Last week my wife and I saw a brand-new, much-anticipated film on the day it opened in theaters. This film was postponed several months due to the pandemic, and I excitedly bought tickets online a few days ahead of time because I was sure the theater would be packed.
When we walked into the theater, however, I was shocked. There were—at most—15 people inside this huge IMAX theater. That was the entire audience. That’s when it hit me in a big way: Something has changed, maybe permanently.
Allen White, in a fantastic blog post earlier this week, wrote, “The time has come to face an unpleasant reality. The congregation you have right now is your entire congregation.” Things have changed, perhaps permanently. This may be a harsh truth for us to swallow, but it is true nonetheless.
As I read his post, I was reminded of the Hebrews’ reaction to Moses when they found themselves in a new and strange place, wandering through the desert. Numbers 20:5 says, “Why have you led us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place?” This is interesting because, in Egypt, the Hebrews lived in slavery under a tyrannical ruler. Now, even though they were wandering in the desert, they were free and God was meeting their needs in miraculous ways.
But things were different. Very different. There was no going back to “normal.” God’s plans for His people meant they would have to adjust to this new reality.
While the situation today is not entirely the same as it was for the children of Israel, the truth is that we must learn to live and lead in a new reality. I think it’s time to admit to ourselves, and our congregations, that we aren’t going back to pre-March 2020. As much as we hoped things would get back to “normal,” the reality is that we’ve entered a new normal.
So, how do we lead our churches into this new reality?
Jeremiah 29:5-7 shares some wonderful wisdom for living in an unfamiliar place and time. In this passage, Jeremiah is writing to those Israelites who had been exiled to Babylon. They didn’t know how long they would be away from their home. So, what does Jeremiah advise?
5 “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. 7 Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.” (Jer. 29:5-7, CSB)
In short, we must lead our people to keep on living. For believers, this obviously means that we lead them to continue sharing the gospel and living out the Great Commission. I think that’s part of what “pursue the well-being of the city” means for believers.
Pastor, you can lament this new reality, or you can lead the people in your church to embrace the new reality and ask how you can most effectively share the gospel and meet needs in the “new normal.”
God bless you as you lead.
Published October 13, 2021