From the Pastor’s Pen . . .
Catastrophe or Catalyst?
“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened . . .
actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12)
The COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States like a catastrophic earthquake. It came upon us with little advance warning, testing the limits of our nation’s civil preparedness and damaging beyond recognition many aspects of our social infrastructure. Even now, more than two years after it all began, we can still feel the aftershocks of the virus rippling through the population. The cracks and fissures left behind by the COVID quake will remain like scars on the cultural landscape and foundational institutions of America for years, perhaps decades, to come.
Among the hardest hit by the COVID quake were the churches. It seemed as if the enemy had conjured-up the perfect storm (pardon the mixed metaphor) for the crippling of churches at a time when they were more vulnerable to attack than usual. I’ll not rehearse the details as to why this was so, since we’ve plowed that ground previously. For now, it is enough to say that
many churches have been hurt, and Glenwood is among them. Some have been wounded “unto death.” The effects of COVID have proven to be catastrophic.
But what has been a catastrophe in one respect can be a catalyst for development in others. We’ve experienced this on a small scale already at Glenwood. Restrictions on gatherings during Covid moved us to present our Sunday worship hour live on the internet, while also making it available for viewing at later time. The result is that the music and messages have touched significantly more people than would have been possible otherwise. Further, the need for an improved online presence led to the acquisition of better lighting, video, and sound equipment, and the renovation of the platform area.
This illustrates what is actually a wonderful biblical principle: What the enemy means for evil, our God can use for good. We see this, famously, in the life of Joseph (Gen. 50:20) when his brothers sold him into slavery. What seemed (and was) a horrible act, God allowed in order to accomplish an infinitely greater good, namely, the preservation of Egypt during famine, the saving of his father Jacob’s household, and the laying of the foundations of the nation of Israel. Paul expresses the same idea when he acknowledged that his imprisonment had actually been a catalyst for the spread of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12). It is the principle of Romans 8:28 at work: God works all things together for good for those who love Him, those called according to His purpose.
That principle is no less true for the church in the aftermath of COVID than it was in the days of Paul and of Joseph. Clearly, the world has changed. People have changed. Dramatically. Fewer people than before profess belief in any “god” at all. Faith in the One True and Living God has waned overall, and many who still profess to believe have sidelined the practice of their faith to the remote margins of their lives. Not quite ready to kick God off their team, they will keep God on the bench—on the outside chance they might need Him—as long as He will blend in and not cause a scene (apparently having forgotten that He owns the team). I stand convinced that reaching people for Christ in 21st century America is more difficult than at any time in the last three-hundred years. Our goal as “Christian soldiers” has not changed, but the battlefield certainly has.
Several years ago (circa 2014), I read a book by Lt. General Rick Lynch offering “battle-tested principles for leaders.” As I recall, the book was an interesting read . . . but the most important principle presented in the book, by far, can be found without ever cracking the cover. It is the title, Adapt or Die. The most reliable constant on the battlefield is the fact that it is always changing. Those who can adapt are most likely to be victorious; those who cannot adapt—or will not—will die.
Churches that adapt to meet the new battlefield conditions and renew their commitment to the Great Commission can thrive. Those that cannot—or will not—will die. GBC is no exception. But I know that, by God’s grace, we not only can survive, we can thrive to the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom. We have come too far, crossed too many rivers, and seen God move too many mountains to keep Glenwood open only to close the doors a few years from now.
With this conviction in mind, the Church Council and I have spent many hours in prayer and discussion over a period of months. We don’t have all the answers, but do believe we have His direction as to the next step in what will likely be a lengthy—yet exciting—journey. During the morning worship hour on Sunday, August 21, I will be sharing my vision of how and where the Lord is leading us. Then, during our Annual Church Conference that evening, we will have opportunity to hear from one another, ask questions, and share our hearts. The Church Council will propose a path forward by way of a “new beginning” that we’ve been calling a “relaunch.”
Whatever term one chooses to use, one thing is certain: its success will be determined by the level of commitment of God’s people to the church and to the Great Commission. Will the aftermath of COVID be a catastrophe or a catalyst for something great? It’s really up to us! Please plan now to be prayerfully present both Sunday morning and evening. It’s important that all God’s people at Glenwood be all-in!