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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

A woman on our staff sent me a C.S. Lewis quote that I had forgotten about that she found meaningful in light of our worldwide pandemic. I’m glad she reminded me of it. Lewis is reflecting on the concern about living in a world that had the atomic bomb at its disposal, and the fresh fear of death and calamity it was bringing.

His reflections on that fear are worth reading in light of our present day:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

I find Lewis’ point well taken. Death is a certainty, no matter our current world circumstances. It’s not if, but rather when and how. Living in fear, no matter the age in which we live, is no way to live. It only cheapens the already short life we have and the way it is meant to be lived in light of eternity.

Some have seemingly taken offense to taking Lewis’ words to heart in light of COVID-19, as they were not written about the Coronavirus and were rooted in the 1940s. But that misses the precise point Lewis was making: every era has its challenges. It isn’t about the specifics of our day – whether that be the atomic bomb, medieval plagues or the threat of Viking invasions – but about how to live with threats in general. And yes, social distancing might mitigate against Lewis’ remark about having a pint, but let’s not parse his words in such a way that we miss the forest for the trees.

Live life in light of eternity, not in light of fear,

… and live it fully.

James Emery White

 

Sources

C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays.

Jon Mathieu, “Please Stop Posting That C.S. Lewis Quote,” The Christian Post, March 23, 2020, read online.

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

As I wrote in an earlier blog, it’s time for VUCA leadership. But what does that mean specifically? Obviously, every church and organization is different, but here are six very specific leadership steps we took that may be of service to your own thinking:

1. We honored the community call to action.

When the call came from government and health officials to limit large gatherings, we heeded that call. We canceled our physical weekend services and larger weekly events. As I blogged earlier, this was a matter of loving our neighbors.

2. We reached out to all community missions partners.

One of the first things we did was to reach out to every one of our community mission partners to assess their needs and to determine how we could help. Every church, large or small, not only has resources to give but also a heart to do so. For us, this meant contacting food banks, nursing homes, children’s homes, those on the front lines of serving the homeless… the list goes on and on. From this, we were able to pinpoint specific serving opportunities and channels of financial support. 

3. We changed our weekend series.

We were in the midst of a series titled “The F Word” on forgiveness. To continue with that series, important as the topic was, would have been culturally tone deaf. We kept the title the same, but we changed the word from “forgiveness” to “faith.” This enabled us to talk about faith when it comes to worry (Matthew 6), followed by faith when it comes to trials and difficult times (James 1). 

4. We moved everything online.

Churches everywhere are doing what it takes to try to have some kind of online weekend presence for their services. We have gone into full online mode for… well, everything. Every week, we send out an email to all families with videos, experiences and online events for the various age groups within our children’s ministry. Online interactive events and experiences are happening within our middle school and high school ministries as well. Our Meck Institute is using Zoom to continue offering current classes as well as launch new ones. Our online campus added additional service times and amplified staff presence in the chat room, prayer request service and more.

5. We re-tasked staff and volunteers.

When you cancel weekend services for the foreseeable future and go entirely online, you have staff and volunteers who find themselves out of a job. Think facilities teams, Guest Services, children’s ministry, and more. Many can simply retool—as I mentioned, our children’s ministry is doing this by developing online resources that can be used by families at home. But some staff and volunteers must be re-tasked to serve points of greatest need. We identified four key areas of need:

  • staffing/serving the online campus;
  • social media production and responding/monitoring;
  • video/curriculum development and production for online consumption;
  • and personal community engagement (via phone/email).

In an “all-hands-on-deck” situation, where you previously put the hands often changes.

6. We outlined potential stages.

Fear and anxiety is usually based on the unknown. For that reason, we outlined to our staff the “stages” we felt could be in front of us and what each stage would mean. Here is what we outlined:

Stage 1: Cancel all large-group activities of more than 50 people, including weekend services and weekly events. All staff age 60+, or those with pre-existing conditions, should work at home (WAH) in coordination with their supervisor. 

Stage 2: Close The Grounds (Meck’s bookstore and café), end StaffKidz (our onsite preschool childcare program for staff), and everyone WAH to the extent they can, coming in only as needed. 

Stage 3: If the county director, NC Governor or the President of our nation issues a “stay-at-home” order (which does go into effect in our county at 8 a.m. this morning), we will follow all Stage 2 protocols, coupled with a strict WAH approach. In essence, a small number of staff will only come in for essential work (like filming) on an as-needed basis. When this period ends, we will return to either Stage 1 or Stage 2, whichever circumstances dictate.

