Like so many other pastors during this strange and uncertain time, I’ve been rethinking a lot of things, not the least of which is how we go about doing ministry. It’s a question that I’ve been asking myself for far longer than the few days that we’ve found ourselves in the place we’re in. I’ve really been asking that question since I started in full-time vocational ministry nearly sixteen years ago.
Not only am I a pastor but I’m also a church planter. I snicker to myself as I write this, thinking about what an interesting time it is to try to build a church. Then I have to stop myself and realize that while I am and have been working to build a local community and expression of the church, my bigger goal and desire is to show people Jesus. Yes, I make a living as a pastor, but if that becomes my driving force, I think I’m missing the point.
Do I worry during these days? Sure. It’s a little unnerving not knowing what’s next, when all this social distancing can stop and we can go back to gathering in groups of ten people or more to do the things that we are so used to doing. Do I get anxious? Sure. I’ve done my best to stop looking at my retirement savings in these last few days as they continue to diminish in large quantities.
But I have hope that’s beyond the circumstances. If I don’t, then I’m a fraud and I probably shouldn’t be doing what I do. Again, that doesn’t mean 100% absolute surety that everything is going to be all right and that this won’t touch me at all. I’ve been touched by tragedy before and I’m sure it will touch me again. During that tragedy, I still knew God was there. He didn’t manifest himself the way that I would have liked him to. I wished for and prayed for better things, but that’s not what I got.
Or did I?
Every parent knows that if we gave our kids everything that they asked for, we would just end up with a bunch of spoiled kids. And there are often times when the things that our kids ask for and the things that our kids need are not the same thing. Giving them what they need often has to win out over giving them what they want. While they may think they know what they need and equate their wishes and desires with their needs, parents generally know better.
So, do we trust our heavenly father? Do we trust that he knows what’s best for us?
As I keep thinking through why I became a pastor and church planter, I keep reminding myself that I wanted to make a difference. I didn’t want to see if I could build an empire. I didn’t want to see if I could stand there checking off all the people as they walked through the door, puffing myself up with every check mark I added. I certainly didn’t become a pastor to get rich. If I had wanted money, I’d have stayed in the engineering world. Get-rich-quick pastors aren’t preaching the same gospel that I believe in.
Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. The kingdom is here and is coming. A now and not yet. Leaving his church, his people, to do the work of the kingdom meant expanding that, not through buildings but through people. The church isn’t buildings. The church isn’t programs.
I’ve told people over and over again that I want to have a kingdom vision of the Church. I want to think beyond myself. I want to think towards a God-sized vision, a kingdom vision, a vision of people meeting Jesus. To think that only happens through my local expression of the Church might be one of the most arrogant things that I could think. If I only want people to come to my church, then do I really have a kingdom vision? If I really want people to meet Jesus, shouldn’t I be okay with them ending up anywhere he is preached and worshipped?
These are trying times, and I know that everyone, including those who are part of the church, is feeling overwhelmed and anxious. But I do see it as an opportunity. I see my focus staying the same but I see myself changing my medium. Instead of face to face conversations at my local coffee shop, I’m trying to evoke thoughts and conversations online. Instead of speaking to a roomful of people every Sunday evening, I’m speaking to a screen and sharing the same hope that I would be sharing if I were with them in person.
You see, I want people to see Jesus. I want people to know Jesus. He’s the only reason that I’m not freaking out right now. He’s the only thing that’s keeping me somewhat sane right now. Without him, I have no idea where I would be. If they can know that, if they can see what he means to me and the difference that it makes, then I’ve done exactly what I’m supposed to do.
I’m doing my best to be part of building a kingdom. Empires crumble and fall. Empires are built around people and their arrogance and power. The kingdom I want to be a part of building has a king who is loving and selfless and gracious and kind. He gave up his only son so that we might live. He calls us to be part of his kingdom, but he doesn’t force us there. He urges us there. He loves us there. He pursues us until we finally realize just how much he loves us. He is a gentleman king whose love far surpasses anything that we could ask or think or imagine.
I have no idea what will be when this is all behind us. So many church plants fail within the first twelve to eighteen months. But I have to keep reminding myself that my main goal isn’t to build a church, to build an empire, it’s to build the kingdom. I get to be part of that no matter what I’m doing, and no virus can take that away from me.