A throne is a seat for one

Matthew 2:1-12



I’ve always been interested in the Kings and Queens of England. 

Growing up in England, I had a genealogy on the wall of my room that followed the succession of the throne of England from Alfred of Wessex to Queen Elizabeth II.

You probably don’t know much about the Kings of England–and possibly you don’t particularly care–but one of the interesting things about the line of monarchs is that they rarely go straight.

Actually, that’s true for all of us. 

house on green landscape against sky
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

All of our family trees have strange twists and turns in them. It’s part of what makes the holidays so special, right?

Well, these twists and turns come to have really big significance when you’re talking about who gets to rule a nation or an empire.

And the twists and turns that take place in the line of kings and queens often come about for a couple of reasons. The first is that a king fails to have, in the old days, it was a son. 

Well, if the king doesn’t have a son then he has no one to inherit the throne and the throne will move to the next branch of the family. Maybe the king’s brother or sister has a son and he can ascend to the throne.

The second reason is if the king has too many sons. Perhaps he doesn’t have a son with his wife, but he has a bunch of other sons with other women. It happened all the time. 

These illegitimate children were sent off to monasteries to get them out of the way, btw. That way they couldn’t interfere with the family’s plan for who’d be the next monarch.

Well, if you have several children of the king with varying women and no legitimate child then these other children can make a claim to the throne. And, in some respects, the biggest thing a claimant to the throne needed was popular support.

It gets even more fun when you consider that somewhere like the United Kingdom is actually three nations–two kingdoms, England and Scotland, and a principality, Wales–under a single monarch, today, but centuries ago there were separate holders of the thrones. 

Charles Edward Stuart–also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie–claimed the thrones of England and Scotland. 

He’s also known as “the young pretender.” He was a pretender because even though he had a claim to the throne, others had a stronger claim.

And across the history of nations there are individuals who have claimed the throne who have had questionable right to it. 

They’re called “pretenders” or “usurpers” because they’re pretending to be something they aren’t in reality or they’re attempting to stop the legitimate monarch from sitting on the throne.

The story of the Magi is a story of a true king and a pretender. 

Herod the Pretender

The first main character we meet is a Herod. Herod was a false king. He was a usurper, a pretender. 

Herod was a ruler that the Roman Empire allowed to be King because he was committed to looking after their interests and playing by their rules. 

He was from southern Israel near what is modern day Jordan and Egypt. There’s some disagreement on whether Herod practiced the Jewish faith. Some say he did; others claim it was just a fabrication for the benefit of the Judeans.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod was old and wiley. You know the sort. The sort of political player who, at 70 years of age, knew all the best ways to get rid of enemies and competitors. 

He’d spent his life gathering power from the Romans and extracting wealth from the Jews. He had no intention of being compromised by the birth of a Messiah, a real “King of the Jews.”

You see, the Jews themselves *hated* Herod. They knew he was not their king and that had clawed his way onto the throne by power and by violence. And he planned on staying there till the very end.

The Magi

Sometimes people on the “outside” of a situation can see things more clearly than those close to the situation. That’s part of the reason why you called me as your transitional pastor. I can see things that you yourselves cannot see because you’re so close and invested in the life and ministry of this fine church.

The Jews had been expecting a Messiah for ages. Given that God’s deliverance of Israel in the past had included parting the Red Sea, sending plagues upon Egypt, sending food from heaven, and guiding them by means of a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day, you really can’t blame the Jews for being caught off guard by the birth of a child in Bethlehem.

And yet, the Magi–these strange figures who travel from afar to greet the new-born king–seemed to be completely aware of something that the jews themselves were confused about.

Jesus is often confusing. God’s ways are often perplexing. And its largely because of our own lack of attention or our own wrong assumptions that we miss how He is working. 

What little we know of the Magi, tells us that they were priests from the ancient Kingdom of Persia, modern day Iran. They read the sky–that is, the stars–and learned from them that there was a new King of the Jews. 

In what might be called by some a slightly indelicate move, it appears these Persian priests show up at Herod’s door and ask for this replacement. Well, that’s awkward.

You don’t have to be a historical scholar to realize how Herod received the news. He checks with his advisors and they tell him that there is evidence that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.

Not good news for Herod. So, he comes up with a plan.

