To Pastors

When will the tumult die down and things get back to 2019-era normal? Maybe never.

A pandemic that might have united the United States has divided us further. Demonstrations sparked by a real abuse of power have driven some policemen from the streets.

While everyone was looking the other way, the Supreme Court delivered a decision that blithely assumes as common knowledge or settled law a novel and highly controversial definition of sex and gender identity.

We're already several decades into a revolution in world order: The collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the advance of aggressive Islamism; the refugee crisis; the nationalist-populist reaction symbolized by Brexit, Orban, Bolsonaro, and Trump; the rise of China; a global pandemic quickly followed by global demonstration and iconoclasm.

What's coming next? No one knows.

In the US, will we see a peaceful balkanization, formalized or de facto? A shooting war, sparked by a demonstration that turns into a pitched battle? Martial law to prevent a shooting war?

Those may be distant prospects or we may evade them entirely, but they're not unthinkable. And whatever is just over the horizon, we are likely in for a decade, perhaps several decades of regular or periodic turmoil.

The specifics will vary from place to place, but churches around the world are likely to find themselves in volatile times. What should pastors be doing?

First and foremost, stick to the basics. Teach and preach the Bible. Disciple and evangelize. Make sure children and young people are taught and fed. Work for strong families. Gather at the Lord's table, weekly. Learn the Psalms. Pray, pray, pray.

Second, did I mention Psalm-singing? If you want a congregation that hungers and thirsts for justice, a congregation that weeps with those who weep, and congregation prepared for discomfort, sing the Psalms, even or especially the hard ones. If they have the Psalm in their mouths, they'll develop a taste for God's justice, and they'll become inoculated to various off-brand forms of pseudo-justice.

Third, call the pastor at the church down the road. Call the pastor at the next church down the road. Start a pastors' prayer group in your city, town, or village. If you're a white pastor, call the pastor of a black church; if you're black, call the pastor of a white church. If you're a Catholic priest, pursue a friendship with a Pentecostal; if you're a Presbyterian, search out the Orthodox priests in town. Contact the pastor of an immigrant congregation. Organize a day of prayer, led by the pastors of your community. Pray, pray, pray together.

Fourth, visit the mayor, the police chief, members of the city council. Listen to them. Pray with and for them. Ask the mayor to endorse or advertise a community day of prayer. Cultivate a micro-Christendom. Work with other pastors to make your town a shadow of new Jerusalem.

Fifth, prepare your congregation for martyrdom - that is, for courageous witness to Jesus and His Word, no matter what pressures come their way.

Finally, two virtues are crucial. One is hope. Teach your people that, no matter what comes, the Lord is in it. No matter what happens, the Lord is opening new avenues of service, witness, and worship. The Lord dismantles and He rebuilds. It's hard to live through demolition, but it's also a chance to lay the foundations for rebuilding.

The other is courage. Panic is everywhere, greatly amplified by social media feeds. Christians need to follow Jesus, the fearless One whose favorite exhortation to timid disciples was, Fear not.

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