Last Saturday, our elders held our annual planning retreat outside on the hill by our church. The retreat has never been outside before, but COVID-considerations sent us there.
It was a beautiful setting. You could hear the birds and the sun was shining. And, you were also distracted by motorcycles roaring in the background, the bugs were biting, and sometimes it was pretty hard to hear socially-distanced elders making their points from across the hill.
It was beautifully inconvenient.
Ministry these days in a COVID-19 world, at least where I serve in Indianapolis, seems more beautifully inconvenient than ever.
At 2RP, we love our beautiful outdoor evening service setting. But it sure is harder and more inconvenient to get all the sound and video production ready for our new setting.
Our Bible school classes and studies continue as they always have. But now we try to incorporate a Zoom audience into some of these ministries, for those who are not comfortable attending in person. We love the technology, but inconveniences with WiFi or sound quality or something else arise almost every time.
It is beautifully inconvenient.
This is the season of life our God has led His church to. Across Jesus' church, outreach ministries, shepherding activities, church weddings, congregational meetings, and more all have this simultaneous feature of beauty and inconvenience. How we love the beauty and wish to be done away with the COVID-19 technology/conscience/complication inconvenience.
And in those moments we find ourselves crying out, “I wish we could go back to normal”. Or maybe we feel in our hearts, “These inconveniences are hurting gospel ministry!”
And it’s right to pray that God will turn the course on this virus.
Now, here, I am not seeking to raise the question of how to do ministry amidst COVID-19, per se. Nor do I raise the question of whether the church or the state is underreacting or overreacting to the present pandemic.
But there is one point I hope to make: all this inconvenience reminds me of the incarnate Jesus.
It is undeniable that the incarnation itself was an event of inconvenience. What could be more inconvenient than “doing ministry” as a baby, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths?
It is also undeniable that the timing of Jesus’ incarnation added layers of inconvenience. In the Almighty wisdom and power of God, He could have decreed the incarnation in the pre-COVID 21st-century world. How convenient that would be!
Jesus could’ve entered a world of high-speed travel that allowed for more sermons in more cities and more restful travel along the way. Jesus chose a world of long exhausting inconvenient walks from city to city.
And exhausted from those walks, he found himself ministering the gospel to sinners in need (John 4). It is beautiful.
Jesus could’ve entered a world with a McDonald’s and Wal-Mart on every street corner he ministered by. The people could’ve had the convenience of ready-made food and filled stomachs so that Jesus could focus on preaching and teaching. But Jesus’ world presented him both the spiritually hungry and the physically hungry, who ran out of food while following Jesus’ around.
It was inconvenient. And there, Jesus fed the 5,000 and the great prophet-king of Israel was announced to them (John 6:1-15). It was inconvenient, yet beautiful.
Jesus could’ve chosen a world with phones that recorded his every word or cameras that reviewed his actions when they come under question. That way, when false accusations came (Mark 14:53-56), He could’ve easily refuted the claims.
But Jesus chose the inconvenient world instead. And He ended up on the cross as a result. An inconvenient cross, beautiful in its love, transcendent in its splendor, and yet horrifying in its pain.
And this is where it comes back to us in our inconvenient days of ministry. We’re called to walk with Jesus. We carry on Jesus’ ministry. He sends us into the world with His blessing, His commission, His calling. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).
Without inconvenience, the church’s ministry would be far more perfunctory. Jesus could’ve come in the 21st century, recorded His messages, posted them on YouTube, and broadcast them worldwide. Wouldn’t that be more beautiful these days than me trying to figure out how to bring the gospel in these inconvenient days of ministry?
But it seems the answer to that question is no. Because the way of Jesus has always been to bring beauty in inconvenience. Jesus brings beauty to an inconvenient world and then invites His church to partake in that ministry. Jesus’ way in this world is the inconvenient way – and that way is now our way.
So this week, when the WiFi on the Zoom Bible study breaks up, when you have to drive 20 miles to visit the church member who can’t come now due to the virus, and when you have to pray more and plan less because of your uncertain future, don’t grumble. Admit it’s inconvenient. It’s terribly inconvenient. And in it, see Jesus bringing the gospel nonetheless.
Find it beautiful, and walk with Jesus.