Around the world governments have been faced with the challenge of protecting their citizens from becoming infected with the new Corona Virus known as Covid19. With few exceptions they have settled on variations of the same strategy which basically amounts to locking down the population as much as possible in their homes. There are exceptions, such as health workers, those running essential services, and those who can’t work from home.
The essential aim of this strategy is to prevent people coming into contact with others who might potentially be infectious, or whom they themselves might infect, with the aim of slowing the progress of the virus. A key part of this strategy is ‘social distancing’ which means that even when people do meet with others they should not get closer than 1.5 to 2 metres. This has worked well and confirmed the theory that close contact aids the spread of viruses. The relevancy of this is I believe that there is an important but largely ignored principle here in regard to the mission of the Gospel. The principle is that if you want to stop the spread of infection you keep people who have the virus away from those who might get infected, that is, keep them locked inside four walls where even if they are infectious they won’t infect anybody else.
Tragically it seems that in the church we apply this principle only too well for we are well practiced at ‘social distancing’, that is of the spiritual variety. We do it by locking up Christians when they are at their most ‘infectious’ inside the four walls of a church building, or even a house church. These are the very places where they are most likely to be manifesting that they are ‘infected‘ with and ‘shedding’ the Gospel Virus, with their words (heard and said), speaking and learning, actions, and the singing of Christian songs. However, those are also the places where they are not likely to infect too many others because most present either have the Gospel virus already or tragically are immune to it!
We know that viruses love to invade and infect people, that is their raison d’etre, their reason for being. It should also be the raison d’etre of Christians, that is to infect people with the ‘Gospel Virus’. Indeed that is what ‘Go and make disciples’ means.
It seems to me that there is much to be learned for the mission of the Gospel from the Covid19 Crisis. It has often been said that Christianity is ‘more caught than taught’, that is it is caught from Christians shedding the Gospel Virus by their words, actions and general behaviour.
In fact, as an aside, I have often thought that we should not do Sunday church some weeks but send the whole congregation in small groups to cafes, pubs, clubs, food courts etc. places where ‘infectable’ non-Christians meet. To meet over coffee, morning tea, lunch, whatever, and to engage in intentional ‘Virus shedding’ activities such as a discussion of some bible passage, some prayer and Christian conversation which maybe overheard by those around etc. I suspect this would do a lot more for the spread of the Gospel than weeks of talking about Mission in the church building.
And one good thing to know is that, from personal experience in Missional Communities that meet in cafes, pubs etc. I can say that the proprietors and franchisees of such places would love you! For them it means trade!
The question is, when we transition out of ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’ mode, will all the focus be on returning to ‘business as usual’ and continue to quarantine most of the Gospel shedding activity of Christians inside church buildings, Bible study groups in lounge rooms and House Church meetings.
Contrast this with the missional alternative of intentionally meeting in places where the most ‘infectable’ people are, that is in work places, public places etc, and where, so ironically, most work hard to keep their faith hidden and so don’t shed the Gospel Virus! This is indicated by surveys that show less than 20% of Christians are willing to share their faith with non-Christian contacts, and also large numbers of members of the community claim they don’t know an active Christian.
Sadly, all the evidence indicates that as we ‘transition out’, a return to ‘business as usual’ will be the aim of most Christians and their leaders post Covid19. This will mean that it will be back to Bible studies in houses, House Church meetings and Sunday services within the walls of church buildings where Gospel Virus-shedding takes place aplenty but there is little chance of infecting anybody! It will also mean back to ‘business as usual’ in terms of mission, and so back to bemoaning the ongoing decline of the Church in society.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the Covid19 experience, it is that viruses love crowds, so Christians must maximise Gospel Virus-shedding opportunities with those we wish, in word and deed, to ‘infect’ with the love of God. This means intentionally spending our discretionary time meeting where non-Christians meet, as is the intention of the Missional Community strategy encouraged by this site.
Once more the question is as we transition out of the Covid19-forced Cyber Church, will it be back to ‘business as usual’ and happily jump back onto the down escalator of ongoing decline, or change our mindset and intentionally become Gospel Virus-shedders- yes and that actually means where we can infect somebody!
To put it another way, will ‘Virus Shedding’ become our (New Normal) Way of Life?