Lament, Perseverance, Innovation and Purpose
Thank you for faithful, innovative ministry in a difficult year!
I asked the editors to put that opening sentence in large type so you would be sure to get my message. I have been hearing so much about the pastors and local churches of our Conference doing such great ministry under highly stressful and unusual circumstances. I am grateful for what God is doing through you!
I want to share thoughts about four words based on the biblical stories about the exile. The starting text is Psalm 137 which begins, “By the rivers of Babylon– there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” God’s people were taken from their homeland and from the Jerusalem Temple. Life was upended for them in a major disaster.
I grieve the deaths of so many. I grieve African-Americans killed by police. I grieve polarization in our country over political differences. I lament this year and the lack of gathering in person for weekly worship, for annual conference, for clergy gathering and regular committee meetings. I miss you!
Yet Scripture teaches us perseverance. Ezekiel had a vision during the exile about a valley full of dry bones. He heard God say, “Mortal, can these bones live?” He answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” (Ezekiel 37: The message was clear—God was going to give Israel new life.
We can focus on God during this crazy year and trust that he will lead us through. Reading Scripture reminds us that God’s people have faced difficulties in the past, and that God is always faithful.
The proverbial saying teaches us that “necessity is the mother of invention.” This crisis has encouraged innovation! More churches are offering online worship. More small groups are meeting through the internet. More people are giving by bank drafts and digital donations. More churches are engaging with their public schools. In many places where these ministries were already in place, improvements in quality and outreach have been implemented. We are going to be different at the end of this pandemic, and in some ways we will be better.
The guiding principle behind our innovation is staying focused on our purpose. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is unchanging. But when circumstances change and new opportunities arise, an unchanging purpose requires changing tactics and strategies.
While these are difficult times, God is good and our faith is strong. We will lament, but we will also persevere, innovate and remain committed to our purpose.