by Mike Durbin
PLYMOUTH, MI – Ministry is challenging! Always. It’s safe to say that for most pastors there has never been a time in ministry more challenging than 2020. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, pastors are leading through social unrest, racial injustice, political tension, economic downturn, natural and man-made disasters, unemployment, and community disruption caused by the closing and opening of businesses and schools.
It has been a challenging season for pastoral ministry. That’s why it’s especially important that we express our appreciation to them. October is Pastor Appreciation Month. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to let our pastor and his family know that we are grateful for them.
While talking about this year, one pastor captured how many may feel about 2020 when he said: “Life at church is weird.” Preaching to a camera in an empty auditorium is weird - so too is preaching when half of the seats are roped off and people are wearing face masks. Things that were once so natural - like greeting one another with a handshake or hug - now feel awkward. A pastor recently told me about a guest who decided not to return to the church because there were too many people shaking hands and hugging. Finding just the right balance in a world of opinions, preferences, comfort zones and conflicting information has been and continues to be challenging to say the least.
In some circles today, the church is described as “non-essential.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The overwhelming majority of our churches did stop having in-person worship services for a season to flatten the spread of COVID-19. It was done out of love for our church families and the people in our communities, but we never stopped sharing the Gospel or ministering. Despite the language used by some, the church never stopped being essential.
The speed at which pastors and churches turned to online platforms to share the Gospel and connect with people was amazing. So too were the new and creative ways churches found to serve the communities around them. Below is just a small sampling of the ways that pastors led churches to demonstrate the love of Christ during these unprecedented times:
When several dams broke in the Midland area, more than 11,000 people were affected. Because of COVID-19, Emmanuel Baptist Church was not using her building for worship services. A local shelter was threatened by the flood waters, so the church opened their facility to the men and women of the Open Door (shelter to the homeless, hungry and hurting) to have a place to live. The church was out of the building, but the people of the shelter were in. Pastor Sam Hamilton says, “It is a pleasure to be here and deal with some precious people.”
Sunrise Baptist Church immediately reached out to the community to help flood victims. Lead pastor Philip Miles said that the church mobilized on day one to help people. “We’ve had crews that have been tearing out drywall, getting furniture out of basements, and really doing the hard work of helping get people back into their homes.” Sunrise housed the Michigan Baptist Disaster Relief team under the direction of State Director, Bob Kiger. Disaster Relief volunteers emptied basements of debris affected by the flood and sprayed to stop the spread of mold and mildew. They prayed for and served people as they worked.
Mission Strategist David Roberts said about the flood, “In the midst of a pandemic, this happens. How do you prepare for it? You can’t. ...We need to respond in love, meet people’s needs and share the Gospel.” That’s exactly what the churches of Bay Association did as they served their community in the name of Christ.
Thousands of people in Michigan were laid off as a result of the pandemic. Grayling Baptist Church partnered with the Crawford County Food Commission to distribute a semi-truck load of food weekly. Pastor David Longstaff said, “We’re not offering just food. We’re offering food for the soul. We are excited to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community.” Between 400 and 700 people are served weekly.
Several churches across the state, Tecumseh Missionary, Hillsdale, Harmony Jackson and the Greater Detroit Baptist Association are distributing semi-truck loads of dairy boxes to their communities. The boxes include 2 gallons of milk, 1 quart of chocolate milk, 1 quart of strawberry milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese and French onion dip.
Out of the blue one day, Pastor Nathan Norman of the Orchard Church got a call from the local school superintendent. Many schools in the area were planning a “drive-through” graduation or satellite graduations, but the Kingsley school superintendent wanted a physical graduation and he had a creative idea of how they could do it.
The school had a long history of optional baccalaureate services for graduating seniors. The idea he presented was simple - if the Orchard Church could sponsor the service, they could also use it to pass out diplomas. It would be a joint “Baccalaureate/Graduation” event recognizing this significant milestone in the lives of graduating students. It was a special moment for the students and their families and just one of the many ways that churches are serving their communities in the name of Christ.
Most of our churches have opened their buildings for worship now. Worship looks and feels different than it did a few months ago, but Michigan Baptist pastors are leading through these challenging days. Let’s make sure we express our deep and abiding appreciation to them for the many ways they advance God’s Kingdom through preaching and serving.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Durbin is the State Evangelism Director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before joining the state convention staff, Mike served as Church Planting Catalyst and Director of Missions in Metro Detroit since 2007. He also has served as a pastor and bi-vocational pastor in Michigan, as well as International Missionary to Brazil.