rebelling against low expectations

How To Live As The Church (Even When You Can’t Go To Church)

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All across the country, churches have closed their doors.

Two weeks ago, my church canceled all services until further notice. Since then, church has looked like sitting on the couch in front of my laptop. I’m thankful for the technology that enables me to continue hearing from my pastor, but there’s no denying it’s not the same.

I miss my church family. I miss worshipping together. I even miss the awkward “turn and greet your neighbor” part.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard from other teens who feel the same way.

I miss the fellowship.

I miss being physically surrounded by my brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s harder to be intentional at home . . . it’s easy to take it lightly.

It’s harder to focus . . . my family drives me crazy when I’m trying to concentrate!

I can relate to each of these statements. It’s hard to still feel like the body of Christ when you haven’t seen your Christian friends face-to-face in weeks, “attend church” in your pajamas, and have your pastor continually freeze up mid-sentence because of a bad internet connection.

This pandemic has temporarily stolen our ability to gather together. But it can’t steal our calling as Christ-followers to share His love with a broken, hurting world.

So what does it mean to be the church when we can’t go to church?

You Still Are the Church

God’s church was never intended to be confined to a building. His design is simply too big to be crammed within four walls. The Bible talks about several levels of church. It talks about how we’re a worldwide body of believers, “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

In this verse, Paul is writing to a local church—the church of Corinth. But even in this greeting, he includes “all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” (emphasis mine) That includes you. That includes me. In this verse, we see both local levels of the church and worldwide levels. Skip to the end of 1 Corinthians and we see one more level of church: the church in a home. “Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” (1 Corinthians 16:19 emphasis mine)

Aquila and Priscilla obviously had a house church—a body of believers small enough to meet in a home. We might think of it as our modern small groups. And while we don’t have the ability to meet even in that capacity with those who aren’t family, if our families are believers, they’re also brothers and sisters in Christ.

Even if family members are not believers, you’re still the church, because that identity was stamped upon you when you accepted Christ. As a friend told me, “The church body is still all part of the same body. We aren’t alone just because we’re at a distance.”

When it comes to being a part of the body of Christ, distance has no bearing.

This pandemic has temporarily stolen our ability to gather together. But it can’t steal our calling as Christ-followers to share His love with a broken, hurting world. Click To Tweet

Many people in Scripture and throughout history have had times of separation from normal church gatherings or fellowship with believers. Paul was imprisoned and under house arrest multiple times—he couldn’t meet with the churches he founded or spend time in fellowship with other Christians. Yet he wrote that these “things . . . have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12) He took his confinement and witnessed to those around him and encouraged the churches through the letters he wrote. Four of the letters we now have in our Bibles were written by Paul in prison. In other words, while we’re Zooming and Skyping and Facetiming with people to stay connected, Paul had none of those things. All he had was pen and paper.

Paul hasn’t been the only Christian in this circumstance either. Millions of believers throughout the centuries have been imprisoned for Christ and separated from other believers, yet remained faithful. They remained the church. Solitary confinement, brainwashing, torture, and separation from family and friends couldn’t change their core. From Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Tegel Prison during WWII, to Aida Skripnikova who faced four prison terms in ten years in Communist USSR during the 1960’s, to Dmitri who spent 17 years straight in prison and said that “isolation from the Body of Christ was more difficult than even . . . physical torture” the church has often been scattered and isolated.

One of the first “scatterings” is described in Acts 8 during the time of Saul’s persecution of the church. But God used this persecution—this scattering—to mightily grow the church and spread the gospel because “those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4) That’s how the church grew.

Right now, we’re a scattered church. But maybe, just maybe, we needed some time broken out of our church buildings to realize we’re not confined to living out the gospel solely on Sunday mornings and to realize how greatly we need our church family. How can we use this scattering for the glory of God?

The Church Was Created to Thrive During Adversity

This is our moment. This is our generation’s chance to live out our call to be the church, to test our mettle, and come out like gold. Romans tells us to glory in tribulations “knowing that tribulations produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3, 4)

The church has weathered greater storms . . . yet we’re still here. This may be the first coronavirus pandemic the church has gone through, but it’s not the first pandemic. Or the first persecution . . . natural disaster . . . war . . . tragedy. When it comes to surviving trials, the church has a pretty good track record.

