It was September 16, 2001 the first Sunday following the horrific terrorist attacks on 9/11. I had been scheduled to preach that Sunday morning for over a month and my pastor had called me and wanted to make sure I still was willing to speak. While my faith that God would give me the right message was strong; I don’t know that I was completely prepared for the look in people’s eyes and their heaviness of heart when I spoke that day.
As a former Marine, I had lost brothers in the Beirut Bombing in 1983. I had been taught all about the losses of life on islands like Iwo Jima and others during World War II. All of that gave me some perspective about 9/11, that my congregation did not have.
They had questions. They wanted to know how God could let something like that happen. I’m sure many of you Pastors are hearing the same questions and seeing similar looks during this time of uncertainty. On a day when churches were filled with people seeking comfort, God was faithful. He gave me a message different from the one I had prepared. While many thought, nothing like this had ever happened I shared about David in 1 Samuel chapter 30. I reminded them of Job and how in just a few moments he went from having it all to having nothing.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 says “there is nothing new under the sun”. While we may have never experienced anything like the coronavirus pandemic, God isn’t surprised. This crisis will afford the church an opportunity to show the love of Jesus in tremendous ways. To borrow a line from Olympic Hockey coach Herb Brooks, great moments are born from great opportunities, and churches are being given a chance to connect with their people on a level that may not happen again.
In the days and prayerfully only a few weeks ahead, as the world seems to swing from one extreme to another, people will want something to anchor themselves to, that gives them hope and a firm place to stand. Remember the words of the old hymn; “on Christ the solid rock I stand”; we as leaders need to be pointing people seeking answers to that rock. While this crisis continues you will have the chance to present the gospel to people that have not heard it,that have rejected it or are realizing that there may just be something to this whole Jesus thing. Take extra time in prayer and ask God for the best seed to plant in these unique patches of soil.
Pastor Brian Bowman of the Harney County Church of the Nazarene in Burns, Oregon thinks that this time will be a defining moment for the church. We will be dealing with the complexities of “virtual services”, social distancing, keeping connected and trying to provide face-to-face ministries and services that many in our congregation require. Along with that comes the burden, especially in smaller churches, of maintaining our financial support. It will be easy to focus on continuing the “business of the church” so much that we get distracted from the real “work “of the church. Brian shared that while many issues present challenges, the biggest challenge he sees is continuing to keep the flock interdependent the way Christ intended us to be.
Hebrews 10:25 says “And let us not neglect our meeting together as some people do, but encourage one another especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Pastor Bowman sees an incredible opportunity to really reach out and be Jesus to people that will need it. He’s already seeing growth in some of his people in their willingness to provide for other members of the congregation. Even newer and younger people in the church are looking for ways to help people. While that encourages him, he spoke of concern for folks who may disconnect because they can easily get out of the habit of coming to church. Another thing that comes along with times of difficulty are “Crisis Christians”, people who turn to God during trouble but have no use for him once life returns to normal. It can be very demoralizing as a church member to reach out to new people with kindness and compassion only to see them disappear when the crisis is over. As a shepherd pays much closer attention to his flock as they traverse dangerous ground, make sure you’re keeping a watchful eye on all the people in your flock.
Refining moments lay ahead for the church as we are tested in ways many of us have not experienced before. We will have the opportunity to prove our faith, prove our resolve, prove to a skeptical and jaded world that we are the people of God that we say we are. People will be thirsty for assurance and truth, let’s make sure we’re providing them living water and not some sugary beverage. As leaders we must be prayerfully grounded, scripturally sound and Christ-centered in all that we do, but even more so during this time of tremendous opportunity. God has gifted us with a chance to shine a light in the darkness. And as he did for me on that Sunday morning 19 years ago, he will supply all that we need if we seek, trust and obey.