COVID-19 has done a number on churches all over the world. Church planters have been hit particularly hard.
Church plants aren’t exactly stable in their first few years, so when you throw in a global pandemic, it can make you feel like you’re in a paddle boat passing through a tropical storm in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
But God makes no mistakes and He wasn’t thrown off by COVID-19. In fact, He ordained it. He even ordained the difficulties you and your church are enduring right now.
In Genesis 21, we read the incredible story of God fulfilling His promise to bless Abraham & Sarah with a son through whom would come descendants as numerous as the stars. Through this offspring, Abraham’s lineage would be a blessing to all nations.
But the promise didn’t come right away. Abraham went through years of waiting, wavering, and wishing for the fulfillment of God’s promise to come about. But at the ripe old age of 99, (and his wife Sarah being 90), the promised child miraculously came!
Here are 3 encouraging truths for you to hold on to from Genesis 21 as you continue to hope in God’s faithfulness in a trying season of ministry:
#1 – God keeps His promises despite… the impossibility of the circumstances
Abraham was 99. Sarah was 90. When the Lord told her 12 months earlier that she would have a son a year later, she laughed (Gen. 18:12).
Well, the joke’s on Abraham & Sarah, because she did have a son, and God named him Isaac, which means “laughter”.
When all of our outreach plans, mission teams, and programs get cancelled, it can make it seem nearly impossible to accomplish the task set before us. We all want to reach our city with the Gospel.
But it is in times like these that we can take comfort in remembering that God does not need us to help Him reach our city. Not only that, God wants to reach His lost sheep more than we do.
The Gospel is able to spread in spite of less than ideal circumstances (see Philippians 1:12-18). Even though it may not look like swelling attendance, bigger budgets, or more baptisms, God is faithful to work through the weakness of our witness.
Equip your church members to reach their neighbours where they are at, continue to faithfully preach the whole counsel of God, set the example for the flock in personal evangelism, and then trust God to do what only He can do – reach your city.
#2 – God keeps His promises despite…the impracticality of the timing
Abraham and Sarah waited a very long time to see God’s promise come to fruition. In fact, Abraham was 75 when God told him he would have descendants as numerous as the stars.
You wouldn’t blame Abraham for wondering what was taking so long 24 years later at the ripe old age of 99! But God does not operate on our timetable. There’s purpose in the waiting.
Maybe the launch of your church plant was delayed. Maybe you had a mission trip planned that was postponed. You may have had big plans to start an outreach in your city and now you aren’t sure if or when those plans will be revived.
It can be difficult to understand why God wouldn’t want those things to happen. But it’s important to remember that what God wants more than anything is for us to know and trust Him.
Sometimes we can get caught up in making plans for Jesus, but maybe our plans aren’t His plans? “Man makes His plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Prov. 16:9).
It could be that higher on God’s priority list than your new church plant launching with a bang is you becoming more and more utterly dependent upon Him for everything.
Don’t despise the wait He’s brought you into. Seek Him in it and trust that God will keep all of His promises; they just may not be fulfilled in the way or in the timing you wanted.
#3 – God keeps His promises despite…the impotence of the vessel
Abraham was weak in more ways than one. He was 99 years old so he wasn’t exactly a spring chicken. And he also wavered in faith at times.
At one point, he slept with Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, to try and help God keep His promise. (I’m sure you’ve never tried to help God keep His promises)
What Abraham found out, though, was that he was powerless to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. All the scheming and planning in the world couldn’t make it happen.
As pastors and church planters, we’re in the same boat. We are powerless to bring about what we most desire: spiritual regeneration and restoration in the lives of the people we are reaching.
And yet for some reason, we’re tempted to try. Let me urge you to resist the urge to try to “make something happen” during this season. Don’t cave to the pressure to keep numbers.
You will not give an account to God for how many were streaming your live service on YouTube.
Stay focused on what God has called you to: Make disciples. Invest in the ones God has put right in front of you and share Jesus with those you interact with in the community.
Then watch as God works through your weakness to do what He has promised to do whenever and wherever His Word is proclaimed.
You may feel very weak to bring about the desires you believe God has put on your heart for your church or church plant. And pastor, that is OK. You are actually right where you need to be.
Hear the word of the Lord for you right now: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9)
God Will Build His Church
I for one am thankful for COVID-19. It’s teaching me to rely more on God to build His church and less on myself. That’s a freeing thing for pastors and church planters.
Incredibly, our church has actually grown in the past 6 months. We haven’t started any programs. Our online presence is very average. And we’ve spent virtually no money on outreach.
That’s got nothing to do with us and everything to do with God. It’s just further confirmation for myself and our other elders that when God says He will build His church, He means it. We just need to get out of the way and trust Him.
I invite you, dear brother or sister, to do the same.
Jared Huntley is a church planter and the teaching pastor at Pillar Church of Washington, D.C.
For more on trusting God to be faithful to build His church, check out this In The Trenches Episode from Season 3!