Thinking Outside the Room: Part 1
I heard a true story early on in the Covid 19 crisis about a local hospital starting to serve Covid 19 patients. Nurses performing their hourly duties of checking vital statistics were forced to expose themselves to room of the infected patients each time they entered and checked the monitoring machines.
Because the virus is highly contagious, the nurses were forced to put on and take off a fresh set of protective gear for each room visit. You can imagine how much energy and time could have been better spent doing more vital functions for the patients and hospital’s well-being. Frustration was rising fast though commitment to high standards of care would not easily waver.
Then one of the hospital workers had a simple idea: extend the tubing of the monitoring machines so that they can be moved just outside the patients’ rooms. This way their vital signs can be regularly checked without concern of the nurse being infected and much labor and time conserved for more important duties. When the patient truly needed help, when the nurse truly needed to be physically present, at these non -negotiable times, the nurses would put on their full outfits before entering to engage the patients.
Patient care still required going inside the patients’ rooms, but with more now being done in the hallway, their limited resources could be better managed.
This was thinking “outside the room.”
It was, for the hospital’s crisis, a game changer.
After hearing this account, my mind wandered quickly to comparing the hospital room to the church building, and the invitation of the Covid 19 virus for the church at large. Many church leaders committed to high standards for God’s people and their place in the world are being forced to think outside the box and outside the building about what it now means for the church to be the church.
Being together in a common place and building is certainly and rightly missed, and still I wonder: might our current displacement be revealing our potential misplaced priority of having everything pivoted around the one room, the sanctuary, the place where we gather weekly for worship and other events?
For those churches who associate their church primarily with the activities that take place in their building, we, too, are having to think outside the room.
And so, we should.
It would be good to remember that associating the church building as the pivot of our fellowship does not come not out of the New Testament “playbook.” It could be argued that the Old Testament emphasis of worshiping only in the temple, administered only by the priests and experienced by less active observers, this model became obsolete in the coming of Jesus (and for that matter, the destruction of the temple in 70 AD put an exclamation point on this new reality).
Jesus visited the synagogue on the sabbath and the temple in key moments, but the most often location of his ministry occurred in less formal places “outside the room.” No longer relying on Jewish priests for ushering in the holy and the presence of God, all places become sacred; the new “building” was wherever two or more (and he usually had at least 12) gathered, praying, speaking and serving in his name. Along the roadside between towns, in a field with seeds, in a fishermen’s boat on the sea, over a campfire at night, walking along a village street…this is where the majority of Jesus’ time was spent . This was home base for his discipleship work.
And then Jesus died…what would happen now? Did the disciples “return to the room,” pivot Jesus’ ministry back in the temple? Hardly.
Jesus’ resurrection, his ascension helped empower them to continue to same focus of ministry that Jesus had begun. Pentecost plugged these straggling disciples into the “extension cord” of the Spirit’s power. On that day, the disciples and new converts were filled with all the presence and power they needed to be Christ’s people, priests and body.
After Pentecost, the first church meetings took place both in the temple and in people’s homes. From there they were sent to go back home or go as missionaries to live and minister throughout the entire world. Their meetings and their mission would not be planted in a single building. Rather, believers gathered in homes on Sunday and then lived out their faith in the world, “in the hallway,” together all week long.
When no longer welcome in the temple for their meeting place, the early church did not rush to create their own building. Rather, though their numbers grew exponentially, their meeting size stayed small enough so they could still fit and meet in someone’s home.
And homes are in the neighborhoods, in one of the main hallways of life, are they not?
Paul later sent his letters to each city’s church, which as just mentioned, was meeting in someone’s home. One can imagine robust group discussions after the letter’s reading, and as part of their weekly practice of gathering, encouraging, life and meal sharing and devoting themselves to the apostle’s teachings.
How would they have sustained such practices in a larger building with a professional pastor preaching and the band leading worship where all faced the front?
Check back next week for part 2!