You see, 

  • When a pretender is on the throne, he won’t part with it without a fight.
  • Pretenders always get others to do the dirty work for them.
  • When you discover a Herod go as far in the opposite direction as you can.

Jesus the Always King

Jesus is the true King. He sits on the throne and he was born to it. Anyone else who sits on Jesus’ throne is just an imposter and a pretender. 

Anyone else on the throne is bad news.

A throne is a seat for one. Only one can sit on it. Throne’s aren’t for sharing.

When we let someone other than Jesus sit on the throne then we commit spiritual treason. We allow a usurper to take our savior’s place and it will not end well.

The Main To Do

  • In 2021 let your only resolution be to let Jesus be the only one who sits on the throne of your life. 

Why It Matters

  • A pretender will always let you down. 
  • A pretender doesn’t care who gets hurt.
  • A pretender will tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. 
  • A pretender always is always looking out for number one, and when he or she discovers that you can’t help him get what he wants, he’ll throw you under a bus as quick as can be.

It’s all about attitude

Winter in Illinois is tough. It’s cold. They skies remain grey. The wind whips. And it snows.

Snow is actually a consolation. I’m happy during a snow storm and for about five hours following.

trunk of tree under snow in forest
Photo by Marta Wave on Pexels.com

Ice is not a consolation.

Snow is beautiful. It is soft. It deadens sound. It reflects light. It can be moved with a shovel.

Ice can be beautiful. It’s beautiful in the same way a cocktail of arsenic is.

I hate ice. It fights back. It laughs in the face of a snow shovel and then breaks it.

I am never happy when ice is around–not even during the storm.

And yet, as I shovel my driveway, I choose to focus on the snow.

I’m grateful to have a driveway, a garage, and not have to put a chair on a parking space bought with the sweat of my brow only to have it stolen.

Attitude is they key. Even ice can be dealt with as long as you choose to focus on what beauty may be found.

Happy New Year!

The year has turned over and now its 2021. Most of you are saying, ‘thank God!’

The new year is a blank slate.

There’s nothing written on it.

2021 is God’s gift to us.

man with fireworks
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

So, what will you do with your new year?

Maybe the better question is, who will you be in 2021?

We tend to think of making the most of the new year for improving our health, our discipleship, our relationships, and the like.

What that really means is becoming the sort of person who chooses to eat healthily, exercize regularly, spend time with God daily, and nurture the important relationships in his life.

2021 is about becoming a new person, not just getting stuff checked off your resolution list.

So, let’s join together and encourage one another as each of us takes more steps toward being the sort of people that Jesus would want us to be.

Let that be your gift to God.

Happy New Year!

Why the Reformation matters

University campuses have always been dangerous places. You never know where you might end up should you dare set foot on one. I doubt that Martin Luther had any inkling that one day his exercise of academic freedom (commingled with spiritual anguish) in the ancient university town of Wittenberg would set in motion a renewal movement that would change the church forever—both in its Protestant and Roman Catholic expressions.

Almost 500 years ago, Luther strode up to a large wooden door. Paused. Then unfurled a hand-written scroll. With a few swift strokes of a hammer, the nail bit into the door’s wood. There the scroll hung, curled slightly by the breeze.

It was a young professor’s invitation to seriously and publicly discuss a medieval Catholic doctrine that was tearing apart the fiber of his soul: salvation. What is repentance? How are we made right with God? What role does the church and, more specifically, the Pope play in granting the forgiveness of sins?

It was October 31, 1517—the beginning (if it could be called that) of what we today refer to as the Protestant Reformation. Many churches celebrate Luther’s bold action today (known too as All Hallows Eve or Halloween, of course). But it’s also fitting that Reformation Day falls right before All Saints’ Day (November 1), given that the Reformation emphasized, among other things, broadening ministry to those outside of ordered ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons) and religious vocations (those who belonged to a monastic order, as Luther himself did).

Sinner and Saint: Making Sense of Salvation

Luther’s grievance flowed from the internal tension between his lived experience of being a Christian, his ministry as an Augustinian priest and preacher at Wittenberg, and his role as a teacher of theology in the divinity faculty. As a priest and professor, Luther was obliged to believe and teach the (medieval) Church’s doctrine of “progressive” salvation (soteriology)—the idea that salvation takes root in the life of the believer through seven sacraments, which dispense grace to Christians so that they can be saved over time. The sacraments were baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, marriage or ordination to Holy Orders, confession, responsive penance, and, in the end, administration of the Last Rites that aid in the transition from this life to the next.

