During the early days of lockdown, many of us who lead churches were frantically looking for advice and learnings from others as we sought to navigate a confusing season. We were asking what was the church supposed to be, and to be doing, and to be praying in this "unprecedented" season?
In May I listened to a live-streamed wide-ranging conversation between two missional leaders who advise churches - Alan Hirsch (Australia) and Anthony Delaney (Manchester, UK). Hirsch used a really helpful metaphor which has stuck with me, and comes back to mind as we approach the resumption of regular Sunday services at OCC.
(For those of you who don't play chess, you need to understand that different chess pieces are allowed to make only one sort of move each, but the queen can do most things - it's the most versatile and powerful player). Apparently when you're learning to play chess, one trick is to play without your queen, so you have to learn properly how all the other pieces work. When you've mastered all the other pieces, then put your queen back in.
With characteristic directness, Hirsch makes a parallel with Sunday services: "The church was never supposed to be a 'Sunday-only show', but all too often we put all our efforts into Sundays at the expense of other parts of church life. Weekend services create audiences not communities, spectators not disciples. We gather people, and only inadequately send them into missional living in all of life. We value pastors and teachers, and have less understanding of the roles of evangelist, prophet and apostle."
He was saying that lockdown - and the removal of our queen - provides an opportunity to refresh the roles of the other chess pieces that form a healthy balanced Christian life: our own prayer and Bible reading habits, spending time (across the fence) talking to our neighbours, life (not just meetings) in our small groups, one to one discipleship relationships.
He's absolutely right. That is the theology of church that we believe too - church as Spirit-filled, God-loving community, living for God's glory in the world. Not just great Sunday services.
Let me be clear: I'm not 'dissing' Sundays. I believe in great Sunday services. (I'm the elder responsible for Sundays, so you'd expect me to say that!) They play a really important role in the life of our church and every church. Alongside the intimacy and depth of friendship and authenticity of lives shared made possible through life in our Communities, in Sunday gatherings we appreciate the heights of worship, and the richness of the preached word and seeing the whole church together - old and young, black and white, richer and poorer - a vivid demonstration of the reconciling and uniting power of the gospel (Eph 3:10)!
The queen is a really important chess piece!
But it's not the only chess piece.
As life gingerly returns to some normality for most of us - returning to our workplaces, and social spaces, and taking holidays - and physical church gatherings resume, my plea is that we don't neglect the other chess pieces.
What about you? Even as you enjoy the resumption of Sunday church, what other chess pieces is God underlining in your life that need attention? Maybe it's your own prayer and study habit? Or Sabbathing well. Or maybe refreshing your mentoring relationship. Or that lockdown friendship with a neighbour?