What If 2021 Is Worse?
By Mike Augsburger
I think the next time I hear the word unprecedented, I just might yell at someone. To be fair, I guess I should yell at myself right now because I just typed the “word which shall not be named!”
Think of how much the word has been used, and compare that to its definition. A Google search reveals this definition:
“Never having happened or existed in the past.”
Every definition lines up more-or-less with that theme. Given the gravity of this definition, it seems we ought to treat the word with more respect.
The word should be reserved for events that are truly calamitous or extraordinary, but now it’s been demoted to describe the cancelation of the Christmas hymn sing at the local nursing home. Along with a wholesale demotion comes a flippancy of use, rendering the word meaningless.
Now, before you send angry emails to me for defending this draconian monster of a year called 2020, I’ll admit that this year hasn’t been a trip to Adventureland. It’s been tough. Unexpected. Disappointing. You can fill in your own adjectives. Let me share my heart about the disappointments of 2020 from a pastoral/church perspective.
After years of prepping a church planter and selecting a possible plant location, the plans suddenly changed. Our planter moved in a different direction, risking the whole project. This entire process was stressful, disappointing, and just plain difficult. 2020 made a grand appearance in my life even before COVID.
As the plans for the Eastside plant were collapsing, we received word that our Phoenix church plant was also struggling and unsustainable because of people moving away. Again, this was January, and 2020 was already beginning to nibble away at our plans and control over our lives.
At the end of 2019 our attendance swelled and our two services were too tight for comfort. We sent out a survey about adding another service. All of these solutions were temporary in light of a renovation/expansion of the auditorium.
Laying the groundwork for some construction in the auditorium was on my to-do list for 2020. It all came to a screeching halt with COVID. Instead of packing out the auditorium, we converted it into a TV studio and went online only for weeks. Like most pastors, I battled discouragement.
We were headed down the home stretch of the school year for our mid-week ministries. Adult classes and AWANA were in full swing when the brick wall of COVID forced us to abandon ship. Walking through the building on a Wednesday night felt like walking through an vacant shopping mall that once was bustling with people.
No Sundays, no Wednesdays, and to make matters worse, no Easter Sunday. No Easter extravaganza. No Vacation Bible School in June. The disappointments piled up.
When you become a pastor you are automatically entered into a support group of sorts. Pastors talk to other pastors for help and encouragement. Even though the cancelations were disappointing, probably the hardest part of 2020 was watching people fade away from church involvement.
In any given year people will leave the church or even abandon the faith. However, 2020 provided an “out” for many people. It is nearly impossible to feel connected to Christ and his Body without gathering together with His people, and that is precisely what we’ve observed: disconnection.
HAS IT REALLY BEEN THAT BAD?
Lest this be a recitation of depressiveness, let me share with you the victories found in defeat. Through the disappointment, God was (and still is) working.
God brought us Brad Pausley to pick up the mantle of the Eastside church plant. Here we are—in the middle of a global pandemic—planting a church.
Our Phoenix plant folded, but in the process we met a church network. We have partnered with them and they are helping us launch our church plant.
Our contemplation of three services became a reality because of COVID. Our attendance is very strong, and we are in a good position to consider expansion
Even though we canceled ministries, we had the chance to evaluate, and I believe we will come back with stronger ministry programming.
Some people have disconnected from church during 2020, but others have engaged as they realize the only hope for the world is Jesus. We have grown through COVID, and even seen people come to faith in Christ!
THE IDOLATRY OF NORMALCY
The events of 2020 seem “unprecedented” for several reasons. First, our lives are accustomed to having “precedent.” We live in a time where our lives are relatively stable. Because of that, the idol of normalcy dominates our lives.
Secondly, not only are we accustomed to having “precedent,” but we are also UNaccustomed to out-of-control.Never before in history have we been able to control so many aspects of our lives. Modern technology, transportation, and medical advances (among others) prevent crisis and give us a false sense of security.
The third reason we are quick to use the word unpre******ed (Let’s not say it again) is because people today have a shallow-end-of-the-pool knowledge of history. The 1918 flu killed 50 million worldwide. WWII was the deadliest conflict in human history costing up to 85 million fatalities. Now that is unprecedented!
WHERE CAN WE FIND HOPE?
You might ask, “Pastor Mike, you’re being kind of rough on us!” In one sense, yes, I am. Why? Because I want God’s people to place their hope in the right place.
I’ve heard numerous people in various places trashing on 2020. They can’t wait to see this year vanish. They are looking forward to 2021. Here’s something to think about: what if 2021 is worse than 2020? What guarantee do we have that it will be better? Matthew 24:21-22 says:
For at that time there will be great distress, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again. Unless those days were cut short, no one would be saved. But those days will be cut short because of the elect.
Do you know what that tells me? We have yet to see “unprecedented.” Now, I believe this is talking about the tribulation period and we will already be raptured. However, I do believe the stage is being set for the end times, and that could mean some difficult times.
So, before you quickly dismiss 2020 for the future glories of 2021, remember that 2021 or beyond is not your Savior. In fact, if you make 2021 your Savior it will disappoint because it can never bring the hope and joy your soul longs for.
What’s your hope beyond 2020? I pray that your hope for 2021 is the same hope you had in 2020: that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead to give us salvation and eternal life. With Christ, there’s hope for even the hardest year.
I hope you’re encouraged by my transparency in this article. It’s been a hard year to be a pastor. Yet, like you, I need the reminder that my true hope is in the Hope of the World, and his name is Jesus Christ. Happy new year everyone!