This foundational medieval Catholic theology was problematic for Luther for two principal reasons. First, Luther faithfully participated in the sacramental life of the church and yet found that his soul was still anguished concerning his own salvation. As long as salvation equaled moral perfection, he lived in utter defeat, turning from his sin only to eventually fall once more into transgression of God’s law. And he feared the “righteousness of God” (Romans 1:17), which he understood as God’s holiness, purity, other-ness, unity, and perfection. Indeed, to Luther, the righteousness of God was the basis of God’s wrath toward sinners.

Second, Luther came to believe that the church had misunderstood the what and when of salvation. As he prepared lectures on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther discovered that what he—along with the rest of medieval Catholicism—had read as “the righteousness of God” could also mean “the righteousness from God.” This changed the meaning of the verse altogether: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness from God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written: ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” In this interpretation, God’s righteousness becomes the gift of right-standing before him on the basis of his gift of faith to the believer.

Luther came to experience peace with God only as he grasped that he was at once both a sinner and justified (given right standing before God) on the basis of faith in the gospel alone (simul justus et peccator). This means our relationship with God cannot be altered by performance. It can only be altered by God’s declaration, like that of a judge, that we are not guilty by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice. And the result of this making-right is reconciliation with God and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, whose inward ministry causes us to grow in holiness (sanctification).

Why We Should Celebrate

On Reformation Day we celebrate how God worked through a troubled young academic theologian in the context of a university. Through Martin Luther—and others—God altered the course of Christian history, returning it to a more authentically scriptural understanding of salvation.

As with Luther, this is no merely academic exercise. How we understand salvation affects how we experience salvation and life as a follower of Christ. If sinner and saint cannot exist in a single person then we are all doomed to a life committed to placating God by fulfilling his law, a task possible only for Jesus. It is a profoundly liberating experience to realize, as Luther did, that God’s righteousness is given to us and we are declared “not guilty” because of Christ, even as we experience life day-to-day as a people who still sin. The reckoning has been made and now we follow Christ, trusting that he will transform us to be more like him.

Pastoral Prayer – Oct 18

PASTORAL PRAYER | October 18, 2020

Our Father and Our God,

We give you thanks that we may approach your throne not as strangers and aliens, but as adopted members of your family through the Lord Jesus, our elder brother.

We thank you that our sins have been covered by Christ’s perfect record and that the penalty for them has been born by him too.

As we reflect on our own lives and our life together as a church help us to honestly ask and answer the question: what are we willing to do? 

What are we willing to do in order to bring honor and glory to your name?

What are we willing to do in order to connect people to the Lord Jesus so that he can transform their lives?

What are we willing to do so that we can have an effective ministry and mission in this community?

And if we find, within ourselves, the answer returning to us as “not much,” help us to lay our unwillingness before your throne and turn from it. 

And if we find ourselves thinking, “I don’t really know,” by your Spirit guide and inspire us with one thing we can do to make a change in our own lives and in our congregation.

And if we find ourselves longing to see change come about, give us the grace to encourage and build others up as together we lean into your mission for us.

We need your help. We are weak, but it is in our weakness that your great strength is revealed.

And now, we turn to the needs and concerns of this day.

We pray for the peace of the world, that a spirit of respect and forbearance may grow among nations and peoples.

For those in positions of public trust especially that they may serve justice, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.

For all who live and work in this community.

For a blessing upon all human labor, and for the right use of the riches of creation, that the world may be freed from poverty, famine, and disaster.

For the poor, the persecuted, the sick, and all who suffer; for refugees, prisoners, and all who are in danger; that they may be relieved and protected.

We pray for this congregation–for those who are present, and for those who are absent–that we may be delivered from hardness of heart, and show forth your glory in all that we do.

We pray for our enemies and those who wish us harm, and for all whom we have injured or offended.

We pray for ourselves; for the forgiveness of our sins, and for the grace of the Holy Spirit to amend our lives, we pray to you, O Lord.

 And we remember all who have commended themselves to our prayers; for our families, friends, and neighbors; that being freed from anxiety, they may live in joy, peace, and health, we pray to you, O Lord.

