At a minimum, it’s been a challenging year. With uncertainty about an end to the challenges posed by COVID-19, ratcheting tension in civil society, continuing racial strife, businesses pushed to the breaking point, unhelpful “presidential” debate …
We need something to celebrate, not to distract us from the challenges we’re facing, but because celebration in this moment can be the means for addressing our current challenges.
Despite all that has happened and is happening this year—things seen and unforeseen—there are important things that didn’t happen this year. I know the year isn’t over, and the superstitious among us God-fearing people won’t want me to jinx us.
October has begun, though, putting us within arm’s reach of the end of another calendar year, and we need to take stock of what hasn’t happened and celebrate now.
I’d like to focus on just one area for celebration—the church.
Some churches closed
Despite not meeting in person for weeks or even months, despite dips in receipts, most churches didn’t close this year. Some argue churches did close, that they closed their doors to in-person worship, but if you can close a church simply by closing the doors to a building, then the church—read “the body of Christ”—is a hollow thing indeed.
Yes, there are churches struggling and churches in decline. There are churches eyeing closure in the not-so-distant future. Since the beginning of 2020, 37 Baptist General Convention of Texas churches have closed. Those 37 churches were 16 established churches, five church starting missions and 16 missions.
Let’s sit with this for a minute.
Those 37 churches were places where the gospel was preached, people were discipled and ministry was done. None of them started with the goal of closing. They closed for various reasons, and they likely think the main reason is failure. But our ledgers don’t always accurately reflect God’s accounting.
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This life is a mixed bag. With celebration, there often also is grieving. On the night my son was born, his great-uncle died; death was replaced with life literally within minutes. How did my dad hold such intense joy and pain at the same time?
Celebration doesn’t preclude grieving, especially when grieving needs to be done, and grieving shouldn’t cancel celebration.
Thirty-seven BGCT churches closed between January and the end of September this year. We grieve their closure.
Most churches didn’t
And we celebrate 5,381 churches that make up the BGCT didn’t close this year. In fact, some of those 5,381 churches started this year. Yes, during a pandemic, new churches were started and others were restarted—72 of them.
Ward Hayes, treasurer and chief financial officer for the BGCT, reported the following:
• In August alone, six new churches were started.
• To date in 2020, 39 new churches were started, with two still in the approval process, and two churches were replanted.
• Also, 17 house churches and, within the prison system, 14 Philippi churches were started.
Working with chaplains, Philippi churches receive Bibles and discipleship materials, practice baptism, and when a member is transferred to another unit, the inmate starts a new group that might become a church, Josue Valerio, team director of BGCT missions, explained.
Hayes also was excited to report there have been “1,123 professions of faith in all church starts this year so far.”
Again, 5,381 Texas Baptist churches did not close this year. These churches—regardless of what their doors did or are doing—still are worshiping, praying, reading and studying the Bible and carrying out ministry.
This is worth celebrating, and the BGCT is just one part of the whole body of Christ. I wonder what we can celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Christ outside the BGCT.
Not only did many churches not close …
Another thing that didn’t happen this year: Churches looking for pastors didn’t have to give up their searches. Pastors, associate pastors, executive pastors, music and worship pastors, children and youth pastors, senior adult pastors—people have been called to these positions and others just since March. Hopefully, this is encouragement for those churches still searching for pastors.
Not only did most churches not close, but plenty of churches moved forward in ministry this year; they did not step back.
Some churches moved forward with building campaigns. Some churches engaged in difficult conversations about race. Some churches started or enlarged feeding ministries. Many churches dove into virtual ministry—not virtual as in pseudo-ministry, but virtual as in engaging in worship, Bible study and other ministry online. Most churches tried at least one new thing and pressed into the uncertainty of this time.
Take a moment to let that sink in.
These are difficult days, but they’re not enough to kill the church. And that’s not because we’re so tough. It’s because we are the body of Christ, the Risen Lord who conquered death.
Let that sink in.
And then figure out your part. How are you going to be part of keeping at least one congregation moving forward—pointed toward Jesus and communicating about Jesus?
Our strength for these days
During days when so much seems up in the air, it matters that the church is rooted in Easter morning. As presidential candidates cast doubt on a future led by their opponent, it matters that our future does not depend ultimately on any president. As disease wreaks havoc, economies yo-yo, society strains at the seams, it matters that the church is held together and sent into the world by Jesus Christ.
We celebrate when we let that sink in. And when we do, we become clearheaded about who we are and whose we are. When we see ourselves correctly, rather than being overcome by the world, we can embody our mission in it.
Our mission is to follow Jesus, who came “to proclaim good news to the poor … to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor;” Jesus, who commanded us to love God and love others; Jesus, who told us to obey everything he commanded.
At a minimum, it will continue to be a challenging year and may become more so. Given what didn’t happen this year, the church is up for the challenge.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.