Spirited conversations about the form, shape and trajectory the post-lockdown church will take are now occurring across America’s religious landscape. Often missing from those discussions, however, is thoughtful consideration of just who, specifically, is expected to return to church.
One thing is certain: the church that returns – on a human level – will be fundamentally different than the church that left the building. Before congregational leaders dream and plan communally and collectively, they would be well served to think individually and personally – and to help those they lead do the same.
Interpretations of what the letter writer meant by “the body” are many and varied, but the premise of 1 Corinthians 12 is clear. The body is made of many parts. The parts differ. Each part helps shape and form the body. And each part is essential.
During this coronavirus era, there is an intuitive sense (and perhaps a hope) that the church body – or bodies – will emerge as something different than before. Church leaders are grappling with what to carry forward, what to jettison and what to move down the priority list. That’s a noble and worthy and productive pursuit. But precisely what kind of church body will emerge remains to be seen because we do not yet fully understand how the parts of the body have changed. And, changed we have.
We have learned some things about ourselves during these weeks of sheltering in place, social distancing and the physically scattered church. The poignant question may not be how will WE as the church emerge, but rather first how will I emerge? Or, what part(s) of the body am I now?
We have learned that we have greater capacity than we once thought. We have confronted, adjusted, shifted, responded and charted new paths. Many of us – even as we acknowledged our social and economic privilege – have embraced the unfamiliar. We have discovered that we can find ways to survive, and even thrive, in the midst of a global pandemic while still finding meaningful ways to love our neighbors. The surface area of our comfort zones has expanded. We have a bit more know-how these days.
“What kind of church body will emerge remains to be seen because we do not yet fully understand how the parts of the body have changed.”
We have let go of some things to which we were needlessly clinging. By necessity, we have moved some of what we once thought was vitally important to the maybe-not-so-much category only to discover those things were never really that important to begin with. We have not only let go of some tangible things, but we have “un-grasped” some of our images of the ways things must be – or should be.
Conversely, we have rediscovered those things onto which we should cling, those things which serve us well. Our faith has been more sharply honed and brought into clearer focus. We have a greater sense and a deeper appreciation for the anchors that hold.
We have been reminded of the saying that is true. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is yet to arrive. What we have is right now. What we do, intentionally and deliberately, with “right now” matters. Perhaps it matters more now than ever.
The courageously self-aware among us have realized that our own demons – the ones pushed away and beaten back – still reside just below the surface of our skin. We became aware of them again when we looked around and mentally assessed those standing in line with us at Costco and when we struggled internally over what – and how much – to load into our grocery carts. What crossed our minds in this season of job losses and furloughs, which, of course, depends on which side of the coin applied to us?
What have we thought about those on the other side? In considering that, perhaps we can rediscover grace and grace-giving.
We have seen “the other” more clearly and noticeably. In so doing, we have been profoundly reminded that it’s not a level playing field. Not everyone has a bank of resources and a bucket full of options. Maybe heightened inclusiveness, advocacy, generosity – and gratitude – will ensue.
So, “the body” will be changed because “the parts” have changed, are changing and will continue to be changed.
Those of us in positions of leadership in congregations would be wise to encourage, facilitate and build on the internal conversations that have been taking place in those we lead. We should help our sisters and brothers harness the energy and emerge from these hard and painful days with deliberate intention and purpose. We should find ways to guide them in revisiting and re-establishing their core faith values – the ones that have proven to serve them well – while also helping them be aware of the real-time motivators that drive their actions (or reactions) and decision making.
We should help our congregants bring definition and resolve to what they want their lives to be and to mean – and what that could mean to the body of Christ. It’s also time to help them jettison the frivolous non-essentials. And, of course, it’s time for us to do that too.
Before we get to visioning and designing and creating and defining what “the body” will look like going forward, perhaps priority number one should be to help those we love and lead answer the question:
What part(s) of the body am I now?
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