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to pray:

Our Father,

Who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy name. 
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever. 


Traditional Christian beliefs are now viewed negatively

I have seen a lot on social media about how 2020 is the year that changed everything. And there’s some truth to that assertion. The COVID-19 Global Pandemic upended everyday life in a way no felt since World War II. The #BlackLivesMatter movement moved into the mainstream and now commands the support of major sports franchises, global corporations, and cultural elites.

A lot has changed, but 2020 is only the end of the beginning.

In his essay “The Lost World of American Evangelicalism” Aaron Renn makes the case that we entered a new cultural moment at or around 2014.

According to Renn, in 2014 we moved from a cultural neutrality toward traditional Christianity to antipathy.

Here’s how he sketches the cultural development from 1994 to the present:

Positive World (Pre-1994) – To be seen as a religious person and one who exemplifies traditional Christian norms is a social positive. Christianity is a status enhancer. In some cases failure to embrace those norms hurt you.

Neutral World (1994-2014) – Christianity is seen as a socially neutral attribute. It no longer had dominant status in society, but to be seen as a religious person is not a knock either. It’s more like a personal affectation or hobby. Traditional norms of behavior retain residual force.

Negative World (2014-) – In this world, being a Christian is a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways as seen as undermining the social good. Traditional norms are expressly repudiated.

He continues by offering some concrete examples:

Positive World – In 1987 the Miami Herald reported that Sen. Gary Hart had been having an affair, and cavorting with the woman in question on his yacht. He was forced to drop out of the presidential race as a result.

Neutral World – In 1998 the Drudge Report broke the story that Bill Clinton had been having an affair with intern Monica Lewinksy, including sex acts in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton was badly damaged by the scandal but
survived it as the Democratic Party rallied around him and the public decided his private behavior was not relevant to the job.

Negative World: In 2016 Donald Trump, a many whose entire persona (sexual antics, excess consumption, boastfulness, etc.) is antithetical to traditional Christianity, is elected president. The Access Hollywood tape, for
example, had no effect on voter decisions about him.

Renn’s analysis makes sense to me, but the point of this post isn’t to defend it or critique it. Regardless of the details, we’re in a remarkably different place culturally in 2020 than we were in 1987.

Most of us can agree on that. In light of that, how can the church respond?

If being a traditional Christian is seen as a social negative, the way that we live out our faith will need to adapt. After all, it’s been a long time since the last time Christianity was thought of as a strange and dangerous culture.

The decline of worship

Those of us who think, read, and write about religion in America often go round and round about the reasons for the decline of church attendance, both in mainline churches and in evangelical ones.

The two most popular views–at least from my perspective–are that church decline is a function of (1) doctrinal impurity or (2) of doctrinal rigidity.

The former claims that the church has ceded too much ground to culture and compromised its doctrinal integrity: restore the church’s doctrine and its vigor will return.

The latter claims that the church has too long held onto views that are oppressive (at worst) and outmoded (at best). The church’s teachings need to change if the church is to survive the century.

Could it be that, in addition to the influence of these two factors, there is another factor?

Could it be that consumer capitalism is making the church as we know it implausible? Or worse, impossible?


Consider this argument advanced by Dave Barnhart, a United Methodist church planter in Birmingham.

He believes that while theology is important, the church is being buffeted by something else–the economy. And COVID-19 has only exacerbated this.

…I believe all of the discussion about theology and mission is largely irrelevant to Protestant decline. It’s important stuff, certainly, and worthy of discussion. I’m just skeptical that it has much to do with the growth or decline of the church. Our churches have been beating ourselves up about our theology and mission and so on for thirty-some-odd years, and while there may be some insightful critiques in all the hand-wringing, I believe the decline of participation in both evangelical and mainline churches has more to do with two things: money and birthrates.

The funny thing about the church is that it is a paradox–it is a heavenly, theological reality lodged in the concreteness of a creation populated by broken people and systems.

As such, notes Barnhart, it is also a sociological reality:

Robert Wuthnow is one of few researchers pointing to sociological causes, and his book After the Baby Boomers completely changed the way I think about these issues. To wrap your head around the various causes of decline in church membership, remember this fact: The best predictor of church attendance is if someone a) is married and b) has children. I’m not saying that this should be the case. I’m not saying that married people with kids are the only people in church or the only people who count. I’m just describing empirically-verifiable data.

