Greetings again friends,
In recent days, I have reflected back upon the second week of March in 2020. On Monday, March 9, 2020, Pastor Jim and I spent the day down in Indian Trail at a North American Mission Board workshop. We spent much of the day talking about our health and safety procedures for the coming Sunday. By Wednesday evening, my blessed Tar Heels had lost a basketball game to Syracuse University. By Thursday morning, we’d learn that Carolina’s game was the last game played in the conference tournament. As “normal” seemed to be grinding to a screeching halt, I attended a Baptist State Convention prayer gathering in Pleasant Garden, where I spent two hours on my knees with a couple of hundred other pastors across North Carolina weeping over the condition of the lost and pleading to God for revival and spiritual awakening. It’s also worth noting that this was the day Pastor Jim left town for a three-week sabbatic period on an Outer Bank. By the time Saturday’s portion of that gathering drew to a close on March 14, 2020, I had received a telephone call from Bradley Cheek. As you know, Brad wasn’t just a highly-respected Deacon, he was a chief within King’s Fire Department. He had been in a conference call with the head of our state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and within twenty minutes of speaking with him, I had made four more telephone calls, and we had made the decision to cancel a public gathering on Sunday, March 15, 2020.
Needless to say, our church changed greatly that weekend. We now know that the Church has changed – the world over – since that weekend. A three-and-a-half-month lack of public gathering forced us to bolster our technological abilities. We re-ordered ministry priorities, dividing up the directory in order to call a member of every family, every two weeks. Pastor Jim, Pastor Luke, and I spent grueling hours making decisions that had taken minutes before we’d ever heard “corona virus”. We wrestled through how to re-gather, and which elements of our church’s ministries needed to return before others. I am so thankful for the wisdom and patience of our Deacons in serving and leading our church to keep our people safe and healthy, and to keep us on the mission of advancing the Kingdom.
Over the past two years, churches have lost people because they didn’t take CoViD-19 seriously enough, endangering themselves. Others have lost people because they took CoViD-19 too seriously, allowing fear to paralyze everything, thereby neutering the churches’ ability to further the great Good News! Perhaps worse, some haven’t lost any people, but are tearing themselves apart in fights that I believe grieves our Savior. Still other churches allowed a completely septic political climate to creep into its “ministry” efforts. In hearing these horror stories from other pastors (across multiple denominations), I am profoundly thankful that God has protected the unity of our church as we have labored to navigate these past twenty-four months. I don’t think we’ve done anything perfectly, but God has graciously sowed humility, selflessness, and patience across our congregation, thereby allowing us to remain together, focused upon God’s mission, and loving one another faithfully along the way!
I saw an article from LifeWay’s research department several weeks ago highlighting trends across the Church at large, and I see it’s reality in our own expression of the Body of Christ. It read that the Church has generally been broken into thirds. It claimed that about 33% of believers had become side-lined in the past 24 months. Our attendance numbers roughly reflect this. The article gives a number of possible reasons. This could be a result of genuine reservation due to health issues. This could also be due to new habits formed (think of the people that are “back to doing everything, but church”). This could also be due to a sifting between wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30 [I have no insight here; I’m leaving this in the hand the Sovereign]). This could also be due to folks that are hurt, or even angry, due to being neglected, hurt by their church, or even actively pushed away. The next 33%, according to the article, are those that have faithfully tried to carry on through the pandemic. In some ways, they have done more and worked harder since March 2020. This third is generally tired, just hanging on, and experiencing fatigue – internal and external. The article discussed how these numbers are applicable at the level of individual believers, but also applicable at the level of churches corporately.
The final 33%, are those that have experienced true spiritual growth during the past two years. This could be a direct result of God turning their world upside down and re-ordering their priorities. This could include folks that have experienced His grace or the love of a church family during this difficult time. This includes those that have been clearly reminded of the world’s brokenness and burdened under the lostness of their neighbors. This also includes those for whom God killed their distractions, and sitting at home in silence allowed them to hear His still, small voice drawing them into His loving arms!
I believe that many of us might be in the second group, but I am fully committed to letting God move us as a church squarely into this final third. I want many of us to be in the final third! Where are you? Are you tired? Do you need to rest in the strong arms of our Creator? Have you become distracted? Is He calling you back onto the court from the side-line? Are you on your knees pleading to the God of the universe for revival and spiritual awakening? It may be two years before you can see it, but are you allowing Him to draw near to you and working to draw unto Him?
Praise the Lord, His mercy is more! Stronger than darkness,
new every morn; our sins, they are many, His mercy is more!
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds