MASKS AND THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH

I grew up in the country of Pakistan, where my parents served as missionaries. They chose to follow the cultural ways of their adopted country to reach the people for Christ. Dad wore the shalwar kameez, the loose pants, and baggy shirt, that were the common clothing of the Pakistani men. Mom wore the female version of the shalwar kameez but added the dupatta, the scarf head covering, wherever she went. While she would have preferred to do her own shopping, she hired a man to do it for her because women were not accepted in the marketplace.

Why? Were they forced to make these changes? No. As foreigners, they had every legal right to wear western clothing. They could have stood up for their rights as Americans, even in a foreign country. Why then did they change their lifestyles? They followed a missional mindset.

A missional mindset is founded on two biblical principles. 1) We adopt the ways of the people we want to reach for Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul says, “though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.” One important caveat is that we must not compromise God’s moral or theological truth. 2) We relinquish our rights to follow Christ wherever He leads (Mt. 16:24-25). My parents often repeated the adage, “where He leads me, I will follow, what He feeds me, I will swallow.” My parents didn’t like all they had to give up, but they did it gladly for Christ. A disciple finds his life by losing his life!

COVID-19 AND THE CHURCH

We are living in challenging times for the church. COVID-19 has radically changed how we “do” church. Government requirements have forced Christians to have uncomfortable conversations about limiting attendance, social distancing, and wearing masks. Christians and churches disagree, sometimes vehemently, over how to respond to these requirements. Some argue that churches and pastors should stand up to the government and fight for our rights to worship as we please. Others argue that churches should submit to the government in these matters.

There is disunity within churches. Some Christians refuse to wear masks, saying it is unconstitutional and unnecessary. Others insist we must wear masks because they will protect against the spread of the virus. Pastors are caught in the middle. Masks have become symbols for our partisan convictions. Not wearing masks symbolizes standing up for our rights, an inherently self-focused perspective. It is about me, my rights, and the belief that the virus is not a serious health threat. Wearing masks symbolizes that we care about our communities and want to keep others safe. It is about taking science seriously, accepting the reality of the epidemic, and following the advice of medical professionals to stop the spread of COVID-19.

What if we approach the discussion from a missional mindset? We may disagree about the efficacy or necessity of wearing masks. Our political persuasions may lead us to different perspectives. However, let us consider the question of masks from a missional mindset. Our personal opinions do not matter once we adopt a missional mindset. A singular question frames the missional mindset.
 
What will help us reach our communities for Christ? 
 
Our rights and our likes do not matter in a missional mindset. We can argue about the necessity or even efficacy of wearing masks, but what will help us communicate to the world that we care about them and their needs?

WEARING MASKS

The purpose behind wearing masks is to protect other people from our germs. The mask wearer has only limited protection, so we don’t wear masks to protect ourselves. We wear masks to protect others from our germs. Wearing masks is about caring for others. My mask doesn’t protect me. It protects you. Your mask protects me. So, if you don’t wear a mask, you don’t care about me. This is the message behind the growing insistence on wearing masks.

Recent studies show us that America is accepting the reality of masks. Almost 9 in 10 people have worn masks in public in the last seven days. In a recent poll, 72% say they “always” or “very often” wear a mask outside the home. Another survey found that 75% of Americans believe people should wear masks in public. Retailers now require that masks be worn inside their stores. Target, Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, Kohls, Starbucks, and most grocery stores now require masks to be worn inside their buildings. Delta announced the policy that they will not accept passengers on their airplanes who do not wear masks even if the passenger claims a medical exemption. They will invite the person to fly on another airline.

A MISSIONAL MINDSET

Our world is rapidly, if reluctantly, accepting the idea that wearing a mask is the simplest and best way to protect others and stop the spread of the virus. More and more people believe that masks should be worn in public places. What then do mask free and rights-oriented churches say to our communities? We are telling people we don’t care about them. Of course, a missional mindset goes far beyond masks. Are we missional in the way we try to meet the needs of people in our communities? Do we adopt programs, policies, and ministries that focus on us or others? This pandemic is a great opportunity to look for ways to be missional in our communities. The churches that use this time to be missional will come out of 2020 growing and vibrant. The churches that focus on Christian rights and likes will come out of 2020 shriveling and struggling. Masks are symbols of our attitudes so:

Would we wear masks to reach our communities for Christ?