Seven months into this pandemic, and handling weekly church services at home with our nearest and dearest has been…eye opening.
Everyone’s asking questions, right there around the kitchen table. The sermon’s done or the devotional is finished. Where there once was a whole team behind the scenes whispering into wireless mikes clipped Houston-control-tower style near their mouths for quiet message relay, none of that happens here. No “cue the music” to fill the ensuing silence. No friends gathering at the back of the church to debrief on. Well… anything. Nobody. Nothing. Just us.
It’s the time and attention we once craved. Slow down, we once said. Listen up, we would tell our family repeatedly. We longed for time to discuss, to reason, to dialegomai, as Paul did, one Sabbath service after another, all throughout the book of Acts.
It is a Different world…
Yet, it’s different than we may have imagined. It’s ever so…quiet. Which is deafening.
It’s not such a far stretch from the way church got its start, back in times of yore. The exact worship rundown of first gatherings is not crystal clear, but early Christians likely met in private homes (Acts 2:46, Acts 16:40, 18:7, Philemon 1:2), at the beginning of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2) where they had a ceremonial meal and communion (1 Cor 10:16-17, 11:20-34), taught Scripture and sang songs (Acts 2:42).
The structure was added as the church grew. This is where parents may start to sweat. Scripture outlines roles like elders who must be “blameless,”, hospitable, even-tempered, and whose kids better be believers (Titus 1:6-9). All that can froth us into a good panic! Slotting our kids into an assembly with that kind of perfect leadership sounds hard to come by.
Maybe we could be elders? But for that word blameless. And the temper issue. That our kids are believers is the easy one – just ask our tweens and teens, “You believe, right? Right? RIGHT?” (Honest Answers, p. 159)
We now Have greater clarity
We’re getting a good taste of that froth right about now. Whatever we once wished we knew about our kids, we now know, with more clarity, about the gaps in their biblical literacy. Frankly, what the kitchen table no-nonsense quiet has mostly revealed is gaps in our own.
Theologians have been warning about this for a while. “I mean, it’s just appalling how bad it really is,” said theologian and pastor Ben Witherington about the church’s current biblical illiteracy rates. “Biblical illiteracy sadly…has become worse, not better,” he told a seminary class, long before Covid or the fear of a pandemic was even on anyone’s radar.
Which is to say, message sent. We churchgoers get it.
What was always a sound and endearing slogan, “We are the church,” has been catching in our throats a bit, in light of our current muscle atrophy for deep, hearty, robust debate and discussion on the overarching story of the Bible, its nuanced themes and how to meaningfully witness to that in our culture today.
We have learned
What seven months across the kitchen table from one another has taught us, however, is: it doesn’t have to be this way. There is so much to know and discuss and the people we love most would love to engage more than perhaps this time last year. Protective shells have been shed. Curtains of gloss or production have been lost. Having acknowledged our opportunity for growth is a first best step as parents, sparking a willingness to seek out and try resources we had never imagined before.
We may have an opening here, as the church, to be deliberately working out our unity in the spirit as we work out the details of spreading a specific bit of good news. That good news, (Greek word, euangélion, which became gospel in Old English) that Jesus, who died for our sins, had risen victorious over sin and death (John 20:18) is as true today as ever before.
We are the church, no question. And we have been the church all these years. We can be the church anew.
He wishes we would.
Janelle Alberts writes for LifeWay magazines and has written for Christianity Today and RELEVANT online pubs. Her first book, Honest Answers: Exploring God Questions With Your Tween, preps parents on how to tackle hard questions with their tweens using pithy Q&A’s and can be found here.