We are in our third year of dealing with COVID realities. The church, like so much else in our society, has changed as a result. After being forced to adapt during COVID lockdowns, many congregations have realized that they can extend their reach and do more ministry if they continue to embrace the lessons learned when they went online.
While online church has its drawbacks, it also provided a pathway to worship for newcomers who were too intimidated to come in person, those who struggle with anxiety about being in large groups, those with mobility issues or lack of transportation, and a whole host of others. While there are costs to not being physically together for worship, there are also gains in making worship more accessible to these other groups. Rather than returning to what life was like before COVID, many congregations are living into a “new normal”—a future that includes both online and in-person ministry.
In this issue you’ll read other stories about ways that Christian Reformed ministries are helping congregations think about how to serve, care for, and welcome all of their members. This includes faith formation for people of all ages, raising up disability advocates, and helping women develop their leadership skills in a variety of roles in congregations.
What I appreciate most about these stories is that they remind us that church is for everyone. I’m sure that as you reflect on Christ’s many commands, his words about children and the most vulnerable immediately come to mind:
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).
And further, in the same gospel according to Matthew, Jesus expounds on his love for those who are far off and sets the expectation that we, his disciples, will show the same love out of our reverence for him:
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’” (Matt. 25:45).
It is clear that we are called to minister to all of those in our community, yet in our new COVID reality, figuring out how to fulfill this command can be complex and challenging. It certainly has been taxing for our pastors and leaders who have been on the front lines of adapting during COVID. Yet we know that it is not too taxing for our Lord, on whom we depend. These difficult times call for greater and greater dependency on him.
I recently started a weekly prayer time with pastors, rotating through representatives from various classes, and we have been praying in the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer using two passages:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:4-7).
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).
These verses challenge us to remember that we are called to lay our anxieties and stresses on Christ, the only one who was able to perfectly bear them and continues to do so today.
My prayer for all of us is that we will come to know the truth that is the gospel of Christ. This includes remembering the parables as we strive to be good Samaritans, reaching out to those in need and feeding the hungry. For us leaders, as we feel the weight of increasing leadership stresses, may we depend on God and seek solitude with Christ as our Lord along the way.
To God be the glory!