I’m sure you’ve seen the picture from a church insurance company of a pastor forlornly surveying his fire-ravaged church building. A lot of pastors feel like that these days. Maybe you’re one of them. If it wasn’t hard enough to pastor before, this past year of pandemic and politics has done a number on congregations and their shepherds.
We can identify with that first wave of Jews who returned after 70 years of exile to find Jerusalem in ruins and their beloved temple torn stone from stone. But they’d come with God’s own mandate to rebuild his house so they got to it.
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
“He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. (Ezra 3:10-11)
So much back-breaking work was left to do. Even what they’d done was modest at best. The old-timers there who remembered Solomon’s grand temple wept because this seemed to them like nothing (Ezra 3:12; Hag. 2:3). Perhaps that’s what you fear for your church once the dust settles, that it will seem like nothing. But take heart from this passage.
First, the foundation already laid for your congregation deserves a celebration of biblical proportions. Your church wasn’t built on the music, kids’ program, or vision statement. Your saints, along with the rest of us, are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” If those distant priestly cousins of ours broke out their mothballed vestments and dusty instruments we surely have reason to don our garments of praise and dance around our studies, banging our cymbals for joy. If we can get our people to join us next Sunday, all the better!
Then, like God’s people in Jerusalem, lay hold of “a psalm, for giving grateful praise:” “For the Lord is good and his love [hesed] endures forever” (Ps. 100:5). Only God’s covenant love brought those Jews back to Jerusalem. And that same covenant love is building you and your people together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Eph. 2:22). The people you serve, however bedraggled or cantankerous they may seem right now, are God’s responsibility before they are yours, and he is faithful. He will not leave you alone. So give him your grateful praise. Can I get an Amen!
All that said and celebrated, there is work for us to do. Let’s call it tuckpointing. That’s when the crumbling mortar between bricks or stones is replaced with fresh mortar so that the wall remains strong.
Over these past months “the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love” has loosened and cracked. Sometimes our people brought it on themselves and other times they couldn’t help it. After all, what can you expect if we can’t ever embrace each other, eat together, sing in each other’s ear, or pass Communion elements to our neighbor? But now, as your congregation gradually regathers, get out your trowel and begin again binding their hearts together in love, restoring the mind of Christ among them, and “singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He is the author of Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), as well as being a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and CT Pastors. To learn more about his Pastors' Gatherings visit www.leeeclov.com.