Stage 4: Completely retooling staff and ministries around a “new normal” of online-only engagement extending for many, many months to come. 

All of this flows from two big ideas: 1) we want to do everything we can to serve people during this time; and 2) we want to do everything we can to keep people engaged as a community of faith.

Not from a position of fear, much less worry,

… but from a position of faith that prays for wisdom.

James Emery White

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    

Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Johannes Plenio

In October 1991, a storm stronger than any in recorded history hit off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. A unique meteorological event, it was actually three storms combined into one: the remnants of Hurricane Grace, a front coming across the Great Lakes, and an existing weak front set to receive them both.

Sometimes, when storms collide, they can neutralize each other. Sometimes they can flip around each other, almost bumping off of each other. But sometimes—and it’s rare—they can feed off of each other and combine into what the National Weather Service calls a “Perfect Storm.”

That’s what happened in October 1991, creating an almost apocalyptic situation in the Atlantic Ocean, with boats encountering waves of 100 feet—the equivalent of a 10-story building. As you may know, this event was made into a bestselling novel by Sebastian Junger, and then a movie starring George Clooney.

Potential for a Perfect Storm

We are currently in the midst of the potential for a perfect storm, only this one isn’t meteorological. You already know two of the forces coming together—COVID-19 and the ensuing economic upheaval it has caused. These two forces are, as we speak, colliding with a third.

Will it be another “perfect storm”?

It depends.

As mentioned, when storms collide they can neutralize each other, bump off of each other, or feed off of each other and combine into something devastating.

In 1991, it took a third front that was in place but somewhat weak. It couldn’t cancel anything out; it couldn’t bounce anything off. Instead, it absorbed the energy of the other two fronts and created havoc.

In our situation, the third front is our personal faith.

This means that many of us are set up for a perfect storm in our spiritual lives. We have an existing, but somewhat weak front of faith that is receiving the storms of what’s happening in our world and in our personal lives in a way that gives these storms the foothold they need to wreak havoc in our spiritual lives.

Perhaps it is because our faith in God is real, but new.

Financial Faith in God Is Tested

This can be particularly testing when it comes to financial faith in God, which is one of the most difficult, advanced areas to maintain faith for any believer.

Without a doubt, it is the financial ramifications of the pandemic more than the virus itself that is most challenging. This past January, our church went through a series on what it means to bring our financial lives under God’s leadership. Countless individuals and couples made the decision to begin trusting God with their money and following His principles.

I can only imagine how those faith steps are being tested.

Choices Build Faith

Faith is like a muscle. When you use it in new areas, it can hurt at first. It takes time to build strength, to have choices become habits and habits become disciplines. It takes time to find out how faithful God really will be as you are faithful to Him, and to then keep trusting Him time after time.

This is why this is such a pivotal moment in all of our lives, no matter where our faith is being tested. It holds the potential for creating a perfect storm set to do horrific damage to the one thing you need most secure, most protected, most alive at this moment in history: faith in God.

What you must not have is a weak front of faith. This means you cannot give in to fear.

Fear Is the Enemy of Faith

Instead, go deeper in your faith. Remind yourself what you have faith in and why it has strength in your life.

Intriguingly, when the Bible talks about faith in God, much of it is expressed in terms of financial faith. The reason is simple: nowhere will your faith in God be tested more than in the arena of money. This is why money is the number one area of our life where God seeks to assure us that He can be counted on if we’ll just trust Him and follow His principles.

In our Online Campus this past weekend we looked at these words from Jesus:

“So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.

“And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith!

“So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing...Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” (Matthew 6:25-33, NLT)

Financial Crises Cannot Overcome Faith

Yes, the pandemic is real and changing how we live our daily lives, and it’s threatening the lives of many we know and love. Yes, the economic havoc is real and will be real for months to come.

But the third front in this storm need not be weak. It can be strong. So strong that it might cancel the other two forces out, even exercising such strength that they bounce off of it when they interact.

During the financial crisis of 2008, Tony Carnes wrote of an executive at one of Wall Street’s leading investment banks. He was in bed, watching a CNBC report that his competitors were going belly-up. He said he was surprised at how quickly it had come. He knew his company could be next. He prayed it wouldn’t be.

His wife rolled over and asked, “Are you worried?”

“No, I’m not,” he said.

She asked, “Are you stressed?”

He thought about that for a minute, and he said, “Even if the worst happens, we will still be together as a family and have Christ who loves and cares for us.”

Yes.

Source: Tony Carnes, “In Crisis, Wall Street Turns to Prayer,” Christianity Today, September 19, 2008, read online.


James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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