“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”– Romans 6:9-11 (New Revised Standard Version)
Over the summer, I have been checking in with the pastors across the Alexandria District to see how they are doing and how their churches are doing. I have discovered something worth marveling over. Just about everywhere I have heard that it has not been easy, adjusting to the impact of a pandemic that is lasting longer than we first thought it would. Just about everywhere I have heard that both the pastors and the churches are doing okay.
Just about everywhere I have heard about unexpected opportunities for ministry that have opened up to reach people with tangible signs of love and hope and faith which are tremendous resources in these troubling times. It has not been easy for pastors and congregations to add the racial justice movement alongside the pandemic as a matter for pastoral and prophetic engagement, but we have done it. It has not been easy to figure out how to go about the ministry of the church without the full use of our buildings, but we have done it. It has not been easy to re-invent ourselves as churches who worship together online and study together online and fellowship together online and have committee meetings together online, but we have done it. It has not been easy to figure out how to provide financial support when we cannot take an offering the way we have been accustomed to doing, but we have done it. In some places it has been more of a struggle than in others, but everywhere it has happened. The church has pivoted and pivoted effectively. From adaptive children ministries to older adults becoming online savvy, we have all made significant changes. Many have stepped forward to take on new roles and more responsibilities, to do what it takes to assure that the life and ministry of the Church remains alive and vital.
None of this is anything to be taken for granted. I can now confess that when the pandemic first hit home, in mid-March, and we had to shut down the church buildings at the same time as millions of people were losing their jobs, I thought that there would be some congregations that would not survive. I thought that the major changes that were needed along with what I thought would be the inevitable loss of offerings from people who would cut back on their giving … I thought it would be too much for some of our churches to bear, and that we would see some churches having to not only close their doors but to close their churches. But I was wrong. Throughout the summer, I have been listening for pastors to tell me that their church is in dire need of financial help, but I did not hear the first pastor asking for any financial help. I have been listening for pastors to tell me that their people have stopped “coming to church” online because it is so different and so difficult to receive the spiritual strength they are looking for, but I have not heard the first pastor report a drastic fall-off in participation.
Instead what I have heard from many pastors is that they are reaching people online whom they would never have reached otherwise; people are becoming members of our churches without ever having stepped foot in our buildings, let alone met in person with anybody from the church. Churches are developing new ministries to meet emerging needs in their communities. Churches are engaging in significant racial justice groups and even marches. In short, while it is not easy, the Church is actually thriving through the pandemic in ways that it may not have otherwise thrived. Who would have thought it? My best hope in March would have been that we would manage to survive. But what I have discovered has been so much more!
It’s like a perfect storm has hit us: public health pandemic, economic slowdown, racial justice upsurge, family life stresses, mounting mental health anxieties, and intensifying political pressures. All of this has pulled the rug out from under what we thought was our normal way of life. It has thrown us for a loop, knocked us off our feet. And what has been the response? I would have expected some to be done in; others to be severely harmed; and still others to bounce back. This has certainly been the case when we think of individuals: some have died; others have been deeply stricken; and others have come through seemingly unscathed. But in the churches I have been checking on, it has been remarkable. Everywhere … everywhere we have bounced back. It is not what I would have predicted. It is irrational and hard to believe.
Until we remember Jesus. Then it is like, “Of course!” What else would we expect? Jesus is crucified, dead and buried. On the third day He rose from the dead! I am discovering anew how the power of Jesus’ Resurrection is very much with us, even in the face of suffering and death. The resilience I am seeing everywhere in the life of the Church is one way we experience the power of Jesus’ Resurrection in us and among us. After all, what is the DNA of the Church if it is not the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? That is what we are made of. So, of course, we will pivot. Of course, we will bounce back. Of course, we will thrive.
I believe God is clearly stirring things up on Planet Earth these days. The mission of God includes much more than the Church. But the Church cannot stop. The Church is a critical part of God’s mission in the world. We bear witness to the hope of the world, through our life and ministry and mission together. We bear witness to the Risen Christ who is with us. He comes to save the world from the power of sin and death and to raise us to newness of life in the power of God’s everlasting love.
Behold, my friends! Marvel at what is happening. Is it not proof, for those with eyes to see, that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. Indeed, in the Lord, our labor is essential for the hope of the world’s salvation. Keep up the good work, everyone! The Lord is with us. Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,