully God.
While it has been a novelty to experience church from our loungerooms, and I have appreciated still meeting as a church, Christianity is a way of life that incorporates the material world. As Zhand says, “To prefer digital over enfleshed is a gnostic move; it’s a move away from what it means to be human; it’s an insult to the Incarnation.”
Instead, we should take the positives of the online experience: widening our reach, understanding that the church is people not a building, and enjoying that our faith impacts our home-life not just the one-hour gathering on a Sunday…but weave that into a deeper expression of our church experience post-pandemic.
2. Fresh expressions of hospitality in the neighborhood
An amazing thing has happened, we are recognizing our neighbors. Instead of furtively avoiding people as we drive to and from work and shops, we are taking the time to walk around the block, to smile and greet people, and to take part in neighborhood activities such as teddy bears in the window for “bear hunts,” or dressing up to put bins out.
I loved the innovation of street Facebook or WhatsApp groups to coordinate shopping or help. Some people I know put a card in everyone’s letterbox offering them a free home-delivered coffee.
Karina and Armen at Neighbourhood Matters have some wonderful resources to help individuals and churches pivot in this way, toward expressing compassionate renewal geographically.
These themes are expressed in an innovative exercise posted by Melinda Cousins, teaching pastor at Richmond Baptist Church, who captured ideas from the congregation of God at work at this time in the infographic below.
3. A willingness to talk openly about spiritual matters
There’s nothing quite like an incredibly contagious virus with deadly side effects to get people thinking about mortality and what matters. Friends of mine said recently that they had not realised how focused on material things they were until the most important thing in the house became toilet paper, and cans of soup, and pasta; until they had to weigh up our “need” for things with reduced income, and the danger of a simple trip to the shops. Suddenly the lure of luxury items and experiences did not seem as important as relationships, and purpose and meaning.
Even within Christian circles, I would have been hesitant to ask people directly about their spiritual welfare, or they may have been evasive in their response, but those conversations are opening up now.
4. A renewed commitment to the value of the earth and its inhabitants
In our busy, selfish existence, we may have occasionally signed a petition, joined a march, or written to a politician about the rushed approval of a brown coalmine; or even ignored those requests in our social media feeds. However, this pandemic has heightened our awareness of our interconnectedness, not just as people, but with the environment. Although the source of the virus is still unsure, the likelihood is that it was caught from a live exotic animal in the markets in Wuhan, China.
One result of the pandemic, and reduced industrial activity and vehicle movement, is that the air is cleaner, and wildlife is more visible. As many have commented, we can hear the birds sing.
Will we be willing to make more permanent changes to help the earth breathe more easily? The British poll noted earlier suggests yes.
5. A church more mobilized by compassion
Our church now has approximately half the congregation involved in running online services, contacting frail members, delivering services to the community, as well as doing all the background coordinating.
Tammy Tolman, a pastor at a church in Dapto south of Sydney has noticed a similar change in her church, “If we don’t take this opportunity now to reassess and rethink what God calls the Church to be then we miss an incredible opportunity. Going back to having one or two people up the front doing everything while everyone else sits passively would be tragic.”
6. Christians leading the way in innovation for the common good
I have noticed a renewed commitment by Christians toward use their gifting, skills and businesses to respond to recent crises, including the devastating bushfires and now the pandemic. They are living out what Andy Crouch describes as the responsibility for all Christian leaders, “to speak, live, and make decisions in such a way that the horizons of possibility move towards shalom, flourishing for everyone in our sphere of influence, especially the vulnerable.”
I see it in a friend of mine who runs a Christian dance company and is having conversations with ballet dancers who do not want to return to an industry marked by bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and an obsession with the myth of a perfect body. They are mobilising for change.
I see it with a Christian school which is not weighed down by current circumstances but sees potential: “We are making the transition and looking at ways to make this an opportunity for growth and development. Very exciting to think we are paving the way into new territory. And again, we are referring to it as workship. This is what we do to be faithful stewards.”
7. An understanding of the need for a foundation of spiritual health
While health workers, teachers and supermarket workers are busier than ever, many have noticed the difference working from home, reduced commute times, and changed circumstances.
I was speaking to some Christian entrepreneurs recently for whom this unexpected and unwelcome pause in activity has had unexpected benefits.
“I can’t remember the last time I had eight hours sleep at night,” commented one.
Another mentioned the way she and her family members have reconnected more deeply, and they have been able to get into better rhythms of encountering God in his Word and prayer. “We are laying a more firm foundation for when things begin moving again.”
A young friend has drawn comfort from the prophets during the pandemic, and particularly Isaiah’s contrast of light and darkness, such as Isaiah 60:1–3:
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
This is a glimpse of the new kingdom under the reign of the Messiah. Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:15–20 that this Messiah, Jesus is reigning, and fulfilling his purpose of reconciliation:
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
As Tom Wright in God in Public has said, Jesus rules now through his people, the church, continuing this work of reconciliation:
Jesus rules the world today by launching new initiatives that radically challenge the accepted ways of doing things: by jubilee projects that remit ridiculous and unpayable debt, by housing trusts that provide accommodation for low-income families or homeless people, by local and sustainable agricultural projects that care for creation instead of destroying it in the hope of quick profit…That is how the sovereignty of Jesus is put into effect. Jesus went about feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and rescuing the lost sheep; his Body is supposed to be doing the same. That is how his kingdom is at work.
The pandemic has given all of us, and especially the church, the time to reflect on the way things were, and the way things could be. It’s not a new story, it’s an old story given fresh expression. I sense there is the real possibility that we could live out Lisa Sharon Harper’s vision at the end of her book The Very Good Gospel:
Evidence of the presence of the Kingdom of God is thick wherever and whenever people stand on the promise of God that there is more to this world—more to this life—than what we see. There is more than the getting over, getting by, or getting mine. There is more than the brokenness, the destruction and the despair that threaten to wash over us like the waters of the deep. There is a vision of a world where God cuts through the chaos, where God speaks and there is light. There is a vision where there is protection and where love is binding every relationship together. There is a call for humanity to exercise dominion over self and the rest of creation in a way that serves all, not just self. And there is a promise that as long as we follow God’s way, there will be life, healing, and love. There will come a day when all the world stands before God in shalom, and there will be only one tree, and its leaves will heal our wounds.
Come, Lord Jesus, in us and through us, and ultimately to bring about the New Earth.
Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.