By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters … ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do
you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland ... to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.’” Isaiah 43:16-21 (NIV)
For the past two years, we have lived in the midst of a global pandemic, racial unrest and political divisiveness. These frightening times have taken a toll on all of us—both literally and emotionally, in fact—wreaking havoc on the way life is experienced and lived.
In the midst of this prolonged, pandemic-induced pause, we have had to stop almost everything. And now the challenge is to avoid being a “SnapBack” church—one that simply goes back to what we “used to do.” There is an opportunity before us to recalibrate our ministry and carry forward those things we have learned during these challenging two years.
Our current challenge is understanding that we are a connectional denomination in an ever-more-individualistic society. We are Boomers and Gen Xers in a Millennial and Gen Z world—a world that grates against the traditions of older generations and values personal relationships over the value of participating in institutions.
How we relate the Gospel of Jesus Christ with these generations will be important to the building of faith today and into the future.
In her poem, “New Day’s Lyric,” Amanda Gorman writes, “We are learning that though we weren’t ready for this, we have been readied by it.” While the past two years have been filled with cancellations and disappointments, there has also been unexpected space for intentional reflection and conversation. Time to rediscover our “why.”
Now is the time—an opportunity, really—to claim our relevance and tell our story. What would your community look like if your church was gone? What needs would go unmet? Remember that we were created for God’s purpose, and not our own pleasure. We are created, redeemed and sustained that we may proclaim God’s praise.
Now is the time to develop both the current and next generations of leaders for our church, to engage our communities out in our communities, to connect with and grow disciples and to measure our current realities and evaluate missional possibilities that are truly relevant wherever we find ourselves in ministry.
Yet we acknowledge the elephants all around that demand our attention. Former ambassador Andrew Young describes it this way, namely, “We live in the tension of who we are, who we say we are and who we want to be.”
Facing the difficult truths of General Conference postponement, disaffiliation possibilities and the polarization in our communities are tensions we cannot avoid or hide from.
What we need to do will become evident in the time ahead. But what we do know now is we must continue to make space for God to work and go out and be disciples that God can use.
Being a witness for how God is working in your life and for your life might be the only sermon they ever hear.
Now is the time to take the next faithful steps—trusting, believing and knowing that God is with us.