For at least a year now, we have been trying to cope with the reality of a pandemic that has taken the lives of a half-million Americans and multiple millions of others across the globe. Millions more have been afflicted with COVID-19, experiencing anything from mild to moderate symptoms and sadly others dealing with major health issues.
Yes, the vaccination process is making progress and people are responding to the opportunity to take advantage of receiving them, but we are still facing some uncertain times. However, there are hopeful signs that this extended pandemic may be abating soon.
During this time, churches have had to adapt in ways never before considered. Mostly the news of these efforts to adjust and adapt to this new reality are positive. Some churches are struggling more than others.
As we continue to face the uncertainties of this pandemic, I would like to offer a suggestion to church leaders, pastors and other staff members as well as laypeople. What I suggest is that we view the future of church life in terms of church revitalization. That seems obvious for us to consider, but what I am offering as a strategy template is for us to look at this recovery period as a two- to three-year timeframe.
The natural thought is that when the cloud of uncertainty leaves us that we will bounce back into the pre-COVID period, that is we will be back to an old normal. Without trying to be a pessimist, I do not see that in the near future. In my mind, every church will have to have some kind of church revitalization experience.
If that is the case, then we must develop the healthiest mindset for the future. What I am about to suggest is not any earthshaking breakthrough in thinking but a rather simple way to begin the process of becoming what the Lord wants us to be in the future. I hope these thoughts are in some way helpful to you.
We must develop the mindset of prayer as we face the future. During this pandemic, we may or may not have become more disciplined in prayer, but as we look to the future we must have a prayerful mindset.
In my email and text correspondences with pastors and church leaders, I ended the communication not with my usual “Blessings” but with “Prayerfully.” Like many of you, I have struggled to maintain a prayerful mindset during this time of unhealthiness. One would think that would not be a problem, but it can be for sure. Fear, frustration and fatigue have been some of the challenges to a healthy mindset during this period.
Uncertainty always creates a sense of fear and anxiety. That is a natural response, and we should not be ashamed to admit it. Prayer can be so therapeutic when we experience these emotions. We can remember the words of the old hymn “Standing on the Promises of God” and know we are on the Solid Rock.
There will be fear, frustration and fatigue as we look to the future. What will our lives be like when the COVID threat abates? What are the challenges our churches face as we seek to find a sense of direction for the future?
Prayer has a way of helping us stay connected to the One who knows the future. Prayer brings us together in almost inexplicable ways. The small things remain small, and the main mission looms large before us.
As we pray we can develop a sense of patience with ourselves and with others. I have heard pastors indicate that they have been impatient with themselves during this time of uncertainty. They expected so much more out of themselves than they seemed to have been able to accomplish.
Let me confess something to you. I am one of the most impatient persons on the planet. Mainly, I am impatient with myself. I think there is something more I can do than I am doing. There is always unfinished business before me.
Yes, there are times when I am impatient with others. Ask my wife and children. You might add my co-workers to the list as well. They know that I want things to go well and to do so on a timely basis.
In the future, our patience as church leaders will be tested even more than in the past. We will expect a quick comeback from the days of the COVID period. I am inclined to believe that will not happen as desired.
We all know we are people of life patterns and habits. During the pandemic, we may have developed some different life patterns and personal habits. These habits will take time to change.
Coming back to in-person worship and small groups like Sunday School will take more time than we may think. Be as patient with yourself and others as you can be. Patience almost always pays off.
Closely aligned with patience is the virtue of perseverance. When we are frustrated and fatigued, the tendency is to give up or back off. We have to develop the mindset of perseverance in order to withstand this tendency.
The Bible is replete with examples of perseverance. Moses and the children of Israel persevered in the midst of a prolonged time of living in the wilderness. There they had an extended course on how to depend upon God and to prepare for the Promised Land.
Perhaps this pandemic has been our wilderness experience preparing us for better days of service ahead. I pray that is the case.
When I am asked “How can I pray for you?”, almost without exception I say, “Pray that I will have sense enough to pray for daily wisdom for I am wisdom-challenged.” That response is a genuine one. Just like you, I can feel overwhelmed with all that is happening around me that I feel a bit helpless – but never hopeless.
Praying for wisdom, as admonished by James 1:5, will keep us centered. This kind of praying will remind us that God is still on His throne. No pandemic has changed that reality. It will also help to be humble before God.
This mindset of prayer, patience, perseverance and prudence is something of a template of thinking that can help us approach the future in a healthy, Christ-honoring way.
We have never had all the answers. In times of relative calm and stability, we can fall into a sense of self-sufficiency which can make us think, “I’ve got this.” This last year has reminded us that only God has control of the situation.
Yes, I am saddened by the deaths of so many people. Oh, yes, I have sympathized with those who are suffering. I have felt the fear, the frustration and the fatigue but now, like you, I am hopeful that our God can revitalize His churches. If we remember “We are laborers together with God,” we can work with an eternal perspective.
God uses us in His work, but we have to be usable, meaning we have to walk into this future with Him taking the lead. That kind of mindset is a healthy one for a future that is anything but certain.