These past few weeks I have taken some time to meditate on the reality that even though our world looks a lot different than it did on January 1, there are certain things that have not changed. One of the unchanging realities is that the mission of the church remains the same. We still have a task to tackle. The devil has not announced a cease-fire. People around the globe still need Jesus. The world is still in need of a Savior. Hearts remain restless until they rest in Christ.
Ed Stetzer, a professor of missiology at Wheaton College, recently noted that churches have needed to “pause and pivot” (see this article and check out his leadership podcast). That is, we needed to step back, look at our situation, then pivot to move in strategic ways so that we keep faithfully pressing on. But what does “pressing on” in mission look like? It seems inescapable to me that the commands to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2; cf. John 15:17; Rom 12:10, 16; 2 Cor 13:11; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2, 32; Col 3:13) and to lean into the “least of these” (Matt 25:40)—the poor, the marginalized, the weak, the frail—is something we need to do in heightened ways. We should have been doing these things already. However, I believe God providentially uses times of suffering and hardship to heighten our senses to the ministry needs around us.
Historically, Christians have stepped up to the plate and loved in profound ways during times of crisis. During the 4th-century, an epidemic swept through the Roman Empire. Followers of Jesus leaned into the suffering and served. There are reports of Christians caring for the sick, taking time to bury the dead, and feeding the poor. The acts of kindness did not go unnoticed. Stetzer notes that Eusebius, the early church historian, reported that the “deeds [of Christians] were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the god of the Christians.”
Now, I do not believe that leaning into the world in Christ-like ways will forever remove the animosity that exists between the world, Christians, and their King (John 15:18–19). As long as we sojourn on this planet, as long as we follow Jesus and reject the ways of the unregenerate world, suffering and persecution will exist (cf. 2 Tim 3:12). As they hated our Master, they will hate us (John 16:20). But that does not keep us from loving in profound ways. Whether or not the world loves us in return, we press on in order to shower our neighbors and the nations with the love of Christ. And we love because we’ve been loved (1 John 4:19).
So, pastor, this is our moment. We look at the world, we see the hurt and the need, and we run towards it with help and hope. May the Spirit of Christ move us to press on, help us to lean in, and empower us to love deeply. We do not ask for this divine empowerment so that men and women will pat our backs and sing our praises. No, our hope is higher. We ask that the Lord will cause us to love our neighbors in ways that cause them to see our good works and praise our God who is in heaven (Matt 5:16). At the end of the day, may the 4th-century report become a report that is true of Christians in the 21st century. Their “deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians.”