What a spring we have had, and what a summer we are having. What many once thought of as the “vision” year of 2020 is being eclipsed by a pandemic like the world rarely sees. Beyond its obvious threats to health and life, the Coronavirus has also invaded our daily conversations, our behaviors and lifestyles, our economy, our travel, and in some ways, even our churches.
To complicate matters further, the racial and political climates of our country have grown extremely unsettled and contentious. With this kind of world swirling around us, it’s often difficult to feel a sense of progress, or optimism about at least the immediate future.
In the midst of this chaos, a child was born. On June 17, little Ezra William Adams entered the world, our first grandchild. And somehow since he’s arrived, the world’s upheaval doesn’t seem to need as much of my attention. This little boy does.
Ezra is the next generation. He is the future. He reminds me that God’s plan is not only worldwide, it is also history long. And while God cares deeply about the here and now of the pandemic and its challenges, he is also at work in the then and there of Ezra’s life, which may well stretch into the 22nd century. Somehow that makes today’s problems seem a little smaller.
It occurred to me the other day that, for our family, Ezra also represents the fourth generation of Illinois Baptists. I can only imagine what Illinois churches and the Illinois mission field will look like when Ezra reaches my age. But I know it is my responsibility to help preserve in his life and for his future the biblical doctrine and commitment to worldwide missions cooperation that are the heart and soul of our Baptist identity. That’s more important than whether this year’s events can take place as planned, or whether next year’s budget is higher or lower.
I am reminded of this responsibility on an even larger scale when I walk down the hallway outside my office. Each trip to the breakroom or restroom or elevator requires that I walk past the portraits of 10 previous executive directors. Sometimes I pause and wonder what it was like to serve our diverse network of Baptist churches in the 1920s or 1950s.
My portrait beside them still seems small by comparison. Yet their presence, and their precedence, encourages me. Some had short tenures and some long. History tells me that some served during very troubled and challenging times for churches, and some during times of significant advance.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that even when circumstances around you seem chaotic or contentious, even when measurable progress seems hard, there is real value in simply persevering, and in faithfully carrying forward the vision, and sustaining the legacy and the mission for the next generation.
Your church may by thriving now, or it may be persevering through a downturn. The same may be true of your own ministry. It’s important to remember that we are each stewards of our particular time in history, and that being faithful during times of adversity and slow progress may be more difficult, even more valuable, than being faithful during times of success and advance.
Little Ezra’s arrival reminds me that I am a link in a chain. I am a steward for a season. I am one out of four generations, and by God’s grace there will be others. In fact, when September rolls around, we are likely to still be awaiting a vaccine for the Coronavirus. But at the end of that month, a second little baby, who we already know to be a girl, is due to arrive.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I find such comfort in the midst of the chaos when a child is born. Bethlehem’s child was born in the midst of such chaos, and he too brought tremendous comfort and peace.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.