Watch the Foundations

Be mindful of the health of the fellowship of believers. As we make our way through this current maze, keep an eye on the foundations.

SCENE ONE: I was talking with a close friend about the music ministry he helped to create. He was concerned as the pandemic wears on. They had spent decades building a strong foundation of fellowship that defined the ministry. “Every month this goes on,” he said, “another layer of that foundation erodes.” 

SCENE TWO: I was on a regional Zoom call with other pastors. When we got into our virtual breakout rooms I was surprised at the level of vitriol. Granted, the event was 90 minutes of life we would never get back, but there was frustration and anger that people who planned this gathering, intending to be supportive and helpful, seemed totally oblivious to real life issues many pastors are dealing with, especially those with young children at home who need (and deserve) loving care and e-learning supervision along with trying to shepherd a congregation. 

Nurturing the Fellowship

These two instances point to an under-mentioned reality. We’re in trouble. We never imagined (nor could we) what life during a pandemic would actually be like. And while Scripture commands us to be mindful of the health of the fellowship of believers, rarely does that make the top five slots on many to-do lists. In my experience it’s the unusual congregation, the anomalous choir or worship team that spends much time at all nurturing the fellowship of their group with the anticipation that some day that fabric might be severely tested (by, say, isolation for the better part of a year). Even those who have are seeing the foundations they’ve created wash away like many places on the shores of the Great Lakes.

The Damage Can Be Repaired

The good news is, the damage can be repaired. Begin in your own heart. How is your relationship with the triune God? How is your life of prayer? Are you still confident in the promises of Scripture or is the Word of God sounding more like wishful words from a different time and place? Tim Keller has written:

“Prayer is like waking up from a nightmare to reality. We laugh at what we took so seriously inside the dream. We realize that all is truly well. Of course, prayer can have the opposite effect; it can puncture illusions and show us we are in more spiritual danger than we thought” (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, New York: Penguin Books, 2016, p. 103).

Whether it’s consolation or confrontation, your prayer life is going to determine how you deal with the rest of life. But individual attention to the foundations carries over into pastoral leadership.

Whether you’re a preacher/teacher or a music minister, you’re responsible for the spiritual health of the people in your care especially during times of challenge and crisis. How are you helping your people to stay connected with each other and with God through Jesus Christ? 

Our director of music is being especially conscious of this. While there is no way a full choir or worship team can be meeting for normal rehearsals and services, she is meeting with small groups of singers and instrumentalists, giving them the opportunity to continue making music together, and she is sending email encouragement to the rest of the music ministry. 

I am also taking part of each ministry team and staff meeting (all by Zoom yet) for us to check in with each other. How are we doing? How are our families? Where have we seen God most powerfully? How can we pray for each other? 

If you, like me, are beyond the age of children at home, how can you be helping those who are trying to balance work, family, and e-learning, as well as the emotional circus that we’re all experiencing? How can your wisdom and perspective help them stay focused and sane?

Of course we will get to the other side of our current challenges. And, there will be new ones. But as we make our way through this current maze, keep an eye on the foundations. It only makes sense.

Digging Deeper

Rev. Dr. Paul Detterman is an author, composer, and conference speaker who is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, Illinois, and a blogger at reformedworship.org. He is a former associate for worship on the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (USA).