I’m about to jump out of my skin with excitement for our first SUNDAY MORNING back in church in over a year!!! And as I consider the significance of this weekend and the future our church, I can’t help but to also reflect on my own personal “pain & progress” from the past year. No doubt everyone faced challenges this past year. For me, it was both brutal & refining.
Frankly, I was emotionally, mentally and professionally unprepared for the curve balls of 2020. In the Bible, we read how the role of a pastor is a lot like that of a shepherd. (Yes, a “sheep herder” but for people) Shepherds & Pastors care for, fight for, provide for, and sacrifice for their flock.
For pastors, shepherding requires wisdom, patience, experience, spiritual depth & unwavering commitment…qualities that are somewhat lacking in my own leadership arsenal.
I’ve never really thought of myself as a shepherd before. I’ve always thought of myself as more of a sheep-dog. You know? The dog that works for the shepherd…it kinda looks and smells like a sheep, runs and barks & nips the backside of sheep who are out of line, picks fights with wolves and bears? Yea that’s me, the annoying canine sent by the chief shepherd, Jesus, to push people in the right direction and pick fights with perceived threats.
Over the years I got into a comfortable & manageable weekly rhythm of preaching, sermon prep, occasional funerals, lots of weddings, leading staff, long term planning, prayer, serving various people in the church, emails, etc. But…the Covid curveball (no pun intended) threw me for a loop. I got shaken up. The whole church got turned upside down! Not only were we figuring out how to do services online, but we were also leading Oasis through the most divisive political season in my lifetime. I know we can’t please everyone, but this past year there were times I felt like we couldn’t please ANYONE. Covid separated us, and politics divided us.
There was the global pandemic. And Trump, then Biden, voting fraud, QAnon. Antifa. Racism. Protests. Cancel Culture. Riots. Insurrection at the Capitol…A stolen election…Cuties on Netflix, Gay stuff on Disney+, BLM, Marxism, and Critical Race theory…
There were also UFO’s, Killer Hornets, 5G, and government conspiracies…
But what was the most divisive subject of the year?
MASKS!! Do we require them? What’s the governor saying? What about the WHO and the CDC? Half our people want them, half refuse to wear them. We hadn’t even started regathering yet, and people were already emailing upset or even some leaving the church because of differences of opinion about masks.
Then came THE VACCINE….I am constantly questioned about it. Should we get it? What about the aborted fetal cells? Is it the mark of the beast? Is this prophesied in the book of Revelation?
WHEW!!! I’m exhausted just writing about all this.
I wish this past year was as easy as “just doing church online for a year,” but it wasn’t that simple. How do you shepherd people that you can’t even see? How do you keep people in community when they won’t even attend a small group? And for those who did stick with their small groups, how do you keep them from arguing over political things when they are together? If the senior sheep-dog is having a hard time leading people and navigating this stuff, how can I expect a volunteer, less-trained, small group leader to keep people focused on Jesus?
And then the economy and financial stuff. Will we have to let staff go? Will our church survive this? Should we try to build our own building? How much money should we borrow? Steel prices, wood, PVC, the cost of all building materials is skyrocketing, can we move forward in faith without being bad stewards?
I have friends who closed their churches. How much longer will we last before we have to do the same? Thank God Oasis Church is in a healthy place financially, but that didn’t prevent the fear of “what if…”
Then the emotional health stuff, will I get a day without worry? Anxiety? Stress? Why can’t I seem to get any quality time with Jesus? I need rest, BREATHE, Bill, Breathe!
Meanwhile, the emails and text messages are still pouring in with links to articles about racism, social justice, conspiracy theories, end-times prophecies, Candace Owens clips and Anderson Cooper interviews. People want me to read this, watch that, give my opinion on this & that.
Then that awkward email or text, or maybe even a phone call where someone would tell me they’re leaving the church…
–We just can’t do online services anymore…
–We refuse to wear a mask…
–Everyone should wear a mask!
-You should be fighting for our constitutional right to _____.
-You talk too much about racism
-You should say more about racism
-You’re just trying to be “woke”
-Why don’t you “Just teach the Bible”
-You should preach more on social justice! How come you haven’t said anything about _______ (insert latest hashtag)
-Stop being a social justice warrior!
-Why don’t you preach on the END TIMES?
-We’ll come back when you ______ (insert personal preference)
The conversations were often, “why can’t we just have church outside, maybe at a park somewhere? Or we can do drive-in church? We can meet at a random building somewhere else on a different night of the week.” When we finally started having services on a Thursday night, most of the people who were demanding we do it only showed up once or twice. I guess they just wanted the option to attend church, but they weren’t actually committed to being there.
If I have certainty about anything after this past year, it’s this:
#1 – EVERYONE NEEDS GRACE. including me.I’m a flawed, imperfect sheep-dog doing the best I can with my severe limitations. I’m not a political scientist, I’m not an immunologist, I’m not a sociologist, I can’t predict the future, and I need grace and prayer. And so does everyone else. For the people who quit church this past year, I owe them grace. Even if their “reasoning” was terrible, I owe them grace. I’ll still serve them, pray for them, and talk highly about them whether or not they consider me their pastor.
#2 – FAMILY IS PRIORITY. My family means everything to me. My wife is amazing, she was a refuge this year and our home was a place of safety. As a pastor, I’ve come to learn that everyone is alway shopping me – as soon as I don’t meet their expectations, they shop elsewhere. But my family is not shopping. If everyone else walks away, they are still waiting with open arms and unconditional acceptance. Jennifer was my QuaranQueen. Aubrey was my quaranTEEN. And Elijah was my QuarINFANT. LOL
#3 – THE CHURCH BELONGS TO JESUS, not me. He already died for it, so I don’t have to. People come and go, culture changes, society is constantly shifting, but JESUS is the same yesterday, today and forever.
People have asked, are you excited about returning to the school this Sunday?! Of course I am. But I’m not naive enough to think that everything is gonna be like it once was, because it’s not. Everything has changed, including ME. I’m different after this past year. The people of Oasis are different after this past year. Our church will be different, and that’s okay.
I used to say “the best is yet to come” a lot because it was a trending phrase in church circles. But I recently heard a preacher say, “the best already came, and his name is Jesus.” I agree with that. The best has already come, and the best is with us. I’m not looking forward to a better future anymore. I’m looking to Jesus. He’s the better everything. And He’s already with us.
I’m excited to return to in person services this Sunday and worship JESUS. I’m excited to see who’s still with us. I’m excited to rebuild a church that is ALL ABOUT JESUS.
For me, this Sunday is so much more than a chance to attend a service- it’s a day of redemption & restoration. It’s a day where God gives back everything that was taken away. He proves his faithfulness through the storm. In Joel 2, God promises to RESTORE everything the locusts had stripped away. Similarly, I think this Sunday is a Joel 2 moment. The pruning is over, Spring is here! God is redeeming & restoring.
Join Us Sunday!