Just as stress affects our physical bodies, it can also affect our church body. I am not a strong man. As much as a want to be, and as much as I try to let the semblance of strength linger around me, when the stresses of life start applying pressure, my body succumbs to its presence. I live with a chronic illness, and the stress and strains of life wear on my body much more than they used to. When I need my physical health the most, that is the minute it begins to let me down. As we all know, stress is not merely an emotional or spiritual reality. It manifests itself in a multitude of tangible ways, and each person experiences it differently.
The body of the local church is not much different. When conflicts, financial pressures, or any other external force begins to weigh heavily on the church, there will be symptoms that arise among its members. The restrictions of COVID-19 are an excellent example of this. Regardless of what you think the right path forward is, there are people in your congregation who disagree and are as distressed about the situation as you are for different reasons.
Typically, in difficult times, we would go to our church family to find refuge when we are heavy-hearted, but what we are facing right now is bigger than any one of us. We are all feeling its weight in different ways. When we need our church family the most, we might find that it too is manifesting the stress we came to forget. On top of that, one of the essential aspects of corporate worship, drawing near to each other, is stifled. It is hindered not only by the governmental restrictions in place, but it is also hampered by the multitude of opinions of how closely the church should follow those restrictions. Whether your church is abiding by all the guidelines or is gathering as usual, there is a portion of the body that is uncomfortable with what it is doing.
When my physical body begins to show its weakness under the stress I am facing, something interesting begins to take place. It is as if my faith rises to meet the challenge. When I speak of my faith, I speak of it in two ways. First, it is the biblical truth I believe about Christ, and the trust I have in him. Saving faith always involves correct data, assent, and trust. Second, it is the gift of God. The reason our faith as Christians is powerful is not that it is our faith, but because it is born from above. Not only is it born of God, but he also sustains it. We are kept by the power of God through faith (1 Peter 1:5). For this reason, scripture tells us, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith (1 John 5:4).” Faith is the victory that overcomes the world because it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
Amid my weakness, the Lord empowers me through faith by turning my eyes away from my strength and ability and placing them directly upon my hope and stay Jesus Christ. Here, in my frailty, his power is made perfect. Every time this happens, it is a step forward in sanctification of sorts, because I should have never been trusting in my strength. In the furnace of affliction, the Lord brings the dross to the surface to remove it. With my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, many of things I thought were important fade away. As they fade, so does much of my unnecessary concern and the bodily impact that came with it.
I believe the same process can happen in church bodies. It is easy for a group of believers to experience stability for so long that their eyes begin to look more to the body’s health and benefits than their Savior. When the manifestation of stress begins to show in the congregation, we begin to realize, even as a church, we all still have a chronic illness that makes us weak. Though we have been forgiven and declared righteous in Christ, every single one of us is still dealing with indwelling sin. We are not as strong as we think we are, even as a group.
When frustrations with their local church begin to manifest, many people start looking for another body to join, but they will never find what they are looking for because we are all the same. The grass is only greener on the other side until you step on the first sharp rock. If the stresses of 2020 are impacting your relationship with your local church, my prayer is, as a congregation, the spirit will use this time to draw your eyes to your Savior. The body is only as healthy as its focus on Jesus.
It is only when we all have our eyes on him that we will be able to navigate the troubled waters with unity. Unless your church is violating essential teachings of the faith or openly engaging in or embracing sinful activities and ideas, this is not the time to jump ship. It is time to double-down on your commitment to the people you have been worshipping with all along.
They need you now more than ever. Take your eyes off the waves of dissatisfaction, look to Jesus, and go out of your way to love one another because they are as troubled by all of this as you are, even if it is for different reasons. As we regain our focus, many of the church’s concerns will fall away, and so will many of the effects on the body that came with them. If this begins to happen across the church, you will know that Lord has taken your eyes off your failing body and put them on him. He has caused the church’s faith to rise to the challenge, and in its weakness, his strength is being made perfect.