The Bird’s Eye View: The People Have Spoken, But Are We Listening?

planets

There is an obvious shift happening in the Black church. No matter how well-attended church services were before the pandemic, my fellow colleagues and I have noted that at least one-third of our congregations have decided that they are not coming back to weekly services.  Further, another third of parishioners are only attending services out of commitment, obligation, or because they hold certain positions in the church. To address this issue, I first need to tell my fellow pastors that the decrease in numbers is not a personal reflection of them per se, but a discernable transformation of God’s church. This COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the endeavors and doings of the world as we know it. Though the church is not of this world, she too has been an unassuming subject of the interruption.

An argument has been posed as to whether or not God brought this pandemic on us with intention, as with the plagues of Exodus. Or is this merely a condition of being in a world that is susceptible to sickness and disease? In either event, I believe we are missing a prime objective here. Whether God caused this pandemic is not the question we should be asking, but rather, “What is God calling the church to do in the midst of it?”

Considering the collective praying, fasting, and petitioning of the church worldwide for God to remove this virus, why hasn’t he? To that, we may never have an answer, but we know that God in his undoubted sovereignty is wise nevertheless. Still, where does that leave the church? A search of the Scriptures reveals that we will not find God shutting down an active system unless it wasn’t working. Maybe God allowed the church building to be shut down to open the universal church and the spiritual eyes of church leaders and churchgoers?

Take a moment and use your imaginary lens from a bird’s-eye view. It’s Sunday morning. Gaze down on your beautiful local church. You can see the praise team singing, the pastor preaching, congregants shouting, and everyone having a good ole time in the Spirit. Now, go a little higher so you can further widen your view to include the community that surrounds that church. From this vantage point you will see:

The community uniting in protest and marches for justice and equality while being oppressed by Pharoah (Exod 5:1).

Cain killing his brother for territory (Gen 4:8).

Rahab and her girls on several corners being prostituted because they have been given no other choice or because no one has informed them that God has a plan for their lives (Joshua 2:9–13).

Thieves out terrorizing the neighborhood because there are no Christians willing to be with them, uplift and edify them, or inform them that if they believe in the king, they too can become kingdom citizens in a day (Luke 23:42–43).

Now, be daring. Go even higher from the bird’s-eye view to view as God views. See the world in its true and chaotic form, while watching “church folks” having a good ole time in the church building. Observing the problem from a higher and wider view may give us some insight and understanding to our questions. Perhaps God is shutting down our systematic way of having church so that we may actually be a church.

Let’s take, for example, Joseph’s imprisonment (Gen 40–41). I’m sure there were times when Joseph looked up to God for relief. I’m sure he prayed for his release. It didn’t happen right away, so at some point he looked around for work. Along with Joseph were two cellmates who needed his divine gift to interpret dreams, the baker and the cupbearer, the latter of whom was eventually the reason for Joseph’s release. In his undesirable condition, Joseph’s willingness to work in his giftedness not only got him out of prison but earned him a high position in Egypt and ultimately created more opportunities to shape and change the culture.

We, as a church body, have that same opportunity. Yes, we have and should continue praying to God to remove this pandemic. However, like Joseph, after we look up to God for help, we should also look around for ministry opportunities to affect our surrounding communities. God may even promote his church to leadership status in our communities to save our communities.

Finally, we look to Jesus for guidance on how to pastor in the modern world. Notice how Jesus made disciples. He didn’t use shame, fear, or rejection, but transparency, love, and acceptance. He saw and heard the needs of the people from a bird’s-eye view and brought them healing and kindness. He hung out with them and made them feel a sense of purpose. Notice that when Jesus and Peter had breakfast, he never checked or confronted Peter for his momentary denial of faith. Instead, Jesus gave Peter a purpose-filled instruction from a bird’s-eye view, to show him that where he was going would outshine the mistakes that haunted him.

As pastors, meeting the flock where they are may be the way to go. After all, their actions—or lack thereof—send a perceptible message. The people have spoken. They are not coming back to the physical building made by hands. Perhaps we should listen and go out to them.

If we see our communities from a bird’s-eye view, and follow Jesus’ methods of community conversion, we too will make disciples of our communities. Jesus tore down the temple that they knew in order to build the temple they needed. Now, he is seated next to the Father, watching us from a bird’s-eye view. Since he is also inside of us, let’s use his eyes for ours, while he uses our body for his.

Shep Crawford

Shep Crawford is a Grammy Award-winning producer and writer and is senior pastor of The Experience Christian Ministries in Los Angeles.

