Editor’s note: For the January 1 issue of the Illinois Baptist, pastors and leaders from IBSA shared their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the church in 2021. You’ll see them here every Wednesday this month.
Rayden Hollis, pastor, Red Hill Church, Edwardsville
A recent “Thanksgiving Song” by musician Ben Rector sums up 2020 this way: “We’ve made it through, I do believe, the longest year in history.”
Can you feel that? We’re beginning to crawl out of the isolation we’ve been experiencing for the last year, and many of us are wondering what the next season of life will be like.
But this is the first national crisis I can remember when there wasn’t a call for national prayer or a rush back to church. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite happen. There’s been a call to close churches, an emphasis on following science, and a ghostly silence about God’s involvement in bringing hope and healing.
This leaves us with a lot of questions. Will people come back to church? Will there be a renewed interest in spiritual things? Or has the ground of our state and the hearts of Illinoisans hardened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Conventional wisdom would say only time will tell, but biblical wisdom says the fields are white for harvesting.
Many pastors will be recommending strategies and next steps as we face the challenges of reaching our friends, family, and neighbors this year. There will be books, blog posts, and podcasts touting the best strategies, exalting the best practices, and promising the best results. It is incumbent upon us to trust the promises of God and to call upon his power to save. Our role in the harvest is prayer and faithfulness. The fields are ready, and the laborers are on hand.
What we need is a mighty move of God to thrust out his laborers. We need God to stir the hearts of his people and push them out into action.
Revival and renewal have never been brought through political maneuvers, through national “calls,” or through cultural movements. Revival and renewal are works of the Holy Spirit of God. Let’s make the most important commitment we can make in 2021. Let’s commit to pray every day that God would send out laborers, because we believe his word is true, his arm is strong enough to save, and his people will be faithful when thrust out.
Ben Jones, IBSA leadership development director
Last year not only divided the church physically, but it also created an atmosphere of division that’s unlikely to disappear with a new calendar or the arrival of a vaccine. Yet, even more important than a church gathered is a church unified. Just before his betrayal, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church. “May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me” (John 17:21).
So how do you cultivate unity in a climate of conflict? Whether you’re the pastor or a church member, do these two things:
Love people. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 should be the model for how we love others, especially in the church. Love like this resists divisions. It seeks to understand first. It thinks the best of others, even those with differing opinions.
Focus on the gospel. The self-sacrificial mission of Christ is worthy to be elevated above all. Let it be the lens through which you see a divided world. Let it be the only message worthy of your time.
Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. Differing ideas about many things may remain, but let these be your center, and the church that gathers around them will be one in Christ.