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For the rest of our lives we will almost certainly be reckoning time in terms of “Pre” and “Post” Pandemic. Regardless of what you think about the severity of the virus itself or the wisdom and efficacy of the various health and safety measures enacted by the government, it cannot be denied that the world has changed and life will never be the same again for any of us.

As Christians, we believe that God is Sovereign, so whatever secondary causes we may identify, it remains true that the Lord has rattled our cage; he has authored an earthquake; he has engineered an upheaval – but he has allowed us to survive and to emerge into a world filled with opportunities on the other side.

It is time to begin identifying those opportunities and positioning ourselves and our congregations to make the most of them. My initial survey reveals the following:

Opportunity #1: A culture in crisis

Our culture has been described as a “cut flower culture”[1], meaning, it continues to enjoy and celebrate beautiful outcomes produced by a particular worldview that it has now almost entirely rejected. A culture that embarks on such a course is living on borrowed time. It will gradually begin to put more and more weight further and further out from its original foundation, leading eventually, to a catastrophic collapse.

The recent pandemic and the associated health and safety measures imposed by the government had the effect of speeding up social and cultural time around the world. This phenomenon was explored by Ross Douthat in his article Waking Up In 2030. He argues that, due to the stresses and particular restrictions imposed by the crisis, “trends that were working slowly have seemingly speeded up.”

That’s bad news for a culture living on borrowed time.

We have gone further and faster down roads that seemingly, lead to nowhere. There is absolutely no track record for a culture that tries to redefine sex, gender and family the way our culture is rapidly doing. There is absolutely no track record for a society that rejects its foundations and rewrites its history to the extent and at the pace that ours is currently doing. There is absolutely no track record for a culture as afflicted with wide spread cognitive dissonance as our culture currently is.

Where is all of this leading?

No one knows, but one thing is certain: a culture this far removed from its foundations will eventually begin to crumble.

As that process continues, Bible-believing Christians will have an incredible opportunity to speak winsomely and convictionally about the eternal truths of God.

Opportunity #2: An epidemic of loneliness

Even before COVID, the western world was wrestling with increasing isolation and the loss of community. Books like “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam, published in 2000, had already begun to explore this phenomenon. Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in 2014 warned about the effect of systemic changes in the shape and rhythms of human life in the modern world that were creating, in his words, an epidemic of loneliness. Writing in The Harvard Business Review, Murthy rightly notes that:

“Our social connections are in fact largely influenced by the institutions and settings where we spend the majority of our time”[2]

In the past those sorts of social connections most likely came from time spent with family and religious community, but now, the modern person spends most of his or her time with colleagues at work. Work friendships tend to be shallower, more demographically selective and more transient in nature. As people postpone marriage and depart from religious communities, they face a massive increase in feelings of depression, anxiety and hopelessness, a situation Murthy is prepared to declare a public health emergency.

Other leaders in other nations have come to similar conclusions. In 2018 Great Britain appointed a “Minister of Loneliness” to attempt to address the issue within their culture with Japan following suit in 2021 by appointing Cabinet Minister Tetsushi Sakamoto to a similar position. The modern world does not appear to provide sufficient social interaction for the optimal functioning of human beings. It causes them to work too much, delay marriage and spend far too much time alone. The pandemic due to COVID-19 only exacerbated this destructive trend. As people begin to emerge from isolation there is an opportunity for the church to provide a context for meaningful friendship and community.

We will need to re-educate ourselves to the reality that building community is not selfish or insular, as we were once taught; rather, if it is welcoming community, such efforts should be understood as compassionate, wise and strategic. A church that offers deep, multi-generational, authentic, loving Christ-centred community will be well positioned for outreach and growth in the coming season.

Opportunity #3: A shift in global missions

The pandemic made travel significantly more difficult for everyone but particularly so for those trying to get in or out of the developing world. It made short-term missions next to impossible; it made sending experts from here to there next to impossible for more than two years. The upside of this is that it allowed local, indigenous leaders to assume primary responsibility for the work being done in their fields. To be clear, this transition had been occurring within most mission organizations since the 1980s but the pandemic due to COVID-19 significantly accelerated that development. That two year gap turned wet cement into dry cement and we probably won’t, certainly shouldn’t, and likely can’t go back to the way things were done in the past.

As travel remains cumbersome and as more and more countries close their borders permanently to foreign missionaries, the entire nature and focus of global missions will need to adjust. From this point forward the most valuable commodity in the world, humanly speaking, will be trusted and reliable indigenous partners on the field. Mission organizations that facilitate the development of such relationships will move to the foreground. Organizations that ignore this shift, will drift increasingly toward the margins.

This transition in mindset may finally allow the church in the west to begin learning from the church in the developing world. The future of the church is African, Indian and Chinese, but as long as we are the senders and they are the receivers the inclination for us to listen to and learn from these brothers and sisters will be structurally muted. The radical shift we’ve just experienced may, if we are humble and willing to receive it, bring a tremendous opportunity to the church in the western world. If we are willing to listen to voices from the majority world we may discover fresh perspectives and new resources with which to address our own chronic and inveterate deficiencies.

Opportunity #4: A collapse in social capacity

No matter where you go or who you talk to in this country it appears nearly unanimous that we are entering an era in which the capacity of the government to provide cradle to grave social care is rapidly coming to an end. COVID-19 revealed deep cracks in our Health Care system and our Long Term Care strategy. There has been a tidal wave of retirement within the medical community. Wait times are higher than ever and specialist appointments are increasingly difficult to secure. There is a dangerous shortage of Personal Support Workers. Many disabled people in our communities are having to make do with a fraction of the in-home care they use to receive. Our beloved social safety net appears to be disintegrating rapidly.

This is tragic, of course, in terms of the associated human suffering, but it will provide an opportunity for us to step back into certain aspects of social life from which we were excluded nearly a century ago. Most Canadians have forgotten that it was the Spanish Flu in the last century that led to the general impetus in the western world for universal health care. Laura Spinney in her book Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu Of 1918 And How It Changed The World writes:

“If health authorities had learnt anything from the pandemic, it was that it was no longer reasonable to blame an individual for catching an infectious disease, nor to treat him or her in isolation. The 1920s saw many governments embracing the concept of socialised medicine – healthcare for all, free at the point of delivery.”[3]

Universal health care is a good and noble ambition for a government to embrace; however, as the population ages and the ratio of working citizens to dependent citizens changes, the ability of the government to realize that ambition will come into question. The resulting gaps will provide opportunities for the church to shine in ways she hasn’t been able to do for nearly 100 years.

Churches that develop, organize and deploy “deacon type” ministries should have no lack of opportunities for fruitful, God-glorifying ministry in the years and decades ahead.

Conclusion

Over the last two years, we have been through a significant, culture-shaking, world-upending, church-refining event, but the Lord has been with us and active among us through it all. We are not the church we were, but we are closer to the church we need to be to seize the opportunities he has prepared for us on the other side.

“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35 ESV).

 

Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Paul Carter


To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.

[1] A phrase generally credited to Will Herberg, an American Jewish philosopher and sociologist of religion, first coined and used in “Judaism and Modern Man” published in 1951.

[2] https://hbr.org/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic

[3] Laura Spinney, Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu Of 1918 And How It Changed The World (London: Vintage, 2017), 240.

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