Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
Two weeks ago was a big week of upheaval in our country, and this week marks a big change as a new administration begins. We hear news of more people receiving the vaccine for COVID-19, but we don’t know when things will get back to normal—or rather when we will settle into a new normal. In just six weeks our beloved pastor of 42 years will retire. There is a lot of change ahead; there is no avoiding it. I wrote earlier about The Gospel of Transition and how God uses change in our lives to accomplish his purposes.
There is a lot ahead of us—a lot we don’t yet know about the future. And that can bring anxiety for some. Others may believe life has been put on hold because of COVID-19. Still others may actually feel they are missing out on the life they are meant to be living.
But the truth is, right here is where we are called to live by faith and follow Jesus and engage in his ongoing mission in the world. In the midst of all that is happening, that has not changed. Life is not a problem to be solved; it is a story to be lived right here and now in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. This may not be the story we want or would have chosen for ourselves, but it is the story that is being written right here and right now. What is the nature of the story being written by your life?
Recently, I was reminded of several of my favorite quotes by Dallas Willard. “Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you. The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity.”
Willard also reminds us, “Circumstance and other people are not in control of your character or the life that lies endlessly before you in the kingdom of God.” This is good news. There is nothing at risk in circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I still remember a sermon I heard in the winter of 1984. When asked how we are doing, it is common to reply, “I’m doing alright, under the circumstances.” The preacher challenged us with the question, “What are you doing under there?”
We are called to be people who believe and live these truths: that Jesus is Lord, scripture is our authority, and everyone is called to follow Jesus. Jesus promised to be with us always. There are no times or circumstances in life when he will not be with us. The Holy Spirit is the ongoing presence of Jesus who fills, empowers, and transforms us in the midst of whatever situations we may find ourselves.
This week I took time to read some books and do some thinking and processing about what is ahead as Pete closes out his ministry at VPC and we await the arrival of a new senior pastor. Two of the books I read spoke about how in times of change, anxiety arises within group.
I was encouraged as I read that in the midst of everything that does change, it’s important to remember what does not change. This is our conviction. Jesus is the risen and reigning king, and we are a part of his ongoing mission in the world.
Three or four years ago as we began to talk about the reality of Pete’s retirement, the leadership of the church, both staff and session, recognized the importance of clarifying our mission, vision, values, and strategy for ministry. We took almost a year to pray, talk about, and restate this in a paper “This Is Who We Are,” which is now on our new website under What We Believe. This may seem like words on a page, but we knew that in times of change, this needed to be crystal clear for us as a congregation and for the Pastoral Nominating Committee to find a good match for us in a new leader.
In the fall of 2018, we had an all-in effort to go through a sermon series and seven-week small group experience to help our church understand what this means in our personal lives and community. That curriculum is still used as a part of our new members’ class to help every person who becomes a part of our church to understand who we are.
In the fall of 2019 we changed our Sunday morning schedule to encourage more people to participate in learning communities. Little did we know how that transition prepared us for the all the adaptations we would have to make due to COVID in 2020 to online ministry.
Why did we take the time to walk through this? Why did we change things? Our vision statement clearly lays this out: “We want to engage more people in Christ’s mission. Jesus commissions his church to go and make disciples. Our broken, hurting world compels all of us to take up Jesus’ call. Every person we meet is worthy of Christ’s love.”
VPC has already been through a lot of change in the way we gather as a church, and we will experience more change with our senior pastor transition. But it’s important to realize what doesn’t change. Though our methods have needed to adapt, our mission remains the same. Though the person serving as the senior pastor or our church will change, our conviction is that we are still becoming like Christ together for the world.
The Holy Spirit is the one who transforms us, but we are called to cooperate with the Spirit’s work by choosing intentional practices like listening to the voice of God in Scripture and not just tuning into our newsfeed or social media. We engage in an interactive conversation with God through prayer. We choose to turn our attention toward God to worship him for who he is and willingly face the ways we fall short. These are practices we can engage in as individuals, couples, families, small groups, and as a congregation as a whole. They strengthen our faith, but they also reduce anxiety.
Anxiety arises because of what we focus on. We can listen to news 24-7, and that will get anyone’s heart racing. We can try to numb anxiety by binging on Netflix or social media. But it won’t resolve the anxiety. We are able to stay calm and centered as we trust Christ and focus on the truth of his eternal word and engage in his mission of reaching more people with the good news.
We will get through all the changes together, and I’ll say more about that in my next post. But my encouragement and challenge is to focus on what never changes. Again, Jesus is Lord, Scripture is our authority, and we are called to follow Jesus as we live out his mission right here and right now. God wants our story to be a part of his ongoing redemptive story. What does that look like in your life right now?