For the past five weeks, our church, like countless others, has resorted to hosting online services to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Before our team made that call, there was a moment that happened which changed everything.
Lately, I have tried to pause before making decisions, choosing to be proactive instead of reactive. In other words, I want to evaluate the weight of the world around me before reacting to the current situation. Don’t get me wrong, quick thinking in a crisis is an incredible quality for a leader to have, and I do believe it is one of my best traits, but this wasn’t a time to make a snap call.
This was a time to listen to what culture was shouting in the streets.
As I looked up from my one decision for my one church, I watched as the online rush came in from pastors across the world. Content was pouring out of every crevasse- church streaming on IGTV and Facebook Live, new podcasts released, people participating in zoom worship sessions…it was, and still is, an avalanche of digital media church. “Lord, what is going on?”
Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I do not think that the content being created is bad, that these churches are wrong, or that the pastors are not doing a good job. In fact, I think the corporate body of Christ is in a unique position to have influence in ways history has never seen before.
I asked God to reveal to me what He saw when He looked at His church.
As clear as day I heard the Lord say, “My church has become a traphouse.”
I know what many of you reading are thinking. “Wait, wait, wait… God would never speak like that- He would never use a word like that!” Well, that’s how He speaks to me, always has, and I hope He always will.
For those of you who don’t know what a traphouse is, Merriam Webster defines it as: “the enclosure from which clay targets are released in trapshooting and skeet shooting.” That definition is not the kind of traphouse I’m referring to, so we must look at Urban Dictionary’s definition.
“A term used to define a crack house, or the surroundings in which a drug dealer or (trap star) would use to make their profit.”
God answered my question. He told me that the church I am responsible for, the church I will have to give an account for, is equivalent to a drug house. He very clearly revealed to me that this is how so many churches in our current moment operate, and we need to stop.
“Yes, the Church is a whore; but that whore is the bride of Christ and your mother, and you have no right to abandon her.” — Anonymous
People may not be attending church to meet up with their drug dealer, but they do come looking for their plug; “a person who has everything you need.”
I came to the harsh reality that I have been a spiritual plug for people; a spiritual drug dealer. People who I pastor come to church looking for their spiritual high.
Mark Sayers puts it this way, “We have become chaplains of ‘the want’.” Whatever the people want, we give them. We attempt to cater to and build around what will bring the most attendance, rather than what will have the greatest impact in their lives. We lead churches where the congregants are dependent on pastors and leaders for their spiritual growth and development. A lot of the mass push for online content, as great as it might be, is an effort to keep activity going, to keep the people engaged and entertained. We want them to stay hooked on what we have to offer, and we will do anything, and everything, to keep them from finding their high somewhere else.
We are constantly competing with some other livestream that will give them worship on Wednesday because we offer kids ministry at that time instead. We are afraid that when we are able to gather again, they won’t be found in their usual seat or pew, instead they will have found a different drug that suits their need.
This all sounds a little extreme. Isn’t it good for the people of God to desire to gather together?
Of course. There is immense spiritual benefit in gathering together as the people of God. Listening to the Word together, worshipping, serving, fellow-shipping, all of that sounds important. However, if not gathering for 8, 12, or even 30 weeks causes the foundations of our church to crumble, then it needs to fall. If we cannot maintain community with one another and God without a constant stream of content and online gatherings, do we really have community at all? Whether you admit it or not, our culture is addicted to the spiritual high of church gatherings.
There is no healthy form of addiction. If we’re not careful, our addiction to church structures will become our crutch. Community will prop up our Christianity, and the minute something happens to community, our entire faith will fall apart.
Think practically: In this current moment, in the midst of a global pandemic, have you stopped tithing, praying, and reading your bible because you haven’t been in community? If that’s the case you for, then you might not have Jesus; you might have an addiction.
Pastors and leaders are no different. We can just as easily be addicts. Too many are freaking out about keeping their members involved because they are afraid of what will happen to their churches. Most leaders hide behind the uncertainty of how their people will stay involved if they can’t gather. How will people stay hooked and hungry for the next high if there is nothing left to supply them with?
We spin our wheels to create a supply for those looking to fill that void, and here is where we find ourselves — Anxiety floods through the wireless routers and manifests as some sort of nightly activity curated by the church for the church. How do you know if this is you? Are you freaking out? Are you worried about the congregation staying around when COVID-19 lifts?
You need to repent.
We have diminished our purpose to nothing more than that of Tony Roberts or Gary Vaynerchuck. While I respect both of these leaders immensely, our work as spiritual leaders should look different. Jesus is different. He is way more than a self-help guru, He is Lord and Savior. Ephesians 4 implores us that our calling is to equip the people of God for the work of God. This extends past teaching a Sunday bible-school class. This is the type of ministry that you bring into your home, your job, your relationships; this is the ministry of the gospel at work in our lives.
At the church I pastor, Engage Church Tallahassee, we have doubled down on this concept and we call it Innovative Reconcilers. Everything we do is with the goal to equip and launch people into their meaningful work, adding value to every space and place they go. We believe God has commissioned His people to go. If people are not equipped past the point of serving on a Sunday, we’ve created a spiritual trap house. People should be able to thrive in their relationship with God without gathering together.
The glorious church that Jesus died on behalf of is not one where people cannot thrive in their relationship with Him without weekly gatherings or functional infrastructure.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think this is the last we will see of COVID-19. It might look different, it might have a different name, but things are coming. The foundations we have built on will be tested by things we have never experienced before. We are living in the book of Acts 7 and the stoning of Steven. People have been dependent on the church, but God wants to release them.
I am not targeting one specific sector. I started with myself and the Church I pastor, but I believe this is for the Old Prosperity, New Prosperity, Reformed, Southern Methodist, Baptist, Evangelical, Charismatic and everything in between- this is for all of us.
We will all face judgement. Are we ready to give an account for the men and women we have equipped to do the work of ministry? Are we ready to give an account for empowering them to be who God created them to be?
I said it before and it bears repeating: I do not believe that this is the death of the local church, but the opportunity for the church to have one of its finest hours in all of history.
So ask yourself, church or traphouse?