Epistemologically, I’m not all that amenable to the caveat: “I’m just describing empirically-verifiable data,” since the capturing and interpretation of data is itself an interpretive act. However, it’s worth considering.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for many people to economically achieve and maintain the sort of life that makes regular church attendance possible.

When people have to work two full-time jobs to raise a family, they don’t have time to go to a worship service on the weekend. Speaking of jobs, Wuthnow pointed out that it is less likely that anyone will be employed by the same employer in the same place for more than a few years. With all that job-and-place-changing, people don’t settle down anywhere, nor do their children get habituated to church attendance. At a recent church-planter training, Jim Griffith pointed out to us that since people can’t afford to take two-week vacations anymore, they wind up taking multiple weekend trips during the year, decreasing the time they have to participate in church activities. All of these lifestyle and economic influences make it less likely that people will commit to a church.

A friend–I can’t remember who–recently linked to this article: “Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time that you.” 

It’s a great title, not least because it challenges the assumption that we must be in every respect superior than our medieval forebears.

Now, I’m pretty sure that my dental hygiene is superior to my medieval ancestors by several orders of magnitude.

What the article makes clear, however, is that in all likelihood you and I have a lot less “disposable” time than did our ancestors.

Plowing and harvesting were backbreaking toil, but the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off. The Church, mindful of how to keep a population from rebelling, enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Weddings, wakes and births might mean a week off quaffing ale to celebrate, and when wandering jugglers or sporting events came to town, the peasant expected time off for entertainment. There were labor-free Sundays, and when the plowing and harvesting seasons were over, the peasant got time to rest, too. In fact, economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year.

I am fortunate to have four weeks of vacation annually, significantly more than many Americans. Many of us have to “quaff our ale” in a single week or two of paid vacation each year.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way:

John Maynard Keynes, one of the founders of modern economics, made a famous prediction that by 2030, advanced societies would be wealthy enough that leisure time, rather than work, would characterize national lifestyles. So far, that forecast is not looking good.

The takeaway is that its more likely than not that most people who aren’t retired or independently wealthy have been forced to construct a type of life (really, a range of lifestyles) that makes it all but impossible to be meaningfully involved in a church.

That type of life is quickly becoming normative.

And as something becomes normative, resisting it becomes something that requires both intentional effort and sacrifice, both on the part of congregations and of individual Christians.

How to make change that matters

Start with resolve

In the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, there comes a point where we’re told, “he turned his face towards Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-56).

It’s a statement showing Jesus’ resolve to carry out the mission that His Father had given to him, “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Resolve is central to making chage that matters.

For Jesus, a certain resolution was necessary because the nature of the mission would cause him to die. And while we’re not called to die–at least not literally–there is an element of sacrifice in any attempt at change, especially change that really matters.

woman looking at the map
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

Engage stakeholders

Stakeholders are a critical part of the change process, especially when it really matters. And whether it’s church members of employees, stakeholders can make or break any effort toward important and significant change.

As a result, one question I sometimes use to engage stakeholders is: what kind of company/agency/organization/church do we want to be?

Then I ask people to spend a little time and write a paragraph describing reality five years from now:

  • Who will work there?
  • List some key clients be?
  • What will worshippers there look like?
  • Describe worship services services be like?
  • What will office culture be?
  • What will the key ministries or initiatives be?
  • Why does moving toward this change matter?
  • Why’s it important?

Do some digging

What’s more, I’m a data guy. I love to intuit on the basis of hard numbers.

When I work with churches, I help them explore data. We look at the demographics and psychographics of people who live in a 15 minute drive time of their campus.

In doing this, our goal is to understand more fully who our neighbors are. We need to know what their needs are. And what some of the ways are that we can reach out to and connect with them.

Reaching them will likely involve some change. Reaching people is a mission that matters, and will likely demand important change.

Consider the Cost

Change is hard, especially change that matters.

It helps to imagine what the cost of not changing might be. And you could also imagine what good might happen because of the changes that are made.

Ask yourself: what will happen if things remain as they are?

Or, a more positive way to frame the question is, what good things can happen if we embrace change?

If you want to be brave, you might reflect on this question.

In order for my company or church to become all that I hope it will be, how would I need to change? 

