On the Other Side of This Thing
The questions we ask can be very telling. When a quick scroll through the headlines in my newsfeed fails to offer clarity or calm, I find myself typing vague questions into the search bar: “How long do pandemics last?” “When will this be over?” While many of us feel impatient as we adapt to new challenges and squint into an uncertain future, I’m struck by how much of Christian life is composed of waiting and expectations. The wintery dark of Advent gives way to the light of Epiphany, which swiftly transforms into the somber weeks of Lent. Easter celebrations rekindle in us an eagerness for the resurrection of the whole Body of Christ. And, now, once again, we find ourselves waiting like the apostles for Pentecost. Jesus, after his resurrection, tells his disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” The disciples excitedly ask if the kingdom of Israel will be restored. “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The disciples are still looking “intently up into the sky,” when two men in white suddenly appear to ask them why they are still there (Acts 1: 4-11). To this day, disciples are eager for Christ’s return. I wonder if our impatience confuses the direction in which ministry travels. In times of difficulty, do we sometimes allow our longing for the kingdom of God to turn into “survival mode?” It is so easy to hunker down, put our blinders on, and focus on ushering our congregations to “the other side.” Meanwhile, we miss the joy offered to us and skip over the demanding work that results in a stronger church. We become content to numbly let fruitful moments of lament, conviction, or discipleship blur past us and to let our congregation settle for some paler version of Christian life. Seasons of global crisis like COVID-19 are not the only places where we fall into survival mode. In conflict, it is easy to focus on a resolution or closure. If we, as church leaders, gird ourselves for decisions we’re dreading, we’re depriving our communities of an opportunity for real discipleship. After all, it is in the hard, active work of “iron sharpening iron,” that we build communion and fortify our churches against division. I wonder if the catch phrase, “We’re all in this together,” now ubiquitous in advertisements and social media posts, is a similar attempt to skirt important conflicts and questions. Facing these difficulties might yield discipleship if we were bold enough to stand still in the difficulty and open our eyes to what God speaks to us and asks of us now. After all, faith is not an avenue of escaping the world but a witness to Christ’s entrance into it. What is our pre-Pentecost work in COVID-19? What is required of us while we wait for the signal to disburse from upper rooms? What is offered to us in conflict? In the beginning of Acts, without a deadline for the Holy Spirit’s arrival, the work of the Church went on. As we wait for the celebration of Pentecost in 2020, we face a similar task. Many of the pastors in our Colossian Way community are facing hard decisions, knowing ministry and discipleship can’t settle for survival mode indefinitely. The Colossian Way is an invitation to deeper engagement now; to discipleship, relationship, and joy in the conflict, crisis, and challenge. If you haven’t seen it already, watch a Colossian Way decision-making process modeled in this live stream we prepared in partnership with Crossroads Bible Church. And this article offers a host of resources to help you turn this time into the discipleship opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Much of the Christian life is waiting, and we recognize how difficult it is to shepherd a community through the conflicts and anticipation. But through his Church, on every ordinary day as on Pentecost, Christ’s ministry of redemption and reconciliation crosses over from the Eternal Kingdom to our temporary world. Thank you for your ministry on this side of heaven.