The early church was birthed through persecution. It grew during the epidemics of the Roman empire of 165 and 251. More recently, and in our own country, revivals took place after the Civil War and WWII. And those are only a few examples.

This generation has now been marked by a pandemic. Could it also be marked by a revival?

While we’re separated from our local churches and are staying connected online, our churches are closed and empty. But there will come a day when our physical church doors will open again. How full will those buildings be at that time?

What Will the Church Look Like Now?

The world is going to be changed by this pandemic. It’s already been changed. We’re still unaware of all the effects that will be seen and felt in the weeks, months, and yes, years to come.

And now, I have to ask: how will the church be changed? More to the point, how will we as teenagers be a part of these changes?

The general consensus about teens and the church for the past few years has been that we’re walking away and leaving God. Leaving our youth groups, church families, and Christian foundation after we graduate from high school, move out on our own, or turn 21.

But that was before we’d lived through a pandemic. For us, these have been unprecedented times. We’ve never endured an event such as this before, never been forced into social isolation, never been more aware of our own lack of control and mortality.

This will change the world. This will change the church. It will also change us.

But how? And will it be for good?

You see, we could let our disappointments, frustrations, and worries harden our hearts and make us doubt God’s goodness. We might be tempted to think, What if the virus goes away, but something else takes its place and my life gets put on hold again? What if my future plans and hopes are suspended again and again and I’m never able to accomplish the things I want to do? What if life never gets better, or goes back to normal, but instead just continually gets worse? We might even wonder, If God is completely in control, why did He let this happen? And the disappointments and losses we’re currently experiencing, fears and worries over our future plans, and yes, even resentment over them both, could change our hearts, attitude, and perspective of God. We could even let those very things lead us away from God.

Or . . . we could consider this an opportunity. We could look at the loss we’re experiencing and acknowledge it, but also recognize that this is a defining moment. We could take the truths and hard lessons we’ve learned about our mortality, our lack of control over life, tragedy, and the sovereignty of God . . . and start a revival. First in our own hearts and then in the world.

The world needs it. While the church has a foundation in the goodness of God and the hope of Heaven, the world does not. They’re panicking. Their hope and illusion of control has been snatched as cancellations rise and cases skyrocket.

One of my favorite quotes from A.W. Tozer is, “A scared world needs a fearless church.” Right now, we may be cloistered and forced to stay home, but what we do during this time will affect how we live out the call to be a fearless church. As Emily Colson says, “We are not His church to be saved and safe and secluded. We are His church to be sent.”

Right now we’re secluded. But we are also still sent.

We still have a commission. This commission to live out the call to be the body of Christ will ring even louder in a post-pandemic world.

How Can You Live As The Church Today?

So how can you live out the call to be the church . . . even when you’re stuck at home watching a livestream in your pajamas?

The main thing to consider is that our actions are to be motivated by love. Not fear. Not the desire for accolades. Not guilt. But rather love for God and love for others. Authentically living out the call to be the church is always an answer to the question, “How can my love for God lead me to love others? And who can I love today?”

For some of us, especially those who are high-risk or have high-risk family members, the most loving thing we can do right now is isolate ourselves for their sake and ours. And therefore, the people around us whom we can love and serve, might just be our parents and siblings. But as we already determined, these individuals are also brothers and sisters in Christ and loving and serving them is every bit as important as serving on a mission trip or at youth group. As someone recently reminded me, “We often want the next big thing . . . but sometimes God just wants the next thing.”

“We often want the next big thing . . . but sometimes God just wants the next thing.” Click To Tweet

Faithfully doing the next thing, whether it’s making dinner for our family, taking out the trash, praying for our world, or encouraging a friend over the phone, helps us grow. As Jesus said in Matthew 25, we must learn to be “faithful over a few things” before we can be made “ruler over many things.” (Matthew 25:21) This is an opportunity to prove ourselves faithful over our “few things.” Over our time and our attitude and perspective. Over the way we serve our family. Over our spiritual disciplines, in prayer, fasting, and studying Scripture. These “few things” are often the hardest to be faithful in, but they lay the foundation for our “many things.”

