You might be wondering when we will regather for physical services. Our staff is addressing that very question right now. I’ll share the details with you next week. There are lots of issues connected with such a decision. I want you to know the kinds of things we are considering to resume well.
I know that several other churches have opened. I’ve talked to over 50 pastors in the Tucson and Phoenix areas as well as pastors around the country. Many churches have yet to resume and several well-known churches (Northpoint Community Church) in the country have announced they won’t regather until 2021. One thing we’ve learned is that churches regathering, on average, are seeing about 25% of their normal pre-COVID19 attendance. I fully understand that most folks are not ready to regather yet.
Here are some of the issues and questions we are considering:
The list of questions is longer than this, but I won’t bore you with the details! I deeply appreciate your prayers for me, our staff, and our elders. Thank you to those who’ve sent cards of encouragement. These are hard times to live. These are hard times to lead! But we are still the church and I’m confident we will come through this season better prepared to be a better church tomorrow. I’ll update you next week with more of when we’ll regather and how.
Every single one of us struggles in judging others. Every so often, I hear that voice in my head that is judging someone’s actions or behaviors, whether it’s how they drive or the type of music they listen to.
I was standing at a restaurant entrance to get take out to honor my wife for Mother’s Day. There was a crowd waiting for the take-out and myself and others were trying to respect proper physical distance. Then, some guy stands within a foot right next to me. What?! I started to make judgments about him. Judgment comes fast and easy. Unchecked, they cause us to act and react in ways that are not like Jesus.
Jesus made it clear – “Do not judge.” (Matthew 7:1-5). James repeats the caution – But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12). And Paul says it this way – Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13).
In fact, all of Romans 14 is about how we are not to judge one another. I encourage you to read the whole chapter. Basically, Paul is saying that followers of Jesus often have strong opinions and disagree about matters of opinion and preference. We have different concerns and convictions. To that Paul says; Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. (Romans 14:1). There are so many disputable matters that we easily judge, whether its politics, proper social customs, or how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is growing discord in the church and between churches regarding COVID-19. Some who follow Jesus are demanding we meet in our church building, as it is a constitutional right. Others are saying it is unwise and unsafe and will refuse to attend. Some applaud the use of masks while others jeer those who do. Some judge others on the mask issue as being either soft or reckless… depending on the choices they make. Yes, this is happening between brothers and sisters in Christ and between churches. May I encourage us to choose kindness and grace and refuse to judge one another?
Let me speak into this a bit more. Our Governor and Attorney General have been very clear that churches are considered an essential service and are constitutionally protected to meet, so any church can physically meet right now. The question of when to physically meet is not a constitutional matter or about religious persecution. The question is only about what is safe, wise, and prudent.
Some churches have started meeting while others are not. Every church is different because of their buildings, their programs, their size, and complexity. Smaller churches can meet much more quickly than can the larger ones. Let’s not judge each other.
We are looking at the soonest date it is wise to resume physical services on our campus. There are a huge number of factors and realities we have to face in order to open with reasonable safety and protection for all attendees. Here’s just a few of the myriad of issues and questions we are dealing with: How can we provide meaningful worship in an auditorium while practicing physical distancing guidelines? How will we adequately sanitize the facilities before and after each service? Can we count on enough volunteers willing to meet and serve? Is it wise to open in phases?
I hope I can answer these questions, and more, as early as next week. Stay tuned! No matter what we decide, some will be eager to physically meet while others may choose to never attend a church service again and only participate online. Let’s not judge one another on disputable matters. What I’m sure of is that the love taught by Jesus and presented in our Bible is one that puts others first, sacrifices for others, accepts others even when there are differences, and is patient and kind. Let love overwhelm any temptation to judge.
Our Time to Shine
I know this may shock you, but I love the season we are in. I don’t like that people are dying. I don’t like that people are losing their jobs. In fact, the list of things I don’t like is rather long. But I love how we, the church, have the best opportunity, maybe in my lifetime, to fulfill our mission. Being the church is not about gathering in a building. Being the church is when we bring the love of Jesus to others and shine like a bright light in the darkness.
