I love that line in American TV programmes that says "We don't leave anyone behind". It fills you with that wonder of bravery, adventure and the willingness to risk all for the person that cannot get home by themselves. The soldier who isn't injured making the decision to put the injured man before themselves, and getting them home at any cost.
We as the viewers are left in awe at how a person can risk so much rather than leave someone behind, even to the point of possibly losing their own lives.
As Christians, we can see an even better story in the life of Jesus, and with His example ringing in our hearts we live our lives longing for no person to be left behind in hearing the good news of Him.
In light of that, what lessons have we learnt from Covid and what will the Church look like post-pandemic?
Many leaders from various denominations have said that the Church cannot go back to what it was before this virus slammed into the country, but have we changed?
Personally, I feel Covid has given us the chance to learn lessons we should have learnt before, but not everyone has learnt them. We, as a Church are still leaving people behind, just as we did before.
Churches seemed to be learning. Some proclaimed that their eyes had been opened; never again would they leave people behind and ignore the needs of those unable to leave their homes.
But some who learned lessons quickly forgot them again as we started to meet in person and 'get back to a little bit of normal' before the second wave hit. For many, even with the vaccines, normal won't be happening for a while and we're at risk of leaving them behind.
Will the Church look different? It should, because we after all will be different. No one will come through this pandemic unscathed, even without contracting the virus. Therefore, we need to learn the lessons and act on them with great speed.
The rise in mental health difficulties in our communities will be reflected in our churches too. It will affect not just congregations but also those in leadership. This is just one of many reasons the Church should look different.
Streaming services online has helped people for whom long-term illness and disability have prevented them from going to church in person for years. Those unable to be part of the community for so long were once again part of it, able to use their many gifts to bless the Church and in turn be blessed.
But here we are again, with some saying that we need to stop the livestreams because apparently they mean that some Christians won't want to come back 'because they prefer the easy option of the sofa'. In other words, we stop the livestream to get bums on seats because apparently this is more important than serving those who cannot get into our buildings.
Now we are allowed back into buildings, some leaders say that our speakers 'have' to be in the building to speak rather than recording or streaming – because that is what 'people prefer', thus once again cutting out the gifts of not just the disabled, but others still clinically vulnerable to Covid.
In this pandemic, those with any kind of disability, long-term illness or additional need have been the hardest hit and will need the Church to continue to be a place of safety, even when a form of normality begins to return. Please don't leave anyone behind because of personal preference.
What lessons can we learn?
Firstly, we have a big God, a good, kind and merciful God. He is bigger than the congregants we fear we have lost – we can leave that with Him and care well for the ones we have, even the ones that cannot physically be present in our buildings.
He is bigger than the inability to sing – He can see the other ways we worship, and that includes the sacrifice of praise of not singing for the sake of others, and it is a sweet smell of worship to Him.
Secondly, there is this from Micah 6:8 (NIRV): "The Lord has shown you what is good. He has told you what he requires of you. You must act with justice. You must love to show mercy. And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God."
The Bible is clear in what is good; the Lord has shown us – and bums on seats isn't mentioned. However, caring for the vulnerable and not leaving them behind when some normality returns is. Acting with justice is vital, and this is the area in which the Church has excelled during the pandemic – especially for those hit hard financially. We need to continue and not miss out those we feel are more difficult to support.
Mercy is needed more than ever. Measure your thoughts and actions by the level God sets; love being merciful; don't begrudgingly give it.
And be humble in the sight of God, remembering that whatever we do is in God's strength and the result of us pressing into Him. Doing everything with His wisdom, grace and holiness – not our own.
All these lessons are not just for the leaders. What we need to learn and how we need to change is for every one of us.
So go forward knowing the greatness of God and the need to be just and merciful ... and don't leave anyone behind.
That way, the Church will never be the same.