We are in the home stretch, my friends. The most difficult year many of us have lived through is almost over. The hope of a vaccine, a new number on our calendars, and a slow return to a sense of normal is at least on the horizon. How do we process a season like this? I think Paul was reflecting on something similar (arguably worse) when he wrote:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” – 1 Corinthians 11:23-29
Do you feel that bolded statement? Especially if you are a pastor or leader. Besides:
- the threat of a deadly illness,
- the fear of shortages and other economic instabilities,
- the restrictions,
- the polarization of our culture around those restrictions,
- the polarization of our people around politics and race,
- the financial and job insecurity,
- the need to manage an unprecedented work-life balance,
- the necessity of learning a whole new set of skills,
- the surge of need around grief, addictions, mental illness, poverty, marriages, families…
We feel the daily pressure of our concern for all the churches. Despite all of the personal grief, pain and fatigue inherent in this season, our pastors feel (maybe even above all else) the burden of spiritual responsibility for the churches in their care. When the services were all online. When we couldn’t visit together. When we were implementing a host of policies to regather safely. When we gathered and couldn’t sing…and then could…and then pivoted again. If there was ever a year to show love and appreciation for the women and men who lead us and bear our burdens daily on their hearts and minds and bodies, it is this year.
And yet, this is not even Paul’s point. The great conclusion of all of this “boasting” is to say,
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Though 2020 was the most difficult season of ministry for many (and we probably wouldn’t call it a delight) it was also undoubtedly the season of the greatest potential for God to be at work in and through us. A crucial discernment question in many seasons of ministry has been: What could we not have accomplished without God’s help? What did we do that required actual faith and trust? In 2020, the answer to that is likely, “pretty much everything.” So as 2021 approaches, even as we continue to process the grief and pain of this year, let’s not forget to celebrate what God has accomplished in us in a supernatural way through our weakness:
- We survived – We didn’t quit when the going was the toughest: on ourselves, our families, our faith, our friends, or our callings.
- We grew – Because the testing of our faith develops perseverance, character and hope.
- We relied on others – Friends, colleagues, counselors, mentors, coaches. It was almost impossible to survive, much less thrive in this season alone.
- We adapted – As individuals and churches, we found a way forward and led together through crisis. We proved as churches and leaders that we have capacity for change.
- We reached our communities in a brand-new way – for most of us, going online for the very first time and now engaging people who have never been to our buildings.
So as this memorable year ends, I feel your pain and grief and pray daily for your continued health and strength. I thank God for His work in your life and ministry, and I celebrate with you all of the good that would probably have never come about without this year. May Christ’s words to Paul also be true in your life.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (1 Cor 12:9).