We’ve always been told that the church is the people, not the steeple. While we may have understood that to mean that the body of Christ can not be limited to a building, pandemic has taught us in new ways just how true this statement is and just how important God’s faithful people are.

Buildings are wonderful. They are a gift from God and should serve as a home base from which we do ministry. Buildings can house mission centers, host weddings and funerals and vacation bible schools, become shelters, and post offices, and food pantries. Buildings can offer us space to teach the Bible, worship, and sing to God

Buildings can even be repurposed, as we have done at St. Paul’s, to be used by the community for the ministry of the greater mission field. They become homes to daycare programs, schools, traveling mission teams, and tutoring. They become safe havens for foster kids, for youth, for single parents, for people in recovery, for God’s children no matter their circumstances. Buildings help us to carry out a multitude of ministries for the edification of the Kingdom of God.

The church, however, is not something that humanity can possess. The church, by its very nature as it was given to us from God, is the body of Jesus Christ. The church is made up of staff and laity who are passionate about sharing the Gospel message in their mission field, being a part of saving lives, and living out acts of mercy for our neighbors.

The church is wherever God’s people are.

Rev. Dr. Nagel Monroe

I read an article this week from a mega-church pastor in Atlanta. The lead pastor, Andy Stanley, made a statement that garnered significant national attention when he said that “worship services are not essential.”

Of course, if we only read headlines and not the story, we can jump to a lot of passionate debate about Stanley’s statement. As a trained journalist, I want share with you that we are trained to write headlines that hook you. In an era of social media and the Internet, with advertising dollars on the line for every media outlet, headlines are intentionally crafted to make you click, share, and comment. Millions of dollars are poured into industry research to know exactly what will make you click. In fact, it’s called Click Bait. It’s part of their business model and designed for profit. Which is fine, so long as we know that the headlines are NOT the story.

I clicked. They hooked me. How could I not click? Across the nation, colleagues of various denominational organizations are overwhelmed with how to vision forward and lead their congregations through the ongoing pandemic. When one of the largest church pastors in the nation takes a bold step with a bold statement, many clergy ears lean in, mine included.

For Stanley, he’s not implying that worship isn’t an essential part of our Christian lives. He’s not saying that Christians can forgo worship or their responsibilities to their community of faith. He’s saying that meeting in person for worship is no longer essential when other options have been made available to us, especially when doing so may cause unintended harm.

Stanley is saying that if we only focus on what happens inside our buildings and label that ministry or church, then we have become far too insular. Our calling as a church has never been to be inwardly focused or concerned only with those on the inside. In fact, that’s not only the number one sign of an unhealthy church, but it’s also a red flag that if your church is not already in decline, it’s about to be.

Our calling is to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. With or without a building. With or without a pandemic.

Rev. Dr. Nagel Monroe

How can we measure our effectiveness in ministry during this season? We must look to see where our foot prints can be found outside of our building.

  • Are we providing at least one way for those in our community to connect with one another and with our church?
    • Our website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook landing page, Facebook member portal, Facebook study group, Zoom studies and theology nights, two virtual VBS offerings for children, weekly IGNITION:Youth virtual gatherings.
  • Are we providing at least one way for people to worship God with us?
    • We provide three ways: on our YouTube channel, via our website homepage, and LIVE on Facebook every Sunday morning. People from across the country are worshiping with us now because they can. What a blessing this extended outreach has become!
    • Additionally, we have enhanced our online worship experience through new technology, platforms, training, musical experiences and selections, interactive electronic bulletins, communion delivery, access to communion liturgy, hymnal check-outs, interactive children’s moments, and fully packaged services for YouTube.
  • Are we providing resources for spiritual care?
    • Pastoral care appointments, e-prayer chain, Wednesday Prayer Lists on our member portal, daily devotionals, prayer requests, pastoral phone calls, card shower ministries, prayer shawl ministry, delivery of Upper Rooms, visitations when/where appropriate, and delivery of communion.
  • Are we serving those in need in our community?
    • Community Dinner has continued on its regular schedule throughout the pandemic. The Compassion Team has continued to help with furniture deliveries and move-ins for Project Safe. Staff and laity have run errands, delivered meals, provided frozen meat and fish, provided food and hygiene items from our food pantry, ran a diaper and baby wipe drive, assisted with rides for medical appointments, resourced people to other area non-profits, and responded to various care calls throughout pandemic.

