Dear Riverside Family
On Sunday evening (12 July 2020) our president addressed us encouraging us to stay the course and to remain committed to doing whatever is required in order to halt the spread of the Coronavirus. I know that leading up to his addresses, the internet has gone wild with everyone trying to guess what he will and won’t say, and what will and won’t be permitted. Recently, many of you have been able to go back to work and many of your kids are going back to school. And of course, there is hardly a household that has not been impacted financially by this time of lockdown.
One of the foremost questions in all of our minds is, “When will we be able to meet again?” I also know that this yearning is about so much more than simply having the ability to ‘go to church’ again. We are missing fellowshipping together, we are missing doing life together, we are missing worshipping together and hearing God’s Word together. I identify with Paul who writes to Timothy saying, “I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4). God has designed us to be a body, an animated, life-giving, life-receiving, loving body, and a body yearns for embodiment, something that the best technology in the world cannot replace.
When we went into Level 3 lockdown, churches were permitted to meet in groups of 50 or less under very strict conditions. While some churches chose to meet, we as leaders decided that the best way to love our community was not to. We knew that the spike of infections was still coming and as a church, we needed to value the preservation of life above some of our rights. Well, the spike is here, our health facilities are under strain, and to quote our president, we need to do what we can to “manage the peak”. This means, that for the foreseeable future, we will continue to do church at home.
But we serve a God who ‘works in all things for our good’ (Romans 8:28), and there is no doubt that in the midst of this tragedy, God is at work among his church:
- Doing church at home has meant that families are worshipping together and doing faith at home in a way that many have never experienced before.
- God is maturing us by developing the kind of godly perseverance that an over-reliance on airconditioned and slick church services may battle to develop (James 1:2-4).
- God is exposing what our true treasures are. 2 Corinthians 4:7 talks about treasure in vessels of clay. If we see our church buildings and programs and external fixtures as the vessel, too often we make the vessel the treasure. Many of these external church structures are not bad things when they are in their rightful place of serving our true treasure, but all these have been stripped away forcing us to acknowledge whether we truly treasure Christ or the conveniences of certain church structures.
- God has opened up incredible resources and opportunity for ministry in our under-served communities. Check out this sermon for some of what’s been happening there.
Going forward, we realise that our best plans and strategies are only as good as the next lockdown restriction. Therefore, we need to be patiently agile as a church, seeking to honour the requests of government, while at the same time being prudent regarding the wisdom of gathering. An additional factor for us is that schools are not permitted to have any third-party organizations using their premises. This is something, therefore, that we need to keep an additional eye on. The time may come where we can begin gathering safely in homes again before gathering in a large group. Should that happen, we will adjust and resource our strategy accordingly in order to ensure the maximum level of discipleship. At some further point, we will very likely need to consider a hybrid form of live/online church experience that will enable us to minister to those who are able to gather, while still serving those who cannot.
Until we make a change to how we are currently doing ministry, here are some thoughts I would like to encourage you in:
- PRAY FOR OUR NATION: Pray for our country’s leaders, medical facilities, schools, businesses and all those who are serving us.
- PRAY FOR OUR CHURCH: Pray our church leaders. Pray for our congregation. Pray that the Lord would protect and lead us. Pray that he would deepen our faith.
- DON’T GIVE UP: Chip Ingram said, “Christians are like teabags, you don’t know what they’re like until you put them in hot water.” Tough times are an opportunity for God to refine our faith and for his light to shine even brighter through our faith and witness.
- PERSEVERE: While we are in understandably imperfect conditions, embrace what God is doing in us through this season. Commit to the rhythms of faith, church, worship and LifeGroups.
- STAY CONNECTED: Do not give in to the impulse to withdraw. Maintain your unity with the body by doing LifeGroup online, by messaging and calling one another and praying for one another’s needs. Where possible, connect with others over video call while eating dinner or playing some games online. And if you are in need, reach out and please connect with us!
- SERVE: This crisis is creating a growing need. Find safe and creative ways to love and serve your neighbours. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to real Gospel opportunities.
- SUPPORT: Enable ministry and support our COVID19 Relief fund. Partner with Branch Out (firstname.lastname@example.org) and don’t stop praying for God’s kingdom to come in the middle of this time.
Be encouraged by these words of Scripture:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Ps Stephen Pohlmann