Dealing with church bullies

A bully is someone who “habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those they see as vulnerable.” Perhaps surprisingly to many, churches are not immune to the threat of bullies.

There are, in every congregation, people who tend to want to baptize their unhealthy behavior in the language of “I’m a lead, follow, or get out of the way kinda guy.”

There are also subtler forms of bullying that include the quiet gossip who makes it their mission in life to call their list of usual suspects in order to bring their “feedback” to the pastor or session.

This list is usually taykor made to correspond identically with their own preferences. They can then say, “people are saying…” and thereby influence leadership decisions in a direction they perceive as favorable to them.

Bullies like this can make ministry seem like a root canal. They often wear down ministers through a campaign of attitrition.

Thom Rainer offers nine traits of church bullies:

  • They do not recognize themselves as bullies. To the contrary, they see themselves as necessary heroes sent to save the church from her own self.
  • They have personal and self-serving agendas. They have determined what “their” church should look like. Any person or ministry or program that is contrary to their perceived ideal church must be eliminated.
  • They seek to form power alliances with weak members in the church. They will pester and convince groups, committees, and persons to be their allies in their cause. Weaker church staff members and church members will succumb to their forceful personalities.
  • They tend to have intense and emotional personalities. These bullies use the intensity of their personalities to get their way.
  • They are famous for saying “people are saying.” They love to gather tidbits of information and shape it to their own agendas. 
  • They find their greatest opportunities in low expectation churches. Many of the church members have an entitlement view of church membership. They seek to get their own needs and preferences fulfilled. They, therefore, won’t trouble themselves to confront and deal with church bullies. That leads to the next issue, which is a consequence of this point
  • They are allowed to bully because church members will not stand up to them. I have spoken with pastors and church staff who have been attacked by church bullies. While the bully brings them great pain, they have even greater hurt because most of the church members stood silent and let it happen.
  • They create chaos and wreak havoc. A church bully always has his next mission. While he or she may take a brief break from one bullying mission to the next, they are not content unless they are exerting the full force of their manipulative behavior.
  • They often move to other churches after they have done their damage. Whether they are forced out or simply get bored, they will move to other churches with the same bullying mission. Some bullies have wreaked havoc in three or more churches.

There are few things as destructive to healthy congregational life as unchecked bullying.

Why should I go to church?

The changing face of worship attendance

Barna reports that one in three practicing Christians has stoppped attending digital worship at any church during the current epidemic.

The report divides COVID-era Christians into at least three categories: (1) those who attend their own church worship service digitally, (2) those who attend another church’s worship service digitally, and (3) those who no longer attend any church worship service digitally.

Each of these three categories represents a third of those surveyed.

What should we make of the fact that one-third of those surveye have stopped attending church digitally?

First, let’s not overreact. It’s possible that some are not attending digital worship services because they are present physically. America is a large country and parts of the country are more open than others. Some churches have reamined open much of the time; others have been closed.

Second, some Christians may be choosing to worship as a family rather than being spectators at a digital event. Churches vary in their ability to produce digital worship services. Some have elected to continue worshipping in exactly the same way as prior to this epidemic. Others, my own church included, have chosen to pare down our service to around half-an-hour. Watching a digital service is a very different experience from being physically present in a sanctuary. As a result, some people are adapting to it better than others.

Third, I have no doubt that some people are simply not practicing their faith in the midst of this pandemic. Their beliefs may have changed little, but they are not engaging in the disciplines and practices that mark the Christian life.

While worship is a means of grace. It is also true that not watching a worship service online doesn’t mean our faith is questionnable. The chief means is the Word of God.

If you’ve got access to a Bible (physically or mentally) then you have the resources to survive for a period without gathered worship and without the Lord’s Supper.

Note the qualification: for a time. Gathered worship and the sacraments are very important parts of the Christian life. And we neglect them at our peril. Let me make clear, however, that there are those among the body of Christ who must forego these benefits owing to their health.

I’m convinced that, as a minister, it’s my duty–as well as the session’s–to minister to the spiritual needs of these brothers and sisters during this extraordinary time.

Online worship isn’t ideal. And I’m concerned that its easy for sessions and ministers to believe that by producing a digital service they done all they need do to care for the souls of those in their membership. In reality, we need to do more and we need to do it as a team.