Our church met inside our building on Sunday for the first time since mid-March. As the pastor, Chad has been through several phases in the past two months, from the exhaustion of ministering in the early days, tending to all of the financial needs, the fear, the online production, to the parking lot services where he preached in the open air and heard the words of his sermons echoing back to him off the fronts of houses in the neighborhood. His pastor from childhood, Bro. Jimmy Draper, advised Chad at the beginning of this pandemic to be “an ambassador of optimism” as he figured out how to navigate these strange waters. For the most part, he has done so. He has been a strength to those of us who needed someone to lean on in the uncertainty.
As his wife, I have, in some ways, struggled through these past few months with him. I don’t know if it’s ever possible for someone who isn’t a pastor to fully understand the burdens that they bear, but a pastor’s wife does have an inkling. She can practically see the load that he is stooping under, and as much as she can, she crawls under that load and tries to bear it with him.
We knew going back to church would look very different, but we were anxious to be in the same room with our church family. We wanted to see their faces, hear their voices, and we wanted to worship together. We had protocols in place, of course. We took steps (more than most) to ensure that we were being responsible and safe and that we were caring for the needs of all of those in our congregation. Even though things were strange and different, it was great to see the church gathered in that place again.
After the service, we came home, both feeling subdued. The service was wonderful, and Chad had felt freedom when he preached. The music was good. People were there. But something about the whole thing made us both sad. Some sort of grief had settled upon us. Chad likened it to the old men in Ezra who cried when they laid the foundation for the new temple. The older men had seen the glories of the temple constructed by Solomon, and they wept because they knew what they had lost. I suspect that in pastors’ homes all across the country there will be grieving as pastors finally climb into their pulpits to look out over churches that are half full. As they remember the confident way that church members used to enter the building. There is a kind of sadness in losing the excitement of a church that is bursting at the seams, that is making strides in true discipleship, a church that is growing strong and steady, becoming instead something that feels more like a wobbly colt just trying out its spindly legs.
Yet, as I’ve thought about it this week, I think that this is the moment, as pastors’ families, that God has positioned us to be true ambassadors of optimism. It doesn’t mean that we can’t weep a little at what has been lost. But we can also look ahead with anticipation to what God has planned for the future. It isn’t the independent stallion that is easily moldable by its owner; it’s the little colt, who will come right up and eat from its master’s hand. It’s exciting to think about what God will accomplish through churches that are a little bit humbled, a little bit unsure, a little bit more dependent on Him.
Wouldn’t it be just like our God to use even this worldwide mess to strengthen churches everywhere, just by reminding us that we are weak but He is strong? Will this help us to depend less on our plans and our programs and yearn more for His presence? Will we stop being overly focused on the number of people in the building and more focused on the soul in each seat? I believe that He can do all of this and much more. We’re going to have to be okay with weak and wobbly for a time. His power may be displayed like never before. What if, by comparison, what we lost wasn’t as great as we thought it was?