by Roy Todd

Do you like a story? Ok…well I’ve got one. Put the kettle on and pull up a chair!

Before the lockdown and social distancing laws came into force, the Junction Church’s brilliant exec team read the road ahead long ago. We had a good idea we would need to move everything completely online at some point – not because of some profound prophecy, but because we kept an eye on the news. So, we decided to prepare well in advance and pre-record lots of services, so that in the event of a lockdown, we could use these as our online material. This even included Easter services!

A local church in Loughborough kindly invited us to use their building (we don’t currently own our own permanent facility). Over a couple of mid-week days, a small team of people from our church community (including a number of frontline healthcare professionals) set-up our equipment and had loads of fun recording back to back services – with 10 minute breaks in between. It was tiring…but brilliant. Those services reflect the heart and culture of our church – positive, fresh and encouraging.

Then eventually, a total lockdown was announced by the government. This meant church gatherings were not permitted. Lots of churches were thrown into crisis because they’d never contemplated the idea of online church. But at the Junction Church, we felt prepared, if a bit anxious about it all. We totally understood the reasons for the lockdown and support the governments actions in tackling the virus. Moments like this are what leaders are made for, right? Well, that’s what all those leadership books & conferences tell us.

Anyway, then came the beginning of those ‘churchless’ Sundays. Like many pastors, I sat in dread as I hid behind my morning mug of tea, wondering if anyone would watch. But to my delight, the viewing numbers rose to thousands!! Suddenly, we were a mega-church!!! Ok…not quite. But I actually LOVE online church. It’s not as good as physically gathering but, it’s the next best thing. Because we’d read the road ahead, we were able to offer some decent quality services online. The work had already been done.

For me though, some of the most enlightening revelations in this strange season have occurred when I’ve been scrolling through comments during the services. Oh my word!!! Of course, our church family cheer us on from start to finish (as they always do – they’re brilliant)! Even people who are not Christians have written warmly and positively about their online church experience – some even coming to faith! How good is that?!!! But…some of the “Christian” response has been fascinating to observe. Some of those comments have been laden with suspicion and lacking any kind of warmth – with a tangible sense of ‘name & shame’. When aggressive comments like ‘why are you having a LIVE service?’ are written without even a hint of grace or the slightest smidgeon of the benefit of the doubt, it says much about how people can so quickly jump to cheap conclusions without knowing the real story. 

In response to the less savoury comments, we always graciously point out that there are clear signs on our Online Church service video’s saying “RECORDED PRE-LOCKDOWN”. But…this does not seem to satisfy some. It’s as if some of God’s children want to assume the worst of God’s other children, believing that a church would flagrantly disregard the law, gather people in a secret location each Sunday and then proceed to have a full on Sunday service which is aired live to thousands of people. Preposterous, hey? But when the pressure is on, a lot gets revealed.

Some of the emails have been interesting too. The unchurched have written kindly & generously, saying how much they’ve enjoyed the services. But some of the ‘Christian’ response has been accusatory and judgmental, written like a verdict being pronounced and guilt being delivered. You can almost see the triumphant smirk and the loud ‘GOTCHA!!!’ bellowing out as yet another pastor has been brought down to size by a morally superior Christian. But for what? When time passes, level heads will look back and shrivel with embarrassment at what they were willing to believe. 

So…at the risk of disappointing the disappointed…I can confirm that our services are NOT live. We would never disobey the law. They were pre-recorded before the lockdown – just like the sign says. We do livestream the services because the recordings run smoother this way. Meanwhile, while Online Church is happening on Sunday, you’ll find me in my living room, drinking yet another cup of tea, commenting on the preacher’s dodgy hair-do and personally answering some aggressive lines of questioning from irate Christians such as ‘WHY IS THIS LIVE?????’ (the fact I’m responding while I’m preaching should be a giveaway).

I know these are strange times. We, like every church, are seeking to lovingly pastor people through this desperately challenging season. Behind the scenes, our church has been supporting families, sending out food packages, creating support systems and lots more. Our church family have been truly amazing in all this. What has saddened my heart is the doubt & presumptions of some Christians who have been only too willing to pronounce a ‘guilty’ verdict without being sure of the facts. Oh for a day when God’s people would choose to believe the best of each other and not the worst. The real reason so many churches are in a state of decline is because the default culture is fearful & suspicious – the very opposite of God’s culture. Thing is, nothing will ever grow in a culture of suspicion….apart from fear.

Our world is in turmoil. It doesn’t need more suspicion & distrust. God’s people ought to be leading the way and cheering each other on….believing the best, speaking the best, bringing hope, and demonstrating faith. That’s what’s needed more than ever before. God help us rise to the challenge. The world is watching.