I am often struck with fresh insight into passages of Scripture that seem to leap off the page. I may have read them over and over, but occasionally something grips my heart and imagination with a new intensity that will not go away.
The past year has been stunning. We have seen a global pandemic grip every nation. In the USA more than 500,000 people have died as a result of the COVID-19 virus. We have seen crises roll back and forth across various segments of the economy, creating panic on Wall Street, the shuttering of businesses, and the loss of jobs at unprecedented rates. Political turmoil has divided the nation and, in many cases, divided the church. Church attendance has plummeted as buildings were closed in order to avoid spreading the virus among congregations. We have seen social and racial tension boil over into riots and demonstrations across the nation.
We have been embroiled in crisis—not just one singular crisis but multiple crises all at the same time. A prevailing sense of fear, despair, and hopelessness has gripped the nation at several levels. Even churches and congregations are divided. The very existence of some congregations is at risk. Some churches have already closed their doors for good. Many pastors are torn by the conflicts occurring in their own congregations.
Is there any hope? Do we, as pastors and leaders of local congregations, have anything to say at a time like this?
In reading through the book of Esther recently, I was struck by the complexity of the situation facing the Jews who were in exile under the thumb of the Persian king and his empire, facing extinction at the hand of their captors. As familiar as I am with Esther, the phrases that stood out to me most graphically this week were spoken by Mordecai to his niece, Esther. She was Jewish but had been selected by the king to become a member of his harem. An edict had been issued that on a given day all the Jews across the empire were subject to plunder and execution. It was a life-and-death situation. It was risky for Esther to dare to approach the king without being summoned, but Mordecai was insistent that dangerous times require courageous risk. “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” he said. The remarkable story reveals the finger of God at work on behalf of the Jewish people.
When cynicism, denial, fear, and hopelessness seem to have gripped many people across the globe, it is at this time when our pastors have opportunity to speak with courage, hope, and the assurance of God’s help for our people.
I have been reflecting on the role of our pastors in these remarkable times. When cynicism, denial, fear, and hopelessness seem to have gripped many people across the globe, it is at this time when our pastors have opportunity to speak with courage, hope, and the assurance of God’s help for our people. It is necessary that our local leaders begin to make plans for how we will move into a new reality. Post-pandemic life and worship will likely be different from before the massive disruption. Careful planning will be necessary, and creative and innovative strategies for reaching people for Christ and the kingdom of God will require that we do our very best thinking as we move into the irresistible future. But careful planning must be built on a premise. The beginning point is not our ingenuity or innovative ideas. The beginning point is our call.
The beginning point is not our ingenuity or innovative ideas. The beginning point is our call.
Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17–20a: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
The premise is the basis on which we plan for whatever the Lord places on our hearts and in our hands. We have to plan carefully, thoroughly, and with great awareness of the needs of the church and the community around the church. The “ways and means” of our ministries will vary from place to place, but the significance of what you are doing as a pastor—as a leader in your local church and in your community—cannot be overstated. Perhaps at no other time in our lives has the role of the pastor in every church and community been more significant. In a culture that is desperate for hope as we seek to recover from the most divisive period in recent history, we need guidance. The voice of the pastor, the preacher, the servant of the Word of God, the ambassador for Christ, is vital for helping us shape a new future in our world.
We did not get to choose the time of our ministry, but here we are. And who knows but that you have come to this position as pastor for such a time as this? May God provide you a fresh awareness of the eternal significance of your ministry. Here is the way the apostle Paul put it: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b).
God Bless you, Pastor!