We’ve arrived! 2021 is here with all its hope and promise of new beginnings, exciting adventures, unknown prospects. And we, as the people of God, are full of expectation.
However, although we’ve ‘arrived,’ in one sense nothing has changed. In relation to Covid-19, things have just gotten tighter and more restrictive across the UK, with all the varying frustrations and emotions that this brings to us as leaders, and to those we lead.
Reflecting on the past year and looking forward into 2021, I’ve been thinking about Joshua and the people of Israel as they crossed over into the Promised Land (Joshua 3) and, in particular, the moment the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the River Jordan, which, by the way, was in full flood and an estimated mile wide where they were instructed by God to cross. (That’s just typical, right?!)
Joshua 3:14-17 tells us the priests went and stood in the Jordan; not just at the Jordan, but in the Jordan. And as they do so, unknown to them and some way off, the waters stop flowing upstream and start to back up. However, there is still approximately 20 miles worth of water to flow down to where they are before the people can cross over safely. Nothing in the natural has changed where the priests stand, but some distance away something significant and miraculous has happened – it’s just that they aren’t yet experiencing it.
Kinda where we are at the moment, I reckon. Nothing to the natural eye around us appears to have changed – in fact, it’s worse. However, I believe ‘up river‘, in the Spirit, something miraculous has already happened. And although we don’t perceive it and aren’t experiencing the benefits of it yet, we wait for the impact of it to reach us where God has placed us. We wait like the Israelites to see God act mightily on behalf of His people again in this new year.
2nd June 2020, mid-pandemic and Lockdown Mark I, we as a couple physically relocated in response to a very unexpected call. For us personally this involved a literal new place, which logistically wasn’t at all easy because of lockdown, and we didn’t physically see our new home until the day we moved in, but that’s a whole other story. This was a big repositioning for us and involved a significant move to this new place.
Actually, thinking about it, this is something which we have all had to do in the past year in terms of pastoring and leading our churches – for the majority, not a literal physical ‘new place’ as it was for us, but we have all had to move from the familiar and comfortable, to a very different world; and for all of us, this shift has been unexpected, logistically challenging and perhaps for some, if we’re honest, maybe even unwelcome.
But in reality, isn’t shifting to new places something we should always be open to as leaders, rather than something we simply react or respond to, often unwillingly, because we have no choice?
The Acts of the Apostles touches on this issue a little in Acts 8. In my reading of the story, the disciples only take the gospel outside Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria when severe persecution breaks out against them the day that Stephen is martyred.
It seems for the past three or four years, since the day of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they were quite settled in Jerusalem. And why wouldn’t they be? Things were happening there: the church was growing, with all the usual challenges that that brings; they were enjoying the favour of all the people; healings and miracles were taking place; they’ve known some amazing experiences of the Holy Spirit in their midst; and even a large number of priests had been saved. Amazing! Who amongst us wouldn’t be happy with that?
Things were pretty good!
But … they’d lost focus on the bigger mission. It wasn’t just Jerusalem that God had called them to, but Judea, Samaria and beyond. So, persecution breaks out and takes them to a ‘new place’ – in fact, to the very place God had commissioned them to initially. But they hadn’t quite gotten around to it themselves.
Maybe that resonates a little with us as leaders during this pandemic. Perhaps we too have been ‘forced’ or ‘driven’ by an outbreak to this new place to discover again our initial missional purpose.
- In Acts, the church had left Jerusalem – for us, the church has left the building.
- In Acts, as they were scattered, preaching the Word wherever they went – for us, may the same be said of each one of us and our people.
- In Acts, they finally embraced and experienced the fullness of God’s mission – for us, may we too embrace and experience the same, whatever it may look like, wherever we are in our new place.
Innovate! It’s something we’ve all done in the past year.
And I just want to take a moment to commend those who are not tech-savvy, and are in our smaller churches who have no “techy team” to do the hard graft for them, yet have adapted and innovated with online streaming, pre-recorded services and all the rest of it. Great effort and great job!
Nevertheless, as stated already, for most of us we have only innovated because of the circumstances; we only adapted because we’d been led to this new place, reluctantly or not.
I wonder if, through all of this past year, God is causing a death to the church as we have known it – only to then bring about a resurrection; bringing about a literal death to the way we have ‘done’ church, in order for His bride to rise again anew? Even as I write these words, they do not sit comfortably with me, and some may recoil as they read them.
But isn’t this what our God specialises in: bringing His chosen people back into alignment with His eternal purpose, often through some great disturbance of the status quo?
“There is no improving the future without first disturbing the present.”Catherine Booth
The other week, I read the words of Catherine Booth, co-founder of The Salvation Army: “There is no improving the future without first disturbing the present.” I think we all love the first part of a statement like that, the notion of a better future, but the second half isn’t quite so palatable, even though we know it is patently true.
Perhaps ‘new ministry’ isn’t just something God has for up ahead in our ‘new places’ … Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s something He is creating in His church, right here and now, in the midst of this present disturbance?
To me, the challenge for all of us is simple: innovate, don’t just replicate.
Church, we can all enter in and embrace what God is doing, by His grace and in the power of His Spirit, for His glory!