What Stanley was getting at, is that of all the things we are called to do as the body of Christ in the world, gathering for worship in person is but only one of them. And when it comes down to it, when we can continue to serve, worship, and stay connected with our mission field outside of the building, then in-person worship is not the most essential thing we do. Especially, when the risks to our people are significant.

Of all the things we are called to do as the body of Christ in the world, gathering for worship in person is but only one of them.

Rev. Dr. Nagel Monroe

I love in-person worship. I love seeing your faces, singing together, hugging one another, and being together as a community of faith. In so many ways, my soul hungers for that every week. And on those weeks when I’ve had to miss, the rest of the week just didn’t feel right. I miss it. I miss you. I’m eager to be together again. I’m eager for some familiar sense of routine. For now, I’m going to be thankful in the waiting. Thankful that God has given us so many new ways to be in ministry and thankful that God is still the head of God’s church.

I have no way of predicting what the future looks like for our world with the ongoing COVID crisis. There are a few things I do know, however:

  1. God is good all the time and God has never left our sides.
  2. Each and every member of our worshiping community and our mission field have value and worth. Each person has a life that matters and that should be stewarded well by their faith community.
  3. St. Paul’s as a faith community and church, has continued to actively care for our mission field every single day throughout the pandemic. Our mission and ministry has not stopped for one moment. In fact, it has expanded it’s reach and impact.
  4. St. Paul’s is a church on the move. One of the most exciting moments of Sunday worship for me is the benediction or the sending forth. It is this moment where, by the authority and privilege God has given me, I get to send God’s people out to be the church in the world. I have never once told a congregation to move into the building and be the church in those walls. Every service, every time, I send you out to do the will of God outside of our walls. Church happens, church is you, when you do the will of the One who sent you out into the world.
  5. There is going to be a new normal ahead for us. It’s going to call us to accept change. It’s going to call us to accept that certain things will not return to how they were. It’s going to ask us to be creative, imaginative, innovative, and outside of the box. This new normal will take all of us faithfully following Jesus. I believe God has some good news for us up ahead.
  6. The mission and purpose of our church has only amplified during our time of pandemic. While the way we do our ministry has had to rethink itself in certain places, our ministry has continued to be vital to the lives of many. It’s for this reason that we continue to care for our campus while we prayerfully await our return to it. We continue to offer our gifts to support the ministries that are connecting, serving, and sharing God’s love. We lean on each other, staff and laity, to do the Kingdom work before us. It always has and always will be a combined effort of the entire body of Christ.
  7. Jesus continues to call to us from outside the boat. Keep the faith. Stay the course. Put your eyes on Jesus. Don’t look down. Our church, who we are as a faith community, belongs to God. Period. God will put us to what God will, build us up or tear us down for God’s purposes, grow our ministries and prune other ministries for God’s mission. For such a time as this, we are called not to look at our feet and fear sinking. No, siblings, we are called to look Jesus straight in the eyes and walk on that water.

We have exciting, necessary, and timely ministry to do in Shawnee and around the world with all who are connecting with us. We must continue to reach out with our hands, our feet, and our hearts. God has given us so much to be grateful for. Let’s keep being the church. We will keep worshiping, serving, feeding, moving, teaching, praying, loving.

As your pastor, I am so proud of the ways you’ve been the church these past months. You have shined the light of Jesus in murky waters. You have been hope to the hopeless. You have celebrated each other, grieved with one another, prayed for each other, served one another, and held each other up. You are the heroes the world needs more of.

Once again, I send you forth to do the will of the One who has sent you. Go and share the good news. Go and be the good news. Go and be the church!

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Dr. Tiffany A. Nagel Monroe