Church in a Season of Isolation

What do you believe about the Church? And why does it matter?

Church building standing alone in an open field

This year's global pandemic has forced churches to develop new ways to worship together and minister to their communities. How should we think about the church, both when we are scattered and when we are gathered? And why does it matter? 

I miss my church.

My family is continuing to meet online as our local church charts a path forward with registering for services, serving families while not offering childcare, and social distancing to best protect the vulnerable. Zoom meetings, Facebook Lives, and phone calls have sustained relationships within my small group and the wider church body, but there’s nothing like drawing near in the same space as God draws us near to His heart. 

Maybe you feel the yearning to be back within the community of your local church or maybe you’re celebrating every Sunday as those who have already returned to meeting together. Maybe you have returned but feel a bit distanced as you begin to meet together again, the time apart creating lapses in relationships and a strange feeling of being a visitor in a familiar building. Maybe you have loved Sundays at home and are considering making online church your new normal and wondering how to best think about church. 

So, how should we think about the church, both when we are scattered and when we are gathered? And why does it matter? 

1. The Church is the unified, holy, apostolic, universal work of God; the outpost of the Kingdom of heaven.

The church is the present day embodiment of what is to come in the Kingdom of heaven. We reflect the love of God to one another, the unity and diversity of the kingdom, and the saving and sanctifying work of God as we remind each other of the gospel, call each other to repentance, and seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. 

2. The Church is established by Christ, sustained by Him into eternity. 

There is no man-made organization that will continue forever, yet the Church will be ushered into eternity as God’s holy people who will dwell with Him. We are a future hope centered people, and being with one another reminds us of this hope when we get weary. Our hope is not in today, in politics, or in medical care and vaccine development. We should pray for our leaders, pray for the needs we are aware of today, and pray a vaccine is quickly developed and an effective treatment found, but that’s not where our hope lies. None of these will save our lives. Instead, as God’s people, the Church, we lose our lives so that He may save us — we surrender to Him so that we might have life eternal in His presence.

3. The Church is the body of Christ, representing Him in their love for their neighbors and each other.

Each believer images and represents Christ individually, but we are a more full picture of God’s goodness, grace, and creativity corporately. As we come together, we then are sent out into our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our kids’ baseball fields and dance studios to be on mission with Christ. In our current moment, these opportunities to serve those around us take more intentionality than ever before, and yet, they may also be more fruitful than ever before. The Church has the hope our world needs, and as we spend time together, however that occurs, we may spur one another in love and good deed to those around us.

"There is no man-made organization that will continue forever, yet the Church will be ushered into eternity as God’s holy people who will dwell with Him. We are a future hope centered people, and being with one another reminds us of this hope when we get weary."

Mary Wiley

God has wired His people for community found within His Church. There is deep familial connection and care for one another, and despite meeting together on Zoom and Facebook Live, this has been the most difficult piece for me throughout this season of isolation. Life and theology happen best in community, and the necessary discussing and sharpening can be challenging with freezing videos and less side conversations. We are not intended to be self-reliant, but need one another to live the Christian life well. We often forget that we are not simply a person who is saved and being sanctified, but we are a Church who is being saved and sanctified. We are far less autonomous than we prefer to imagine, and that is for our good.

Our God is a God of nearness; of communion, and as we meet together as His church we practice His presence through communion with Him and with one another. This may also be said of times spent together online, but there is additional benefit to being present together as the embodiment of the Kingdom corporately and the entering into God’s presence both individually and corporately. 

Whether you are back in person or gathered together around the Word online, do not forsake the assembling together (Hebrews 10:25), as being together sharpens, exhorts, and encourages us to continue in the faith, held up by those around us as Moses’ arms were held up by Aaron and Hur as God’s people defeated the Amalekites (Exodus 17:12-14). God has placed His church as a pillar in the world, and what He reveals to us about His church informs the way we engage. The great benefit to being present together is the embodiment of that outpost; the presence of God both in and among His people as they come together to worship and sharpen one another. I look forward to being back among my truest family, my dearest co-laborers soon.

Mary Wiley lives with her husband and two children in Lebanon, Tennessee, where they attend and serve Fairview Church. She gets to work with words every day as the manager of women’s and kid’s books marketing at B&H Publishing Group at LifeWay. Mary holds a Master of Arts in Theological Studies and an undergraduate degree in Christian Studies and English. She hosts the Questions Kids Ask podcast and loves good coffee, good conversation over chips and salsa, and learning new things. Read more from Mary at marycwiley.com or connect on social media @marycwiley.