At the end of the year, it’s not uncommon to have a post that reflects on the events or highlights various discussions over the past year. In a year in which so much has been atypical, I decided to look at some of this year’s blog posts to find something familiar and share some thoughts about the journey we have been on in 2020.
What Was Planned and What Was Posted
As I reflect on what my plans were for writing my blog this year, my goal was to share information about church history and how it is helpful to us as Christians today. I got as far as the Middle Ages (you can find those posts from January, February, and March in the archives) when these plans were derailed by COVID-19. Once the pandemic hit, it didn’t seem like continuing with my plans was the right thing to do. While I did look back at church history on occasion (including how Christians responded to previous health crises as well as how the situation in the Old Testament Books of Ezra-Nehemiah has some resemblance to this time), the focus of the posts shifted for the next season about various topics related to the present moment, such as how we have assurance of salvation (something we need in these uncertain times), the “essentials” of the Christian life, and how Christians should respond to a pandemic.
I never finished the series on church history, but we did examine some other topics over a number of weeks – often in conjunction to a sermon series, such as a series that looked at big questions (April, May, June, and a couple in July), various sayings of Jesus (September), and the return of Jesus and the end times (October and November). Other posts looked at specific issues connected to sermons we didn’t have time to explore in the weekend message including the “missing” verse of Matthew 18:11 and the question of head coverings in 1 Corithians 11. Other posts focused on the life of our church such as leadership after the Global Leadership Summit and the Book of Judges after we read through it in our Bible reading plan. We also focused on the importance of community (the meaning of the communion of saints) and how we can need to give up our rights for the sake of others. Thanksgiving and Christmas posts looked at the theme of those holidays, and this one is inspired by the end of the year.
From Writing about Church History to Living as the Church in History
As I look back on the year, I realized my plan had been to write about church history and instead, I was reminded that we are living in history — that we are part of church history. People will look at how the church responded to the events of 2020 and how these events and our reactions may have greatly reshaped the church moving forward. I think it is worth reflecting on how we as a church have lived in this moment and what might come next.
One question I have is how future generations of Christians – if the Lord tarries his return – will think about how Christians responded to this great crisis. Will they think of us as the Reformers and other figures who sparked revival in our time, or will we be seen as the church of the Middle Ages in which spirituality was on the decline and the church was gripped by retaining power, not proclaiming the gospel? Will they see examples of Christians sacrificing for the well being of others and offering a steadfast foundation and anchor in tumultuous times, or will they see Christians marked as people who fought for their rights and sowed more division and distrust in these days? In some ways, the facts have mostly been set, and now we await what will stand out and what stories will be told. While I certainly hope that we will be seen as having lived out our faith in these trying times, I also am assured in knowing that God’s church will prevail against the forces of evil (Matthew 16:18). God uses the failure and faithlessness of His people to further His kingdom and even spark revival in later generations. We are a part of history, but we aren’t the ones who ultimately evaluate our own chapter.
Whenever there is a major cultural event, it has ramifications on those who lived through it and throughout society. For example, those who lived through the Great Depression had a different view of money and possessions than those who did not experience it; 9/11 caused changes in many different sectors in life. I do not doubt that this pandemic will have long-term effects on society and within the church, particularly here in America. There has been no shortage of theories of what the church will look like once life gets back to “normal”. Will people continue doing church online, will a substantial number (20%) of people never come back to church, etc.? We need to remember that many of our predictions in early 2020 (i.e. “we will have to stop having church services for a couple of weeks until this COVID thing goes away then move on….”) did not prove true. It will probably take a few years to see what long-term changes emerge in the life of the church. While we often look at change as a bad thing (and there are certain things that should never change), we need to remember that change can spark new ways of understanding God’s grace in our lives and being on mission. Let’s be sure to see how these changes may help us grow in our faith and be prepared to minister and engage the world in light of these changes, knowing our world might be different, but the call to bring the gospel to it will never change.
What to Look at in 2021?
While this past year has taught us (especially me) to hold our plans loosely and recognize that we may need to “pivot” at any point and live in times that might be “fluid” (words that were said so much in 2020 we got sick of them!), I still think it is useful to have a plan. If you have any thoughts or ideas about topics for blog posts (or a series of posts), please let me know as I am starting to think through what would be helpful to discuss and examine here in 2021…knowing it is all subject to change.
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