The Early Christians
Did you know that when the church first began, it was considered a dangerous cult by the Roman Empire and was severely persecuted? In the absence of our modern understanding of disease and proper sanitation, pandemics were common back then. And when the pandemics hit, it was the Christians who refused to flee the cities and stayed and served the sick, risking their own lives. That was a key turning point for the church. The Romans realized that Christians actually loved people and sacrificed to serve and gained the respect of many.
The mission God has given our church is more important than ever – loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. This is the time to be on mission. This is not a time for our church to hunker down in fear. This is our opportunity to rise up and serve our city in the name of Jesus. And this week, we are in full focus to do just that. Here’s how you can love people to Jesus:
If you have a need, or if you know of someone in need, we have an awesome team of volunteers that are willing to shop for folks and help with groceries & supplies. Fill out a request by going to pantano.church. On the front page, you’ll see a red section called “Loving Our City.” You can let us know if you or someone needs help or you can sign up to volunteer.
Collection and Distribution
We are also collecting items needed by the Department of Child Safety, the Gospel Rescue Mission, AZ Baptist Children’s Services and specific families in need. Go to the Loving Our City page at pantano.church/lovingourcity and you’ll find the list of items these groups need. Drop them off at the office curbside bins at the East Campus (1755 S. Houghton Rd.) Mon-Fri 9am-4pm.
Front Line Hospital Staff
Pantano Christian Church is the point of contact for TMC and St. Joseph’s hospitals. Here’s what they’ve asked the church for and what’s in the works:
There are hundreds of ways you can love people to Jesus. Folks in our church are mailing cards to those stuck at home. At last count, over 600 face masks have been made and delivered. Look for ways to serve folks in your neighborhood or network of relationships. Find a way to encourage, serve and lift up someone in this time of huge disruption. All of these things can be done in a safe way that respects physical distancing.
Now, more than ever is our opportunity to be Jesus to our city. Rise up church, and make a difference that not only affects life today but also for eternity.
I wanted to share a great blog by my friend and fellow pastor, John Beeson, who is the Co-Senior Pastor at New Life Bible Fellowship here in Tucson. The blog is called The Bee Hive – subscribe here. John, in a very creative way, describes the culture we have worked to create here at Pantano for years! The following is an excellent reminder for all of us:
“We’ve got just enough time. Let’s go!” My wife and I had run an errand on our day off and had a dentist appointment in 45 minutes. If we didn’t get caught in traffic, we would just be able to get home, brush, floss, swish some Listerine, and then head to our afternoon dentist appointment. Why? Because in our world, you don’t show up to a dentist appointment without your teeth in their best condition.
Two days later, I drop my car off at the shop. It has a strange squeak that has me nervous. I haven’t so much as popped the hood. The car isn’t washed, and a fine powder of crumbs dusts the backseat.
When I go to the dentist, I go hoping that I will get a good report. I don’t want any cavities, and I hope not to be scolded that I don’t floss enough. I have a strange desire to receive the dentist’s approval.
When I go to the car shop, I go messy. I go honest. I hope that they hear the squeak I keep hearing. I don’t know anything about cars, and I hope that the mechanic can fix the problem. I know I sure can’t.
How do I go to church? Like I go to the dentist’s office or like I go to the car shop? Do we clean ourselves up, or do we come messy?
Too many of us go to church like we go to the dentist’s office. We put on a smile we don’t actually feel. We try to avoid conversation, but if we have to have a conversation, we make sure it is as surface-level as possible. We are afraid the mess that is just below the surface is going to start leaking out.
Friends, let’s go to church like we go to the car shop. Don’t put on your best face when you walk into your connection group this week. Don’t let your “Sunday best” cover up the truth of where your heart is.
God has given us his family so that they might rejoice with us in our happiest moments and also so that they might grieve with us in our lowest moments. He has given us his family so that they might speak wisdom and hope and grace into our lives. God has given us a family so that we might receive comfort and exhortation.
Over fifty times in the Bible, we are commanded to live in a particular way with “one another.” About fifteen times, we are told to love one another, another five times we are told to encourage or build one another up. We are told to accept one another (Romans 15:7), to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). We are told to confess our sins to each other and pray for one another (James 5:16). Friends, we can’t do any of these things truly if we treat church like the dentist’s office.
Do you want to experience love, encouragement, forgiveness, and acceptance at church? Stop flossing your teeth. Step into Christ’s family auto-shop with humble transparency and look forward to the gift of true, messy community.