|Throughout the pandemic, me and my preacher friends have asked a few questions. Some church leaders have joined in, too. There are many sides to the questions. So, for example, if we ask if people are coming back to church after the pandemic, there are various ways to respond. When we realize many may not, the easy route is to blame the pandemic or a pastor’s congregational response to the pandemic.
But more of us realize the pandemic only stoked the simmering reality that was already among us. Chances are, I’ve written about that already. I know I’ve preached about it and talked about it on the podcast. Today, I want to offer another side of the conversation.
As a pastor, I have cried for the church.
I’ve poured my heart out into what I do. Many times, I’ve been quite vulnerable, too. To the best of my ability, I have emphasized the joy and blessing of our shared faith in Jesus Christ. Our sharing as the body of Christ should take on many forms of communal growth and outpouring. In so many ways, it does not. Superficial spiritual pleasantries satisfy so many of us in the church today. We’re not willing to go deeper together in prayer, study and accountability. All the while, the faith we share with our children and the world gets compromised and watered down.
At the same time, our families struggle. Our mental health has suffered. People feel lost, lonely, hopeless or not good enough. Many more battle the stress of being overworked and underpaid. And that’s just scratching the surface of what people deal with everyday.
Now, to be sure, I’m not suggesting faith is a magic pill. You’ll never hear me tell anyone that Jesus takes all your problems away. I like the line my wife has adopted. Her sermon to people is often “You can have Jesus and a therapist.” And speaking of sermons, it bothers me when preachers try to be quasi-therapists. They sprinkle Jesus on shallow emotional therapy. Our task is to present the gospel of Jesus so that the community of faith learns to be more like him.
There are no quick-fix qualities to faith in Jesus. But there is a strong sense of assurance that comes from God that belongs to the community of faith. That’s why we need each other. That’s why we can’t give up meeting together. And that’s why we need to prioritize our walk with Jesus and our life with each other.
What I have longed for throughout the pandemic is for the church to reimagine its calling. Did Jesus die on the cross to give us a pew to sit quietly in on Sunday mornings? No, there’s abundant life to be had in Jesus’ name. Part of that abundance includes healing and joy, peace and wisdom. We are meant to experience those together. So, when I tell you the church needs prayer partners in prayer groups, that’s why. Our young people need mentors and spiritual counsel. We need to go beyond ceremony into deeper discipleship.
On thinking of his people returning from exile, the psalmist said, “we were like those who dream.” In other words, he couldn’t believe how God had moved for his people. It was an utter shock to see God’s power at work. That’s what I want for the church today. May God refresh a hunger for righteousness among us!
And my hope is the tears I and others have sowed will reap renewed joy and wonder at the work of God.
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