In 2002, I visited a far away Seminary to see if it was the right next educational step for me. It wasn’t, but that’s ok (and another post). I keep recalling a slice of memory from the seminary campus tour. We visited a preaching classroom, a rectangle shaped space with 5 or 6 rows of church pews facing a small lectern. At the back of the room, a mounted camera (HUGE, by the way, because this was over 300 years ago) recorded sermons for students and their professors to review. It was, at the time, a pretty big deal, since the preaching classroom was newly added and fairly innovative for the time. I remember thinking that it must be strange to preach to a camera, and that it seemed weird to assume that every church was a small country building with that particular layout. I asked, and the tour guide told me that most of their graduates went to churches that were laid out just like this, but, without the big TV camera at the back. A smattering of laughter, then on to the practice communion table tour.
Right now, your pastor is probably having random flashbacks to seminary and previous ministry experience. “You’re not my pastor!” you’re probably saying if you’re most people. But, if you have a pastor, perhaps me, I can safely guess that he or she is thinking about odd things from our past training and experience, searching desperately for some point of reference to help understand what in the WORLD is happening in the church right now in the midst of COVID-19. None of us — I repeat — none of us — were trained for this.
When things first shut down, it was about figuring out how to carry on ministry as usual via the internet, telephone, and mail. At some point, we realized that this wasn’t going away anytime soon. For me, it was the moment I accepted the fact that we would not spend Easter 2020 together. Some of my pastor friends knew sooner, some later, but all of us are in the same place now: a land of the unknown on the cusp of constant discovery. We’re about to discover what’s next, but only one step at a time. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Truth. But vision implies a set of known circumstances for the foreseeable future. We are now in a position of casting vision without context. That ain’t easy.
BUT we have the Holy Spirit. We have the church, bride of Christ as she is, and we have a coming Kingdom of God. These are realities beyond our present experience. The church isn’t impervious to error, to dysfunction, to divisiveness. But the church is impervious to being overwhelmed by anything — even the powers of hell. So we don’t fret, we hang on to our hope as we minister, which is what we were supposed to be doing in the first place. The church presses on in this day of great ministry need. If people hurt, if people are broken, if people are oppressed, the church has a job to do.
We have an ultimate vision to work toward in Revelation 21:1-5:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
That’s the goal, the vision, the endgame. Everything is a step toward this beautiful and perfect future where everything is made right. One step, one day, one discovery at a time, guided by the Spirit with our eyes fixed on Jesus.
So, yeah — we’re thinking about what we know in the big picture, and scratching our heads on what it actually will look like beyond this month. Of course, fellow pastors like Andy Stanley made the call to hold no services through the rest of 2020. While it seems drastic, it sure does answer a LOT of questions, and gives them a laser-like focus on strategy. I’m sure they thought through it and decided it would work well in their setting.
Chances are, your pastor probably can’t or won’t do that. Or maybe so. Or not. See? We don’t know!
Preaching to a camera is probably the easiest part for most of us. Turns out that seminary classroom technology was ahead of its time.