In recently reading through Jeremiah, it struck me how different the ministries of Isaiah and Jeremiah were. These two prophets both preached the Word of the Lord and called the people to repentance. Both warned of God’s judgment, and called people to a God-centered worship that would transform their lives and their nation. But their ministry realities were different. Isaiah preached judgment that was yet to come, and Jeremiah preached to people who had witnessed the destruction of the Northern Kingdom which was God’s down payment on the judgment coming on Judah.
How did the people of Judah respond? They became hopelessly arrogant, believing it could not happen to them. So, they were unwilling to repent. Instead of putting away their idol worship, they even worshiped their idols in the Lord’s temple. The cataclysmic event of the destruction of Israel changed the people of Judah in ways Jeremiah and the people did not understand. Jeremiah’s struggles in preaching and ministering to these profound changes can be seen in Lamentations.
In the early 1950’s, my grandmother came to me and said, “Bert, the Lord is coming back soon because the Jews have gone back to Israel. You need to know the Lord.” What caused my grandmother to say that? World War I, the Spanish Flu pandemic which lasted three years, the Red Summer of 1919 that stretched into the late 1920’s, the brief economic rebound of the early 1920’s, and the Great Depression when 25% of adults in America were out of work were all part of what led my grandmother to exhort me to come to Christ. Worldwide, there was great political upheaval that led autocrats to fight for the control of countries with even civil wars breaking out. Then came World War II and the Holocaust. All this happened in the time frame of thirty-six years, and these continuous catastrophes changed the world so dramatically that the world together reinstated the Nation of Israel. Good thing my grandmother was saved through the ministry of what is now the Bible Fellowship Church in 1917.
Why all this history? Because we need to realize that Covid has changed our world, its people, and our ministry realities in ways we do not yet understand or comprehend. Here are two examples of this not knowing and not understanding. The small business reporter for Bloomberg News has been interviewing employers about the Covid reality in the work place. Most are saying it could take several years to know what the post-Covid workplace will look like. Not only how we do work has changed, but also the people doing the work have changed. People’s expectations of the workplace have changed. People want to know there are necessary protections from Covid in their places of employment.
In the 1980’s, a gospel-preaching church initiated a bold plan of ministry and outreach to a suburban county of a large city. Their ministry focus was on nuclear families with children where the wife was a stay-at-home mom. But the transformative events of the late fifties into the late seventies changed people and families. A demographic study of this target county revealed that less than 50% of the families fit this church’s ministry model. This is an example of the changes in society and people that can change a church’s ministry reality. So let us preach the Word, grow in prayer, deepen worship, be intentional in outreach, and be willing to change the emphasis and even the activities of our ministry. Covid has changed our country, the people, their spiritual needs, their openness, and their personal responses.
Many people have experienced profound loneliness, more families then we realize have seen their economic realities worsen, habits that are hard to break have been formed, and people have many unanswered questions. And let’s not forget people who have had Covid are still suffering the long term effects of it and those who lost family members and friends to this virus. Many people are afraid, facing joblessness as their companies closed, downsized, or reinvented itself. And distrust has grown with the many conflicting voices in the public square and even in the church.
Let’s be open to the changes that our ministry may need to undergo. Let us be led by the Holy Spirit who already knows what needs to be changed as we face our new ministry realities.
Delbert R. Baker is the founding pastor of Newark BFC in Newark, NJ.