By Pastor Bryce Waller*
As we continue in this unprecedented season, I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few thoughts to help us as we “gather” for worship in smaller groups and families. If you haven’t received our Worship Guide you can access it here.
Pick a time and place
Sometime on Saturday, pick a time and a place you will plan to worship rather than simply trying to get around to it at some point during the day on Sunday. Planning it shows that it is a priority like the many other activities and events we plan in our lives. This is your chance to pick a service time that works for you, so don’t miss that opportunity!
Also, choose a place in your home that will encourage participation and engagement in the service—somewhere away from the distractions and reminders of other responsibilities. It’s almost impossible for me to accomplish anything in the kitchen when there are dishes to be done, so we’ll be worshiping elsewhere. But choose a consistent place for your family that can become your “sanctuary” during these strange times. Get creative. Light a few candles. Set up a make-shift podium and have your kids read some of the passages from it. Make it feel as much like church as possible!
Gather your group
Now that Austin, like most cities, is under a “stay home” order, you will need to limit your gathering to residents of your home. If you have a high-speed internet connection, consider setting up a video conference through Zoom or some other online meeting platform. This will enable you to see and participate with others while you worship.
However many of you are gathered, involve everyone in the work of worship. Divide up the Scripture readings. Have one side of the room serve as the “Leader” and the other side as the “People.”
Go analog (as much as possible)
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent a bit more time than usual looking at a screen this week. News updates, video conferencing, and working remotely mean more time in front of that familiar blue glow. Since the type of information we regularly receive through our screens is typically dominated by entertainment or work-related material, even though we may be reading our church bulletin, our brains may still go into work or entertainment mode just by looking at a screen!
While there are parts of our worship guide that do require some type of device to be open, do consider printing out worship guides for each participant so that they can follow along while not looking at a screen. This will help add to the uniqueness of this time in your week.
Don’t let all of the stress and disruption caused by the coronavirus dampen your joy during worship this Sunday. Yes, we would all prefer to be gathered together on Alexander Avenue like normal. But we should do everything we can to model for our spouse, our kids, and any other who may be present with us that God is present with us here as well. Don’t simply go through the motions. Read, pray, and sing, knowing that God is pleased and glorified even through our most humble offerings.
I wish I knew just how long all of this was going to last. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re going to have to take it a week at a time, trusting that the Lord will bring this to an end at some point. Until then, let’s set our minds to persevere for as long as necessary. If things don’t go quite as planned this Sunday, that’s okay! Be flexible and adapt whatever you need to for next week. Persevere with the mindset that God is at work in his mysterious ways to accomplish his good purposes in us and through us, especially through times of suffering and difficulty like this (Romans 5:3-5).
Remember the Sabbath
Finally, remember that the Lord has set apart a day to worship and rest. There will likely be some “works of necessity and mercy” generated by this strange time that you will need to attend to on Sunday, but as much as it is possible, make an effort to sanctify the Lord’s Day. Turn off the news. Go for a walk. Video call an extended family member or an elderly shut-in. Take a break from the relentless pace of the 24-hour, constantly plugged in cycle of even these times and “set your minds on things above where Christ is” (Colossians 3:1).
Lord willing, we’ll all be back together soon. Until then, let’s embrace this as an opportunity to grow in our confidence of the Lord’s compassion and mercy to never leave us or forsake us, especially in our times of greatest need.
* edited to reflect the “stay-at-home” order in Austin/Travis County