Reflecting on a difficult but God-blessed season of ministry
In just a few days I will turn 50 years old. I have pastored the same church since I was 26. I have given almost half of my life to serving one church in one city. I have seen a lot. I have experienced a lot. I have wept with those who weep, and I have rejoiced with those who have rejoiced.
In 24 years, our church, Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, a Southern Baptist Church, has seen 3,296 people make a public profession of their faith and follow Jesus Christ in believer’s baptism. We rejoice.
In that same 24 years, we have helped partner to plant 73 other church plants. It has been glorious to be openhanded with God’s kingdom and partner to see new life birthed in other places and locations so more and more people can be loved into a real relationship with Jesus Christ. We rejoice.
After all these years as a pastor, I thought I had experienced it all. Then COVID hit in March of 2020 and we entered an unknown season. As a pastor, I was forced to figure out quickly how to lead a church community through it. The past 15 months have been some of the most difficult years of ministry for many pastors and the people they pastor.
If there is one thing COVID has taught me, it is this, “Uncertainty may not be your friend, but it is your companion in this season.”
The pandemic may be settling down, but the repercussions from the pandemic have just started and the aftermath is great. It seems like pastors are leaving the pastorate at an alarming rate right now. Most people have still yet to return to their churches for in person worship. It is difficult for pastors to determine who still attends their church and who has moved on. It is equally difficult to know if many of those same people will ever return.
The rate of restlessness is at an all-time high and people are now battling the unnerving realities that have been left behind by COVID. Everyone feared COVID would leave behind a money shortage or it would take our lives, and yes this has happened, but it appears the mental anguish and mental disorders that are coming out of this season will far exceed all the perceived fears that were on the forefront of everyone’s minds going into the pandemic.
In the midst of all this chaos from COVID is the reality that life and its challenges continued in the quarantine isolation. As we thaw out from the isolation and quarantine, people have very real sorrows and issues that have built of and accumulated with time during this dark season.
Recently I went to visit a couple in our church who have been dear faithful servants of our church for years. Before COVID hit, they were going through a difficult time and the isolation just made it that much worse. In the summer of 2019, the husband retired from his tech position to care for his wife who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Then COVID hit them. During COVID, the wife lost her eyesight too.
I sat with the two of them and listened to the challenges, pains and sorrows of this season and yet they still had a joy about themselves. They still loved Jesus and loved each other. Yes, they wondered out loud about the challenges before them and what God was up to in all of this, but who wouldn’t?
For me as a pastor soon to turn 50 years old, it was a powerful, sobering and convicting time to understand that we all carry huge burdens in this life and in this season. We all have heavy crosses to bear. We all have sorrows we can’t shake and yet God wants us to not only keep going, but to intentionally seek out his presence in the midst of our pain, pain that is constant and, yes, in some cases, fatal.
This dear woman’s life was radically changed at the age of 55 by this dreadful disease. And just like COVID has altered and changed all of our lives in one way or another, so this woman’s life and her husband’s life has been changed for the rest of their days together. Her godly husband suffers each day in her presence as he is quarantined from his wife’s mind and memory as he cares for her each day faithfully remembering the lifetime of memories they share together.
It seems cruel doesn’t it?
The quarantines of this life are very cruel, whether they are physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
Truly this world is not our home. We are just passing through. This dear woman’s memory is laid up somewhere just beyond the blue. The angels have taken her mind to heaven’s open door and she and her husband can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
The Lord knows they both need him to get through these difficult days.
Jesus meet your servants, Susie and Jim, each day.
This dear godly couple has suffered and suffers greatly from the quarantines of this season of their lives. Lord, give them the strength to love each other in this mental quarantine until you one day restore her memory and their love in heaven. May they both cling to you and the promise of heaven.
This earth is not our home. We are just passing through. Let’s look forward to the day when the ultimate quarantine ends, and heaven becomes our home.
I remember the words of C.S. Lewis as he cared for his dying wife, “The pain now is part of the joy then.” “Then” being heaven.
No more quarantines.
Until then, let’s keep rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.
It’s what makes us human and it’s what makes heaven all the more sweeter.