What if they don’t come back?
As a pastor, that is my fear.
What if people don’t come back to church?
- What if people stay comfortable watching church online?
- What if health concerns keep them indefinitely from fellowship?
- What if they feel the church doesn’t agree with their precise political or social or theological perspective and they decide to leave?
- What if they find they are too busy with work, sports, sleep, TV, video games, vacation, house projects, and errands?
- What if they take others with them?
- What if they all decide church is not worth it?
As a pastor, fears like these can choke out my joy on Sunday morning. Are there any “what ifs” that are also stealing your peace of mind today?
STAY THE COURSE
In the middle of our fearful “what ifs,” how do we move forward by faith?
John 6 comes to mind. In the previous chapters, Jesus had turned 150 gallons of wash water into fine wine at a wedding party, taught authoritatively, healed the sick, made food for thousands, and walked on water. In this chapter, Jesus gets away from the mob following him. Then they find him and question him. Jesus sees what they are getting at. They want more signs and handouts, not his teaching, and certainly not him. They want the gifts, not the giver. They want another free lunch.
John records at the end of Jesus’s teaching, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” (John 6:66–67 ESV). Jesus was abandoned. He experienced what I fear.
It must have been a letdown to see the crowds respond with a feverish pitch one day and the next day see them walk away. How did Jesus respond? How did the twelve respond? How do I respond, even if my worst fears come true?
Jesus stuck to his mission, continuing to teach of the kingdom of God, forgive sin, and predict his upcoming death. The twelve answered through their spokesperson, Peter. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69). That is how I want to respond, even if my worst fears come true and I find myself standing alone by my Savior. How about you?
HOPE IN GOD
At the end of the day, our hope cannot be in attendance, church growth, the newness of ministry, acclamation, or giving. Our hope needs to be in God. He is our refuge, strength, and help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). He is the anchor of our soul (Hebrews 6:19). He is our Creator and Author of life (Hebrews 1:3). He ordains our days and has promised to bring good out of everything for those who love him, even good from loss (Romans 8:28).
So, I preach to myself and recenter my vision. To whom shall I go? I follow the Lord, the Holy One of God as Peter said. Jesus gave up his life for me, so I live for him.
WORSE CASE SCENARIO
But what if they all fall away? What if no one ever shows up again?
I love the apostle Paul’s worst-case scenario perspective: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). His answer to his own rhetorical question? “Nothing” (Romans 8:38). Nothing can separate us from Jesus’s love, not even death.
Thus, if the masses become “Nones” (no religious affilication), if litigation shuts down churches, if the canceling turns personal, if the economy plummets, if churches empty, and if we lose jobs and homes, we haven’t lost it all. The Holy One of God is ours by faith. He loved us and promised never to leave us or forsake us. He is ours and we are his. This life is a short sliver of time. We in America have had it so well for so long. Our hardship is very light in comparison to some of our global and historical brothers and sisters. Before we know it, we will all be with him again in unimaginable joy, together, forever in perfect communion. His final victory is assured.
MOVE FORWARD IN FAITHFULNESS
Will you join me? Will you join me in keeping the main things the main things? What are those main things?
- God has called us church leaders to the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4).
- We are to make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20).
- We are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12).
- We must shepherd our congregations (1 Peter 5:2).
- We are to watch over our life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16).
- Every day, we are, like everyone else, to love God and people (Matthew 22:37–39).
If we do all that, we will surely be doing what God has called us to regardless of who shows up on Sunday morning.
Persevere, leader. Fight fear with me. Trust in the Holy One who loves us to death.
To whom else shall we go?
LAST WORDS: SEVEN SAYINGS FROM THE HEART OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS
In this powerful book, author Robert J. Nash explores a fresh perspective on a familiar event, guiding readers into the forgiveness, hope, comfort, and compassion of Christ’s words in his final moments on earth.