The Church is the People
The Church is facing an interesting and challenging circumstance today. How do we practice ministry without the gift of presence? My pastor keeps reminding us that the Church is the people—not the building! But, doing ministry without the building is proving to be a challenge.
I keep coming back to this thought: nothing is new under the sun. These circumstances are not novel in the course of history. Life has continued over the years in unprecedented scenarios as the Church has rallied together. Even today, the persecuted Church faces the challenge of staying connected and reaching out without the use of public announcements via technology!
But think back with me, far before COVID-19 and quarantine. Think back to the letters Paul wrote the early church after Christ ascended to Heaven. Paul demonstrated practicing intentional ministry without the use of presence. I believe Paul was an incredible example of faithful ministry in this unusual season. Here are some practical ways we too can minister to others as demonstrated through Paul’s letters.
Use the Means Available
I’m focusing on the first four epistles in the New Testament (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians) though there are countless other examples in the other NT letters. Paul used the practice of letter writing to correspond with the early churches. Though he faced imprisonment for sharing the gospel, his words of encouragement could not be contained! Paul wrote to the churches at Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae. Paul relied on messengers and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to carry these letters to the churches. There, the letters were read aloud to the congregation.
- Galatians 4:20: “I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.”
- Ephesians 3:1: “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—”
- Philippians 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”
- Colossians 4:16: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”
The Early Church + Scripture
I often think about how difficult it was for the early church to study these words. It’s easy to dig into Paul’s letters today but think about the members of the churches who received these letters. They heard them read aloud, but there were no copiers or scanners! There was one letter. They had to focus, take the words to heart, then remind one another of the truths they heard from Paul’s writings.
Today we have ample means to encourage one another. In this second I can send a text, make a phone call, send an email, FaceTime or Zoom, walk outside to see my neighbor, send an Instagram DM, and so on. I am able to call my friend who lives in Singapore, see my friend who lives in England, and call my mom on the other side of town within the same hour!
We have the opportunity to use these means for the Kingdom. Whether you write a physical letter or send a quick text of encouragement, do it for the glory of God. Here are some practical ways Paul encourages us to love one another and share the gospel.
Pray for one another
Paul demonstrated a life of prayer the Church can follow today. Whether he was present or absent, in chains or in the marketplace, prayer was his lifeline to Christ. Paul “did not cease to give thanks … remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:16). He spent time on his knees in prayer, often from his own prison cell (Ephesians 3:14).
The consistent mention of prayer shows us the importance of praising God for the community of believers (Philippians 1:3–5). Paul prayed with joy because he knew he had the partnership of fellow believers around the world. He wasn’t alone in his mission to make Christ known! But he also prayed for the good and growth of these baby believers. Paul wanted to see them flourish in the gospel and grow in the knowledge of Christ.
Pray for your brothers and sisters around the world. Lift them up day by day, trusting them to the Lord who is an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).
Encourage by example
Even though Paul was away from the churches when he wrote to them, he challenged them to spur one another on and hold one another accountable. He challenged them to restore one another when sin so easily entangled (Galatians 6:1). In a time of darkness, the Church was responsible for being a light through intentional obedience to Christ (Ephesians 4:1–3). This was 2,000 years ago, yet not much has changed.
The Church today still has the opportunity to love our neighbors, care for the hurting, and reach the lost. Paul challenged the church at Ephesus to walk wisely and make the most of their time because the days were evil (Ephesians 5:15–17). You don’t need to look far today to see the same sin and brokenness in our world. The call to live set-apart lives is just as applicable as it was in Paul’s time.
You may find yourself indoors, but you have the opportunity to be an example to anyone staying home with you. Teach your little ones how to obey God’s Word. Love your spouse with patience that comes from the Spirit. Care for your neighbor with godly intentionality. Listen to the laws and obey them for the good of the community. Remember our example is about more than just right living! “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
Bear one another’s burdens
Bearing burdens when you can’t practice presence can be a challenge. This is another opportunity to pray for one another! Lift those burdens to the Lord. Send a message of your actual prayers to let someone know you’re praying for them. If you know someone is struggling to make ends meet in this time, you could drop off a meal on their doorstep, send some money through Venmo or Paypal, or leave a gift card in their mailbox.
Paul’s words to the church at Philippi challenge my heart daily: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus...” (Philippians 2:3–5).
It’s easy to focus on our own interests right now. But how can we care for the needs of others? Get creative! Have your children write notes to the elderly who are stuck inside. Send a video of encouragement and Scripture to your family far away. Let’s be thoughtful as we bear burdens through the use of modern technology and spare time.
Keep doing the work of the Kingdom
Even when we can’t practice presence, the work of the kingdom continues. Paul reminded the church to spur one another on, teach what they learned, and share the work of the body. As we see the world hurting around us, it's easy to long for Christ’s return. But I have been challenged to pray for those who do not yet know Christ during this time. I pray for their salvation. Each day, I pray for them to know the grace and goodness of God!
I pray my life would be worthy of the gospel, pointing others back to the hope I have in Jesus. How can you continue the work of the Kingdom in your own life? What opportunities do you have in your neighborhood, community, and city to share the gospel? If the Church is the people, then we don’t stop living missionally just because we can’t meet in our buildings. We go outside the walls, share the hope of Christ, and love others in a way that can only be explained by the love we see in Christ.
Share as you learn
Paul challenged the early church to share what they learned. This would have been essential as the new covenant of the gospel was being lived out for the first time! But the call to share what we learn still applies. Believers need one another’s encouragement, but the lost need the life-changing hope of the gospel. We share as we grow–whether through intentional conversation, social media, sharing stories of God’s faithfulness, or any other means–pointing to Christ regularly and intentionally.
How can you share Christ and the truths you are learning about Him? With whom can you share? What are some creative ways you can point others to the hope of the gospel?
Let’s not sit back and let this time pass us by because our normal routine has shifted. May we be women who set our gaze on Christ, walk faithfully, and further the mission of the Church during this unique season! Paul gave us an example to follow and plenty of instruction to live by. How will you walk in faithfulness during your time in quarantine? Let us know in the comments below.