There is an obvious shift happening in the Black church. No matter how well-attended church services were before the pandemic, my fellow colleagues and I have noted that at least one-third of our congregations have decided that they are not coming back to weekly services.  Further, another third of parishioners are only attending services out of commitment, obligation, or because they hold certain positions in the church. To address this issue, I first need to tell my fellow pastors that the decrease in numbers is not a personal reflection of them per se, but a discernable transformation of God’s church. This COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the endeavors and doings of the world as we know it. Though the church is not of this world, she too has been an unassuming subject of the interruption.

An argument has been posed as to whether or not God brought this pandemic on us with intention, as with the plagues of Exodus. Or is this merely a condition of being in a world that is susceptible to sickness and disease? In either event, I believe we are missing a prime objective here. Whether God caused this pandemic is not the question we should be asking, but rather, “What is God calling the church to do in the midst of it?”

Considering the collective praying, fasting, and petitioning of the church worldwide for God to remove this virus, why hasn’t he? To that, we may never have an answer, but we know that God in his undoubted sovereignty is wise nevertheless. Still, where does that leave the church? A search of the Scriptures reveals that we will not find God shutting down an active system unless it wasn’t working. Maybe God allowed the church building to be shut down to open the universal church and the spiritual eyes of church leaders and churchgoers?

Take a moment and use your imaginary lens from a bird’s-eye view. It’s Sunday morning. Gaze down on your beautiful local church. You can see the praise team singing, the pastor preaching, congregants shouting, and everyone having a good ole time in the Spirit. Now, go a little higher so you can further widen your view to include the community that surrounds that church. From this vantage point you will see:

The community uniting in protest and marches for justice and equality while being oppressed by Pharoah (Exod 5:1).

Cain killing his brother for territory (Gen 4:8).

Rahab and her girls on several corners being prostituted because they have been given no other choice or because no one has informed them that God has a plan for their lives (Joshua 2:9–13).

Thieves out terrorizing the neighborhood because there are no Christians willing to be with them, uplift and edify them, or inform them that if they believe in the king, they too can become kingdom citizens in a day (Luke 23:42–43).

Now, be daring. Go even higher from the bird’s-eye view to view as God views. See the world in its true and chaotic form, while watching “church folks” having a good ole time in the church building. Observing the problem from a higher and wider view may give us some insight and understanding to our questions. Perhaps God is shutting down our systematic way of having church so that we may actually be a church.

Let’s take, for example, Joseph’s imprisonment (Gen 40–41). I’m sure there were times when Joseph looked up to God for relief. I’m sure he prayed for his release. It didn’t happen right away, so at some point he looked around for work. Along with Joseph were two cellmates who needed his divine gift to interpret dreams, the baker and the cupbearer, the latter of whom was eventually the reason for Joseph’s release. In his undesirable condition, Joseph’s willingness to work in his giftedness not only got him out of prison but earned him a high position in Egypt and ultimately created more opportunities to shape and change the culture.

We, as a church body, have that same opportunity. Yes, we have and should continue praying to God to remove this pandemic. However, like Joseph, after we look up to God for help, we should also look around for ministry opportunities to affect our surrounding communities. God may even promote his church to leadership status in our communities to save our communities.

Finally, we look to Jesus for guidance on how to pastor in the modern world. Notice how Jesus made disciples. He didn’t use shame, fear, or rejection, but transparency, love, and acceptance. He saw and heard the needs of the people from a bird’s-eye view and brought them healing and kindness. He hung out with them and made them feel a sense of purpose. Notice that when Jesus and Peter had breakfast, he never checked or confronted Peter for his momentary denial of faith. Instead, Jesus gave Peter a purpose-filled instruction from a bird’s-eye view, to show him that where he was going would outshine the mistakes that haunted him.

As pastors, meeting the flock where they are may be the way to go. After all, their actions—or lack thereof—send a perceptible message. The people have spoken. They are not coming back to the physical building made by hands. Perhaps we should listen and go out to them.

If we see our communities from a bird’s-eye view, and follow Jesus’ methods of community conversion, we too will make disciples of our communities. Jesus tore down the temple that they knew in order to build the temple they needed. Now, he is seated next to the Father, watching us from a bird’s-eye view. Since he is also inside of us, let’s use his eyes for ours, while he uses our body for his.

Written By

Shep Crawford is a Grammy Award-winning producer and writer and is senior pastor of The Experience Christian Ministries in Los Angeles.

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Wilmer G. Villacorta, associate professor of intercultural studies, looks to Scripture and its reimagination of power in the work of justice.