On Sunday January 5, 2020 I walked to the pulpit at Lakeside Baptist Church and preached a message entitled “Power for 2020.” The message was the beginning of a series through the book of Acts and the focus was on how we need the power of the Lord in our day more than anything else. 2019 had been a very good year in the life of our church family with so much good news to celebrate and many trends moving in the right direction. As a pastor, I was hopeful, encouraged, and anticipating what I believed to be a banner year. I told the church that. Little did I know that, even as I preached on January 5th, a microscopic virus that would come to be known as COVID-19 was already circling the globe and chaos was not far behind. I won’t further traumatize you with a recap of all of the chaos that 2020 brought to us. Every reader of this blog can well describe it. My goal for this post is to reflect and look ahead. Please allow me to share my personal reflections on 2020…
The pandemic has been the first event in my lifetime that has affected everyone. As a child of the 70’s, I have seen recessions, wars, political crises, social unrest, huge natural disasters, and the like. However, the affects of those crises often depended on where you lived or your family’s socioeconomic status. Many people were largely unaffected by even the harshest events. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every single person profoundly. Intertwined with a global pandemic, we have also experienced a recession, social unrest, political crises, and huge natural disasters. Because of this fact, I am led to a related conclusion…
2020 will prove to be a transformational year. Because of all that has happened due to COVID-19, profound and enduring changes have taken place. Every single business person I talk with tells me that all of this has profoundly altered HOW they do business and think about the future of their business. Every single one. Same with doctors and educators. Yes, it’s also the same with pastors and church leaders. While I am hopeful that some point in 2021 will find us able to go about our lives without fear of COVID-19, I am absolutely confident that 2021 will bring into focus the lasting changes that this year has wrought. Yes, we will get back to “normal” but it will be a “NEW normal.” Our places of employment, our schools, our churches and everything else will never again be exactly like they were in February 2020.
2020 has acquainted us with profound grief that we need to acknowledge. We grieve what we have lost. Certainly, many many are grieving due to the death of loved ones due to COVID-19 or other reasons. Others are grieving the loss of their business or the loss of their career. Our nation has grieved together over the death of George Floyd and a number of other well publicized cases where deaths seemed unjust or senseless. Certainly, the toxic political and moral climate of our country is a source of grief. I recently had a senior adult in our church tell me, “Pastor, I am grieving the loss of my country.” To a lesser degree, but no less real is our grief over the loss of so many milestone events. Having Christmas by ZOOM brings a sense of grief all its own. Now, think about adding all of this together and bundling it into one year. At first the word for 2020 was FEAR, but I personally wonder if it has been supplanted by GRIEF.
Social media magnifies how we experience everything. I am convinced that one reason 2020 has found so many of us struggling with our mental health is that we have spent most of the year glued to our smart phones. It’s one thing to read about horrible events on the front page of a newspaper. It’s another to experience them in almost real time from one feed refresh to the next. It’s even another thing to experience the immediate (and often toxic) feedback that comes with every single event. No matter the occasion, we see it, feel it, and discuss it in ways that were unthinkable only a few years ago. This fact isn’t necessarily a healthy one for us all.
The church’s resilience in 2020 must be channeled for opportunity in 2021. Like many churches, our church at Lakeside has navigated 2020 continuing to worship, make disciples, live in community with one another, and serving our community. I would never say the Lord has brought our church through 2020 unscathed, but I do believe the Lord has brought our church (and many others) through 2020 in a way that has prepared us for the work we have to do in 2021. Count me as one who believes that the church has a great opportunity before it in 2021. The Lord has us alive and serving Him at this time in history. We must be faithful and move forward in 2021 toward greater prayer, greater effectiveness, greater connections with our communities, and deeper community among believers. As people weary from months of isolation become more comfortable congregating and gathering with one another again in months to come, the church has an opportunity to connect with people in a fresh way. Yes, we will welcome many of our church members back to church, but we have an opportunity to reach many new people who will be searching for personal connection.
We must have the courage to revision and reshape our churches in key ways. I used to say “If your church is waiting on the 1950’s to come back, it has no future.” Now I will say, “If your church is waiting on February 2020 to come back, it has no future.” Any church who thinks that they can just wait on the pandemic to be over so that they can resume business as usual is sorely mistaken. Why do I say that? Because business as usual isn’t coming back. Ever. We must get a fresh wind of the Spirit, fueling fresh commitment and fresh vision for the future. As a pastor of a local church, COVID-19 brought clarity in many ways. The strengths of our church and areas of health became clear very quickly. In the same way, it also became clear that a significant portion of what we were doing was having very little real impact. We were only doing it because we had done it for so long or because we didn’t want to upset people. In 2021, our church (and all others who want to have a future) must put more prayer, effort, and resources in activities that make the most impact, and have the courage to not bring back activities that accomplished very little.
If we haven’t fasted and prayed for revival in America, it’s time to start. 2020 has laid bare the utter brokenness of our country. In my lifetime, our country has never been more divided in every way. In the brokenness and chaos of our land, a mighty revival can come. A heaven sent, Holy Spirit empowered revival is the only thing that can change our country.
I choose to enter 2021 with hope because my hope is in the Lord. Even though 2020 has been the most difficult year of our lifetime, we are not alone in experiencing such anguish and heartache. The prophet Jeremiah had experienced the horrendous year of 586 B.C. and, with destruction all around him, Jeremiah chose hope…
“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”” (Lamentations 3:21–24, NASB95)
Take heart, dear friend. Great is HIS faithfulness.