The year 2020 has proved to be one of the most challenging years for the Body of Christ, the Church, all over the world.
I’m not going to lie, at the start of the pandemic my pioneers’ heart was energized by all the new opportunities surrounding my congregation. I was excited to innovate and adapt in ways that prior to the pandemic were literally a pipedream. It was as though the Church may have finally decided to join the 21st century.
As the days, weeks and months have gone by the Church has also been hit with decisions of how to respond to systemic racism, a myriad of natural disasters, an increasingly divisive political climate, and a myriad of local context issues. All of this has weighed heavily on my heart. I, like many of my colleagues, feel bankrupt in so many areas of our overall wellbeing. It is as though we are stuck in the middle of a desert with no food, no water no shelter, and no clear direction while the sun beats down. Many of us are asking, “is it over yet?”
Lost in the Wilderness
There are so many valid reasons I could list for the depletion of my energy that seems to never recharge. I mean I am not the only pastor who has members of the congregation tell them “your long break must be nice” when in reality many of us have been working double the amount of time without margin for anything. I’m not the only pastor who spends 5+ hours a week on Zoom. I’m not the only pastor who longs for the day that we can be closer in proximity to those most vulnerable. I’m not the only pastor who had to wait a few extra months to be ordained. I’m not the only pastor who has had to bury family members. I’m not the only pastor who has had to pass up opportunities because she felt she couldn’t add one more thing to her plate. I’m not the only pastor who has debated quitting. All of these certainly add to the level of depletion and lostness that I feel.I am not the only pastor who has members of the congregation tell them “your long break must be nice” when in reality many of us have been working double the amount of time without margin for anything. Click To Tweet
However, the biggest life sucker of my soul is the fact that I can see the giant leap into the 21st century the Church made six months ago turning into what feels like at least 100 steps backward. I’ve read re-entry plans from churches that focus solely on current members. I’ve witnessed churches refusing to open up a dialogue about the suffering of our black brothers and sisters endure. I’ve heard churches making decisions regarding finances that focus primarily on survival of preferences. And more often than not, conversations that may start with where the Church is at quickly turn into how we best preserve what was instead of what could be. This makes me realize that many churches feel lost in the wilderness as well.More often than not, conversations that may start with where the Church is at quickly turn into how we best preserve what was instead of what could be. Click To Tweet
We’ve Got Two Choices
I understand, just as I am tired, the Church is tired. For many congregations, this time feels so uncomfortable. We’ve been scattered. We’ve lost good people. We’ve tried some new things, but there are so many unknowns in the world, let alone the life of the Church and we just want it to be over.
However, we really only have two choices. Adapt to this new normal or begin making funeral arrangements.
Adapting to the new normal can’t just be done once either. It is a constant adaptation to the world around us. We see restaurants, schools, hospitals, and other businesses doing this out of necessity for survival. All of these places are vital to our society, but the Church has the most important mission in the world. If we are not willing to adapt along with everyone else, our survival rate is pretty low.However, we really only have two choices. Adapt to this new normal or begin making funeral arrangements. Click To Tweet
Heed the Warning
Do we live in a time that seems desolate? Yes! However, God is still in control and I believe the prophet Isaiah’s words for the people of God from long ago are words for the Church today:
Don’t remember the prior things;
don’t ponder ancient history.
Look! I’m doing a new thing;
now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
paths in the wilderness.
~Isaiah 43:18-19 (CEB)
Reverting back to what worked in the Church six months ago or even two years ago will not be sustainable. God is doing a new thing. He’s making a way in this crazy and chaotic world for the Church to follow his lead out of the wilderness. We must be willing to not just look at paths we’ve never taken before, we must head down them and see where they lead in order to continue sharing God’s love with those who do not know him yet.Reverting back to what worked in the Church six months ago or even two years ago will not be sustainable. God is doing a new thing. He’s making a way in this crazy and chaotic world for the Church to follow his lead out of the… Click To Tweet
I have been lost in the middle of a desolate forest before. I wasn’t alone, but it sure felt lonely. We couldn’t just retrace our steps because clearly our steps led us to nowhere. We couldn’t look too far ahead because even though there wasn’t much around, it seemed like you couldn’t see far enough ahead to know exactly which way to go. How did we get back to safety? We looked for water. It was a sign of life, a sign of direction, and in fact our path out of the wilderness.
The same holds true for the Church today. We cannot look at the paths we used to use to interact with unchurched and de-churched people. We have to look for new streams of people. New ways to connect with those who, like us, are exhausted and just searching for answers. They are there. We must be willing to see them and follow God’s lead.
We won’t be out of the woods overnight. In fact, 2020 may come to a close and we will still be trying to figure things out. Let us not look back, but forward into the new opportunities to join God in mission because that mission is not over yet!
Ann Marie Carley
As a UMC Deacon Ann Marie’s ministry focus is helping churches walk through sacred change. She is currently living out this call by serving as the Executive Pastor (and overseeing Fresh Expressions) at Trinity Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. She and her husband are passionate about sharing Jesus, cycling, cycling to tacos and exploring new ways to connect with others.