I don’t know about you, but I keep finding myself wondering if it is all a dream. Two factors in particular make this extraordinary season seem all the more strange.
First, the extremity of the change it’s made to my life. My days and weeks used to have tangible, recognisable markers, familiar rhythms and reassuring milestones. School runs, work routines, takeaway on Friday, football on Saturday, church on Sunday; these are the sort of landmarks that have become imbedded in so many of our lives. And now most of us are rightly confined to our postcodes, clutching at any kind of structure to find a new normal.
Second is the uncertainty of wondering how long it is all going to last. This is unlike most disasters that hit our newsfeeds. Normally they pass quickly, are unlikely to affect us personally, and the aftermath dies down within a few days. Not this time. We are in ‘lockdown’ for three weeks, but we have no idea how long it is before we will be able to hug loved ones, return to our familiar office seat or have a Big Mac and fries.
Churches have responded with beautiful creativity and passionate resilience, my social media timelines full of churches offering help to the self-isolating, ramping up foodbank efforts, livestreaming, Skyping, FaceTiming… if only I had shares in Zoom…
But let’s not pass over the chance staring us each in the face at this unparalleled moment in time. This is an unprecedented opportunity to share our faith with our friends. In The Contagiousness of Hope I argued that if your friends are going to come to know Jesus, the most likely catalytic agent in that process is you. And here are three reasons why this is a time to make the most of:
The sands beneath us are shifting
Cultural guru Mark Sayers writes, “Individuals in the midst of a life transition are more open to the gospel.” Evangelical Alliance CEO Gavin Calver wrote before COVID-19, “Many of the things people have previously placed their hope in seem to be falling down or crumbling before their eyes.” Into an already spiritually hungry and anxious world, the coronavirus has exposed both the frailties many of our society’s most precious pursuits and our addiction to and obsession with them.
As Christians we can help our friends navigate their path through confusion and crisis because we follow The Way. We can quiet the voices of fear and anxiety because we listen to The Truth. And we can bring hope into the gravest of situations because we know The Life. These are the days in which faith in Jesus should make the most difference, and as the ground quakes, we can demonstrate the power in standing on the Rock.
You will never have more free time
Most active Christians I know are not just consumers of church life, but wholehearted contributors to it. This should be celebrated and is one of the reasons the church makes such a monumental contribution to society. But because the needs are great and we are passion rich, it can lead to free-evening poverty. It is so easy to be so enslaved to church rotas that we have no time to join a club, go to the gym, hang out with neighbours and invest in and develop meaningful friendships with mates who aren’t Christians.
While many groups are continuing virtually, my diary has been liberated in the last week and I have taken the opportunity to host virtual hang-outs and grab some much needed catch-ups that should have happened a long time ago. What would it look like if we all were intentional about investing in a few key friendships during this time, some of which were with friends who don’t yet know Jesus? Perhaps this is a moment to go deeper with a few relationships and share stories of life and hope.
The technology is amazing
First, a health warning. My screen time has rocketed in the absence of face-to-face contact with people. Let’s not be enslaved to our media feeds. But this is not a bad time in history to be self-isolated. I get to see my mum on a video call every day and multi-screen meetings are the norm. Had the virus arrived 30 years ago, communication would not quite have been the same through fax machines, pagers and households fighting over the landline.
In the age of authentic friendship, can we find ways of being a non-anxious presence for our friends who are struggling? If one of the best things we can do for our not yet Christian friends is introduce them to our Christian friends, can we host virtual hang outs like Zoom and Houseparty where they can meet and find common ground in this new strange world? Might some of our friends be more open to a virtual Alpha or Christianity Explored course than they would if it were held in a church building? Now is the time to find out.
Paul prays from prison in Colossians 4 that God would open a door for our message. I pray that prayer regularly. What if this is it? As a major broadcaster reported with enthusiasm that in some churches, attendance doubled at the weekend, could we be on the edge of something where the gospel message spreads faster than this virus. If it does, it will be through us. Let’s not miss the moment.
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