The COVID-19 period has temporarily turned our churches upside down by essentially canceling the way churches fulfilled their missions. No more in-person small groups. No more masses of people for corporate worship. No more youth camps, children’s activities, fellowship meals, senior adult gatherings, choir rehearsals, and so much more. Just a look at the calendar of the average church shows you, at least until the last few weeks, that this was nothing like normal.

Church leaders have been scrambling to determine the best ways to be the church amid all this mess. Some, unfortunately, have simply turned off the lights and gone home to wait it out.

Others are thriving as they redefine themselves in how to be the church with all these restrictions. Thriving amid harsh restrictions is nothing new to the persecuted church!

As churches begin to regather, it is certainly a time for leaders to sort through our old practices and get rid of those that are no longer effective and adopt new ways of discipling those that are part of our church and those in our communities. In essence, we should start with a blank slate. We need to reboot our worship ministries and may need to install a new operating system.

Even as we regather, limitations are hurting corporate worship practices. Some churches will not be singing at all due to the great potential risks involved. Most are disbanding their choirs for a season until COVID-19 is under control. Social distancing is changing the holy kiss/handshake/hug to a wave or a bow. Everything just seems awkward. Hand sanitizer is the new holy water in the church.

All this reminds me of the song The Heart of Worship by Matt Redman (one of our virtual worship conference keynote speakers).

You’ve probably heard the story:

In the late 90’s the preaching pastor at Redman’s church in Watford, England sensed that their worship gatherings were going flat spiritually, that the congregation was going through the motions, and worship wasn’t flowing from the heart like true Christian worship must.

“There was a dynamic missing,” says Redman, “so the pastor did a pretty brave thing. He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.”

Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor, Mike Pilavachi, asked, “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?”

Matt says the question initially led to some embarrassing silence, but eventually people broke into a cappella songs and heartfelt prayers, encountering God in a fresh way.

“Before long, we reintroduced the musicians and sound system, as we’d gained a new perspective that worship is all about Jesus, and He commands a response in the depths of our souls no matter what the circumstance and setting. ‘The Heart of Worship’ simply describes what occurred.”

Before COVID, I was saddened to see that so many of our churches had lost sight of true worship. Many had begun to worship the worship event—the band, the singers, the songs, the pastor—and not the One to whom we owe our all. We get so caught up in the greatest, newest songs and achieving certain guitar or drum riffs or sounding just like a worship leader superstar. In ways, I can see Jesus clearing the temple of all this. Perhaps COVID is God’s way of overturning our tables of misdirected worship and old, useless practices of the church.

Perhaps COVID is God’s way of overturning our tables of misdirected worship and old, useless practices of the church.

Just perhaps, God is using COVID-19 to strip us of all the church was doing, so we can carefully put it all together the right way this time. That we simply come with hearts open and ready to hear from God.

Listen to a portion of this song in an attitude of prayer as you let God illuminate the areas of your heart that has strayed from His ideals.

A Prayer

Father, we ask your forgiveness for any role we have played in leading our people to focus their worship on things other than on you. Forgive us for ways we have strayed from the true purpose and focus of the church. Please use this international devastating pandemic to fine-tune your church. Don’t let us go back to our bad practices, but help us to pursue your heart in all of this. Use us to guide our church in the path you have for them. We lay ourselves before you to be your messengers.