Rev. Dr. Earl J. Griffin, Sr.
Printed Text: Mark 10:42-45
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The world has been broadcasting its safety precautions, its vaccination plans, its assurance that the economy will rebound, and its build back better agenda. Yet, pandemics do not submit to world leaders, world economic organizations, nor governmental bodies. Albeit they act; they cannot address the most important issues that the people of their country face; for the battles of constituents are spiritual, mental, emotional, and philosophical.
In the ebook, “The Top 5 Post Pandemic Challenges for Church Leaders, published by Servant Leaders and written by Tom Harper, a recent survey revealed that the number one challenge the church faced, the people of God faced, the leaders of God’s churches faced, was “maintaining a positive attitude.” Out of 190 respondents to a national survey, 60% said maintaining a positive attitude was the toughest. I wonder if any of you have faced this same challenge. Coming in second and third place was adjusting to and complying with “government restrictions” and “adjusting to remote work” both of which accounted for 44% of the struggles of leadership. Out of ten top struggles of note are also, “stress in personal life affected my work,’ and “following Christ in my leadership,” at 21% and 18% respectively.
It is safe to say that “2020 thrust our churches and its leaders into the forefront of a destabilized world. Sleep deprivation, fear, lack of energy, financial stressors, death and grief, personal health challenges and doubts of faith all contributed to the various issues the church faced and still faces as we continue to navigate through this pandemic. The “fear of the unknown” continues to plaque the minds of many church members and leaders today. The vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated; should I take the booster or not are all considerations that divide and conquer even members of the body of Christ. And then there’s the issue of whether government mandates enhance or prohibit individual freedoms that citizens of a democratic republic should enjoy.
To say the least, the world is unstable and, in many respects, so is the church. So, we ask, “How can the church lead the world during this pandemic when even the church is afraid, doubtful, and skeptical?”
A leading voice in the church leadership, growth and health field, Bob Whitesel (M.Div., D.Min., Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary) is a prolific, award-winning writer and scholar) in his ebook, “Growing the Post-Pandemic Church: A Leadership Church Guide,” sees some instant changes developing. He writes, “hugging will decline. However, the genuine eye-to-eye smile may replace the hug; sharing the communion cup will still be meaningful, but in increasingly metaphorical ways; Children’s ministry will be disinfected and cleaned regularly, or people won’t bring their kids; junior high, high school and college groups will continue to be a hybrid challenge; the offering plate will mostly disappear; leaders, greeters, ushers, teachers and other church workers will use hand sanitizer more often; worship will move from entertainment to experience; singing will be suspect (and different), but meaningful; there will be different levels of social distancing for vulnerable populations; outdoors will tend to be better than indoors; a shorter period of time will be better than a longer one; and smaller groups will be more desirable than large groups.”
Dr. Whitesel goes on to say, churches should begin to build their reputations upon compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience which are all the ingredients necessary to be servants. He encourages churches to convert large spaces into smaller ones, to include a large sanctuary. He even encourages churches to “look for opportunities to sell, lease or give away facilities you own” to add to your financial stability. Finally, Whitesel gives four other ways a church can increase its survivability in light of the pandemic: 1) focus on making learners; 2) focus on small groups as the primary venue where fellowship and spiritual growth take place (classes); 3) focus and prayer and 4) serving the needs of others.
Well, Jesus gives us insight into the path the church can take to best lead the world through this pandemic into the promises of God. Jesus speaks in Mark 10:42-45, 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The key to adequately responding to the pandemic and the uncertainty we face in the world is service. Jesus instructs the church, his church to be servants. To that end, church leaders, servant leaders have a mission that they can rally toward. Simple service to humanity during the pandemic, during disasters, during violence, during civil unrest, service is the way through. Of note is that fact that Jesus does not instruct us to prophesy when the pandemic will cease nor even to make meaning of the pandemic. Jesus says let the world in its chaotic state find the church serving.
The church will lead the world through the pandemic through its ministries of service. And what should that look like:
For starters, it should look like, St. Mary CME Temple who have turned their church edifice into a healing station for vaccinations, community information gatherings, food distributions, and townhall meetings in concert with Bastrop community leaders.
It should look like, Mays Chapel’s food distribution and disaster relief efforts for those who suffered during the catastrophic weather. It should look like Lewis Temple CME Church and its food distribution ministry along with its advocacy as part of the NAACP, Zeta Sorority, and the Community Cleanup efforts. All of which are needed and serve to bring peace and a looking forward to a better day among those who are weary.
It should look like Mt. Earia who have an all-out teleconference blast of Sunday School, Worship, and Bible Study for the people of Jonesboro, LA and around the world. It should look like Mt. Sinai-Williams preparing meals for the community and hosting community gatherings in the Collinston area. It should look like Dolly Chapel and her partners under the leadership of Rev. Diana Roberison carrying meals to South Louisiana along with other necessities to help offset the damages done during Hurricane Ida and the rest of those tragic storms. These are just a few of the things that are ongoing within the Monroe District and the Louisiana Region. Time does not afford me the luxury of identifying all the ways that the church is leading the world through this pandemic. For certainly, I could mention Pine Hill CME, Haynesville, LA under the leadership of Rev. Samuel McKinsey, who purchased a building to house its community outreach and assistance ministry. Certainly, I could name Williams Temple, Shreveport, LA and Mt. Zion CME Church, Minden, LA and highlight their disaster relief efforts during this season. Not to mention the work of the Presiding Elder’s over each of the churches in areas affected by COVID-19 and the horrendous weather patters afoot; for they are servant leaders indeed.
What I am saying in a nutshell, is that the church in order to lead the world through the pandemic must be found serving the people effected in ways that make a difference and causes a pause in the feelings of victimization and abandonment. The church is the sign to the world that God cares. The church must be about its mission and not just talking about its mission. Jesus has left us a promise: “And low I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.” The church is to be the manifest presence of Jesus with us even during the pandemic.
In that regard, then, the church will lead the world through the pandemic by keeping hope alive, hearts filled with thanksgiving and gratitude by its service in the world. This can be the churches greatest hour when the church is out front serving those in need, bringing smiles to children’s faces, and warming the hearts of parents who just lost everything.
And so, I conclude where I began, the world is looking for a representation and reflection of Christ in this crisis. Let that need be met by each one of you; each church, each member, each leader should be personable, relatable, empathetic, compassionate, and willing to adapt to the changing environment we find ourselves in as members of the body of Christ, salt and light in world.
As your presiding elder I challenge you to seek out information on what I have covered with you today and enhance your remote ministries, your small groups, and your service outreaches. We are the Monroe District Soaring Like Eagles “Going Back to the Basics; Taking Care of God’s Business as we Envision our Way Forward.”