“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:4 NIV
When you are a planner like me, COVID is a challenge. Just when you think the country is heading on its way to open back up, we see in some areas of the nation a reversal. Restaurants that were preparing to open to their patient and faithful clientele in some states were told to hold their horses. Businesses and churches experiencing similar setbacks with more guidelines and rules. If there is anything consistent about the uncertain times we are in it is this, plans can change.
The changing of plans can cause someone like me to hyperventilate. As a pastor of a wonderful mid-west, Jesus loving and generation reaching church family, I like to know were we are going well in advance. I think a lot of pastors are that way. My comfort zone is to have a plan at least six months to a year out at all times. In the past, this has worked out well, knowing that you can always change a plan if you have a plan. Now during this season of uncertainty, I am doing well to be a week or at the most a month ahead. That is not my comfort zone.
Scripture tells us to not worry about tomorrow. This little nugget of truth has put some pastors, me included, to the test for sure. At the start of this adventure, I was a pro at wondering what in the world was going to happen tomorrow. The President’s daily briefings were a staple in my home hoping for the news we were heading back to normal so we could get back to our plans. That didn’t happen. Before COVID, I and the staff of PAG worked hard on events to meet the needs of our community and congregation. “Tomorrows” are what we planned for as we took a sense of pride in a calendar that led us through the strategies of executing the event. Now, I look at my calendar and see all of the dates put there by my pencil months ago that mean absolutely nothing. The thought of planning ahead is always met with the reality of the ever-changing season we are in. This season of uncertainty has taught me that even when I cannot plan ahead, I can still make sure I keep the main thing the main thing – mission!
I believe God is teaching His Church a great lesson in our uncertain future here in the United States. What is the lesson? Obedience to the mission for those who are paying attention. The lesson plan of our text today teaches that life is not always going to go as planned, but God’s plans will always be accomplished. The context of our scripture shows us a very sad and tragic time for the early Church. Yet running parallel to the tragedy is the excitement of obedience to the daily mission that changes the world. Let me give you a little background.
The early Church is up and running. It is growing and very busy. Excitement and hard work go hand in hand making sure the message of the Gospel is preached. Then something happens. A faithful servant and godly man named Stephen is stoned to death for preaching the message of Jesus Christ. Stephen was not a seeker sensitive speaker and it cost him his life. A guy named Saul is on hand to give approval of the stoning while also doing his part to try to stop the early Church. (This guy’s plans change to. He never saw it coming! Look up the Apostle Paul.) People are dying and going to prison for their faith. In Acts 8, the plans for from Stephen preaching hot to a persecution that changed the plans. This is where and when God shows us how He works with change in plans. The enemy thinks it is hurting the Church with the persecution, but God uses what the enemy means for harm to maximize the reach of those who follow Jesus. In this case, the believers are scattered due to the persecution, but as they scatter, they still do the mission. It was a change in plans for the people of the Church, but not for the mission of the Church. Scattering brought a great gathering.
Life is going to be interrupted. The Church’s way of doing things like planning events, concerts, fundraisers, summer camps, sermon series and Christmas cantatas and more have all taken a seat, but the mission is up and running. If I see God doing anything right now, I see Him getting the Church online with the mission as we are online with our congregation and communities. The mission is still the mission... preach the word!
2020 has not been what we planned it to be. I dare a pastor to show me that he/she had three months or more without meeting with the local church in person on his/her calendar. We are still not all back to gathering. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait for the Church to get back to what it was doing before your Governor shut down your state and told you to quit singing (where applicable). Those days could be well behind us. Even when things do get back to what we would call normal, there will be changes we will all need to get used to. The plans may have changed, but the mission stays the same. Let us commit to this mission, partner with our local church, pray for our local church, and preach the word wherever we go.