I was talking to my friend, Irwin, on the phone a few days ago. Irwin is a pastor in another part of the US, and every time I talk to him I get my battery charged. Let me give you an example of why I say that.
We were discussing re-opening churches and how some folks are still a bit skittish about coming to worship with a large group. He mentioned, just incidentally, about a baptismal service they had recently conducted in their church. I said, “Irwin, that’s wonderful…you had a baptismal service! Praise the Lord.” He seemed surprised that I seemed surprised. I said something like, “I guess you didn’t get the memo…this is a tough environment to do outreach.” Then I asked, “How many did you baptize?” “Ahh, fifteen adults,” he said quietly.
I reflected on that. Fifteen baptisms is more than most typical churches in our faith group baptize in a year. Under normal soul winning conditions. (Whatever those are.) I was quiet for a long time, processing what he had just told me. Then I said something brilliant like, “Irwin, what are you doing that we’re not? I need to go to school on you.”
He responded with an unintentional educational rebuke. He said something like, “We knew we were in over our heads – which has often been true for the church. We knew we didn’t have a clue how to strategize for growth when our building was closed…we were fresh out of ideas, stumped, stymied, stalled. Only one suggestion from our Elder Board made sense: ‘We’ve got to pray,’ they agreed.
“So we did. I’ve never seen the leadership of this church rise to an assignment so eagerly. We prayed prayers of repentance that God would forgive us for even thinking of easing up in our outreach because it was going to be more difficult. This Movement, after all, was born in a storm. We asked Him to deepen our love for our neighbors who don’t know Jesus. We prayed that He would take away the selfishness that would cause us to think about our own well-being before the eternal well-being of others. We asked Him to give us creativity so we could be responsible citizens yet not lose what makes us strong. Like congregational singing…how about a majestic anthem on the screen with the congregation humming in accompaniment? I mean, what can be unpatriotic about that?…you don’t spit when you’re humming. And wearing a mask.
“We prayed that God would choreograph contacts over our backyard fences, give us gentle courage for the providential chats from 6’ away in the checkout line at the market, that He’d bring people to our Zoom services who hadn’t planned to join us. That He’d make us good listeners when others had questions, that we’d exude faith when others were afraid, that there would be a radiance in our countenance always, born of trust.
“It hasn’t been perfect. Sometimes we fail,” Irwin noted. “Sometimes we miss opportunities. But He’s coaching us. We’re learning to listen. We’ll get better at this assignment. Meanwhile we can hardly wait to see where He is going to take us during the next storm.”
By Don Jacobsen