Happy anniversary! This week, we recognize that it has been a full year since the world changed. Twelve months of mask-wearing, getting groceries delivered, and ordering too much take-out to “support small businesses.” It’s also been 12 months that we have been waiting for everything to get back to normal. But normal was broken.
It’s easy to look back at pre-Covid life with distorted lenses, reflecting on the good old days; but we still had problems then. “Committed” members of our churches still only showed up 1.8 Sundays out of the month. Families were still broken. Sin still reared its ugly head too many times.
Sometimes God needs to break our normal in order to do something better. Yes, it’s frustrating that we’ve had to become experts in virology, air purification systems, and social distancing, but what else has God done through this pandemic era to draw us closer to Him? Instead of hoping things will go back to normal, let’s look for opportunities to serve God in this new, broken normal. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I believe that God works for good, even in the darkest circumstances. As James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (ESV)
Here’s a few things that I count as pure joy over these last 12 months:
THE CHURCH WAS NEVER CLOSED
Many of us had to preach to empty sanctuaries, or maybe we led worship services from our living rooms, but the Church was never closed. You’ve probably preached to your congregation for years that the Church is not about a building, but some people finally saw that for the first time because of Covid. We saw God’s people stepping up in amazingly simple ways to love their neighbors as themselves. Because of Covid, when our township’s government-run food pantry shut down, our congregation stepped up, collecting and distributing food to our less-fortunate neighbors from the front porch of our building. Because of Covid, the Church was able to bring Good News in the form of Shop Rite gift cards and canned beans. Some of your congregations have gone way beyond our paltry food distribution program, and I praise God for that! Because of Covid, our neighbors have been able to see that there’s something different about God’s people.
THE CHURCH WAS BROUGHT INTO THE 21ST CENTURY
Remember those early Covid-Sundays when the Church broke the internet? The biggest tech giants couldn’t handle the traffic from the amount of new worship services being streamed live between 9 and 11am on Sunday mornings. When I first learned of the connectivity issues that so many churches were having, I couldn’t help but smile. The Good News broke the internet.
We all know that the internet can be an incredibly dark place, but we also serve an amazing God who promised that not even the gates of Hell could stand against the power behind His Church. On top of forcing the tech behemoths to build more robust platforms, so many of our congregations made monumental leaps forward in the way that they do what we do. Because of Covid, the Church has opened her eyes to the possibilities that technology has laid at her feet. Our worship services are no longer limited to our four walls. At a time when people were recognizing how desperately they needed it, the Church was able to pop up right in their newsfeed, bringing hope to the hopeless. Because of Covid, we all became Zoom professionals – leading small groups, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and youth group from the comfort of our sweat pants. Virtual services will never take the place of in-person gatherings, but now we all have an extra tool to bring the Good News to the nations.
PRIORITIES WERE REARRANGED
We’re too busy, and we often wear it as a badge of honor. But at least for a while, we recognized that we don’t need to be in the rat race. It was okay to sit back and enjoy time with the family. We recognized that we didn’t need to go to the store for that one small thing – it could wait. Because of Covid, we’ve been gifted the freedom to decide what is essential and non-essential in our lives.
WE GOT THE GIFT OF TIME
Just think of all the extra hours that your congregation got back this past year just by not having to commute to work. Living in Central Jersey, many of our congregants were commuting up to four hours a day into the City just to get to and from their jobs – jobs that they quickly learned they could do just as well from home. Because of Covid, I have gotten to spend most of my days this past year watching my kids grow up – not just at the end of the day, but all throughout the day. Because of Covid, my kids have gotten spontaneously chased around the house in the middle of the day – because I could.
So as you lead your congregations to embrace whatever the new normal is from here, remember to look at the trials that God gives you with joy. He wants to break your normal to do something better.