Lessons from the Scattered, Persecuted Church

Thinking about the impact of COVID upon the church, yesterday I suggested that during this season we're being called to a more solitary, monastic journey. For most of our lifetimes, our Christianity has been primarily focused upon large gatherings in large rooms. But during this season the demand is for monastic practices where we meditate, worship, and pray alone. Less singing and talking and more silence and prayer.

Relatedly, COVID has scattered the church. Unable to gather, we are distributed. And the church has gone through seasons like this before. I'm put in mind of the events in Acts 8:
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
"Those who were scattered."

Obviously, we've been scattered for different reasons, and opportunities for evangelism might be hard with a mask on and standing six feet away from people. My point is simply that, throughout history, the church has been scattered. And I have to hope, as in Acts 8, that these seasons, while hard, are also opportunities. 

For example, churches scattered or forced underground by persecution have tended to live, thrive and grow in distributed cell-based networks. In persecuted contexts, the church cannot show up in large numbers in a large building. So networks of smaller house-church gatherings are necessary. 
During a pandemic, the reasons are different for why we can't gathering in large numbers, but it creates the same challenge that suggests a similar solution. Not to say that when we get a vaccine that churches can't return to "normal" with big gatherings in a big buildings. But the fragility of that "big box" expression--church as WalMart--has been exposed. Consequently, even if we get back to "normal," churches would be wise to look toward the persecuted church for inspiration and guidance to invest in creating a more distributed, cell-based infrastructure. Such an investment would build in some structural resiliency out in front of the next pandemic.

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