REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 20: Keeping our heads!
Without downplaying the devastating effects of the pandemic to many economically and relationally in our fortunate nation, we need to keep our head. I have noticed calls for once in a lifetime changes to our church life and our isolation viewed as devastating. I was reminded of Richie Benaud’s famous one liner to a fellow commentator “The Titanic was a tragedy, the Ethiopian drought a disaster, and neither bears any relation to a dropped catch.”
We in Australia have thus far, been spared a major tragedy or disaster. Dropped GNP for sure, but with aid from the common-wealth, excellent health care, ability to meet via zoom and You-tube, the many wonderful efforts from pastors and fellow church-members in following each other up, supplying copies of sermons for those not with electronic media and a good response to online giving, it has hardly been a disaster. All of this has brought forth thanks to God, and in many cases, deepened the ties of fellowship amongst us, brought more people than usual under the sound of the gospel and enabled us to support those in need. Is there an opportunity to be grasped?
There is a German proverb that runs: the main thing is to make sure the main thing always remain the main thing. There is a wisdom in this that could save us falling into the trap that the opportunity must be found in something new. Perhaps the question should be a positive one: what good work in the past has helped our churches remain resilient and functioning during this time? The recently expressed thought that we must learn new ways of doing church runs the risk of making us uneasy and ungrateful about past ministry, and dare I suggest, subtly move us from our reliance upon the ministry of the Word to a reliance upon technology, prophetic words for our nation, or a one size fits all model (which often means larger and better resourced multi-staffed churches).
My plea for keeping our head is to consider the question: what does the New Testament suggest might be the way of church maturity? Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: but you keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (2 Tim 4:5) is apt. Our present hardship is best seen as a gift to be cherished rather than one to be mourned. We do not deserve the peace and prosperity God has granted us and only good doses of preaching that lead us to gratitude for these gifts (1 Tim 4:4-5), Godliness and contentment (6:6), along with reality about our frailty, warnings about loving money (6:7-10) and our obligation as rich believers to be excessively generous (6:17-19), will enable us to keep our head. Only through the gospel of Jesus preached (2 Tim 1:8-12), and constantly guarded will the main Person, our Lord and Saviour, remain the main thing (1:13-14). Intentionally shared with others (2:1-2), Jesus will enable successive generations of believers to stand firm joyfully in real isolation (1:15-18, 2:8-13), single-mindedly able to endure the real hardships of caving into the world through persecution (2:3-7) or the prosperity our Lord warned us of (Luke 8:14, 1 Tim 6:10/18).
The challenge for us in our prosperous culture and demanding consumer church culture is to produce disciples that can endure real hardships. The Bible, rightly handled (2 Tim 2:15), by patient pastors unfazed by the expectations of others (4:1-5), with proven love for those in their care (1:7), are our primary source of encouragement. Similarly are our brothers and sisters who stand fast under persecution. The testimony of a Uzbek convert Bek has remained a welcome rebuke to my propensity to feel sorry for myself when a difficulty arises: We have a saying, “if you are arrested praise God that you have not been beaten. If you have been beaten, praise God that you haven’t been killed. And if you have been killed, praise God that you are now with Jesus in heaven’”. The words of a Korean believer keep ringing in my ears with their timely encouragement to the benefits of troubles and hardships: we are like nails, the harder you hit us the deeper we go. I am reminded of Paul’s prayer from prison in Ephesians 3:14-21.
The challenges of returning will provide unique opportunities to keep our heads. Pastors whose better resourced media presentations have drawn believers from smaller Christ-centred / Bible believing churches will need to resist the flattery by urging them to go back to their churches. Christians will need to resist the temptation to join a larger church because of better technology or more staff. Christians who keep their head will recognise that prayer not presentation, faithfulness not flair in exposition, ministering themselves rather than funding the ministry of others, and being trained for service in the world instead of being comfortable in church, is the name of the game. Local churches have always been God’s master plan for winning and growing disciples. The proof of the pudding will be seen in a year or so as to how this has sustained us over the last few months. The well proven means of prayer, person to person pastoring, proclamation of Christ from the revealed Scriptures in complete dependence on God the Holy Spirit, have brought us safely to this day and can be counted on to see us safely to that great Day (2 Tim 4:6-8).
Peter Brain 5th June, 2020