There have been lots of posts and podcasts about the impact COVID and lockdowns has had on the church over the past 14 months and they have been, by and large, really helpful. Yesterdays post by Andy Robinson on Lessons to Unlearn was also really helpful in thinking about the way we’ve been shaped by restrictions and how we need to unlearn those new habits and patterns as we emerge from lockdown.
However, there’s also something we need to learn and apply more than ever before as we emerge from the restrictions and into the new normal. Jesus calls us to love our neighbour, Peter exhorts us to love on another deeply, and Paul calls brothers and sister in the church to bear with one another in love (more than once). And I think we need to learn those lessons and apply them perhaps more actively than we’ve ever done so before in the coming months.
As we emerge from the restrictions, blinking into the light of a new reality, we have all been shaped, but shaped differently by our experiences and reactions to the last 14 months.
Some have been frustrated by the restrictions and their impact, champing at the bit to get back to normality, longing for the day they can rip the mask off and sing God’s praise loudly and get back to close (in proximity and relational depth) fellowship again.
But others are by nature more anxious, more cautious, more hesitant to do so. They may have relatives who are vulnerable who they remain concerned about. They may have additional reasons for their hesitancy. They have missed so much during the restrictions but find themselves nervous about what comes next and what lies ahead and how others will respond to them.
What was your reaction to those two extremes? Which camp are you in? Who do you instantly dismiss as being too gung-ho or too cautious? That is the danger for us in church over the next few months. The danger is a loveless fracturing of church unity. A dismissal of one another, a failure to love and bear with one another.
Yes we need to unlearn lessons as well as learn other lessons. But perhaps the biggest challenge ahead lies for us in this area; will we in love flex to care for others? Not to pander to them, there may a need to gently and compassionately challenge, but will we lay down our rights, will we patiently bear with those who think differently to us? Will we lovingly bear with and forgive those who come too close too soon invading our new personal space norms? Will we love and bear with the person who doesn’t want to take the mask off or sing or come over for lunch?
As we unlearn those lessons will we do so lovingly, patiently, growing in our unity and applying grace to one another? I think that may be the biggest challenge ahead for the church and it’s leaders.