On a recent Facebook post, I asked what people thought it meant to be a fearless church. I heard from a teacher writing letters encouraging her students. I heard from someone witnessing to a customer service representative over the phone after the conversation turned to the virus. I heard from multiple individuals how being intentional to reach out is extremely important to fill the space created from social isolation and, if possible and safe, how things like reaching out to elderly or high-risk neighbors and friends by purchasing their groceries or simply regularly checking in to make sure they’re alright can make all the difference.

These are all ways to build up the body of Christ and live as the church each day. And even though we may not be physically attending church, let’s not forget that our local churches still need our support and tithes. And not only our local churches, but ministries fighting on the front lines of this pandemic (such as Samaritan’s Purse or the many local ministries providing food and basic necessities to those in need) desperately need prayer and financial support.

And lastly, but most importantly, let’s join together as a church in prayer, seeking God’s face and pleading for breakthrough, healing, and mercy upon our land. The power of prayer is one of the most powerful weapons the church can wield. Let’s pray for healing for those who have the virus and protection over those who do not. For our leaders who are making difficult decisions that could affect our country for years to come. For our health care workers who are sacrificing so much. And for revival, that many hearts may be softened and turned toward Jesus Christ. (For more prayer points, check out this article.)

Dear teen, we are the church, no matter what is happening in our world. Let’s live as the church . . . no matter who is there—or not there.

Let’s strengthen ourselves in the Lord by reading His Word, seeking His face, and being faithful each day.

Let’s allow this tribulation to produce perseverance, character, and hope.

And let’s prepare and pray to live as a sent, fearless church. May we be the generation to show this world a different kind of church. The kind that isn’t walking away—but standing firm. The kind not confined to living out the gospel only in our buildings, but one so vibrantly overflowing with passion for the name of Jesus that we live out the call to be the church wherever we may be. The kind that isn’t hindered by adversity, but strengthened during trials.

That, my friend, is how to be the church.

 

A Note From Brett Harris

Revival starts in our own hearts and then overflows to the rest of the world. As young people, now is the time to seek the Lord with greater intensity than ever before. Nothing will make a bigger difference for the future of the Church or the future of our planet than how young people choose to respond to this crisis.

Of course, things like reading our Bible and praying can seem pretty small in the face of a global pandemic. But they are more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Consider these words from 2 Chronicles 7:14. You’ve heard this verse before, but read it again as if for the first time. These are the words of God:

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Our land desperately needs healing. And God has told us exactly how to make that happen. But will we respond to that call? Will we humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our sins?

I want to make a practical suggestion. The author of this article, Sara Barratt, has a book coming out next month that is like Do Hard Things meets Crazy Love by Francis Chan (with a bit of Radical by David Platt mixed in too). The book is called, Love Riot: A Teenage Call To Live With Relentless Abandon For Christ — and through the end of this weekend you can sign-up to be part of Sara’s launch team and get the book for free.

Sara’s book is intended to help you seek the Lord. It was written to start a revival in your own heart. And it is a practical way to grow in your faith during a time where churches are closed. By joining the launch team you’ll receive a free copy of the book before it comes out, get to engage with Sara directly, and be asked to post an honest review of the book on places like Amazon.com, ChristianBook, and Goodreads.

This opportunity is open to students, parents, teachers, youth workers, and pastors. Anyone who wants to encourage young people in their faith (or be encouraged themselves) is welcome to apply and receive a free copy of Love Riot from Baker Publishing.

The deadline is this Sunday at 11:59pm Central Time.

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About the author

Sara Barratt

is an 20-year-old speaker and author. Her first book, Love Riot: A Teenage Call To Live With Relentless Abandon For Christ released from Baker Books in May 2020. Along with her work on The Rebelution, she also contributes to websites like The Gospel Coalition and Girl Defined. Connect with her on her website sarabarratt.com.

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rebelling against low expectations

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