By Donna Frischknecht Jackson
Welcome to ministry in 2020. The picture below illustrates it the best. The picture also got me thinking about feasting — not on the turkey that will grace my Thanksgiving table this Thursday, but feasting on faith rather than fear.
It seems lately I, the one who always took leaps of faith, have been weighed down by the fear of the unknown. I blame the pandemic for instilling this fear in me as “uncertainty” is a word reverberating in all of us, isn’t it?
The thing about fear is it doesn’t satiate one’s soul. If anything, it gives you heartburn. Or in my case, heartache.
I have dreams. I’ve shared that with you before. I have big, crazy, scary dreams that need a big helping of faith to birth them into being. And this picture of me on the big screen in a Methodist church’s ecumenical Thanksgiving service is making me hunger for that faith that always filled me up. It is making me regret, too, some of the dreams that I let go all because I allowed myself to listen to those in the church, caring friends, even family, whisper well-intentioned messages of warning: What if it fails? It’s not possible. Play it safe.
Being that I was the pastor who lived the furthest away in the clergy group, I was invited to send a video welcome and an opening prayer. My Vermont home is more than an hour away from the historic village of Ticonderoga, New York, where battles between the French and the Indians were waged and where one can trace the footsteps of Revolutionary War heroes like Ethan Allen and traitors like Benedict Arnold. So I was thankful to the Ticonderoga clergy for being understanding and considerate.
Watching myself on the big screen, though, reminds me of the wacky idea I had three years ago when I tried pitching a virtual circuit rider ministry to three rural churches in my area. I would rotate being in person at a church on Sunday. One Sunday I would preach while the other churches zoomed me in via technology. Each church would have pastor physically present one Sunday a month. One church was sort of on board with the idea, but when I began working with them, it was clear they just wanted a traditional pastor to preach and spend time having tea with members. I am not tea drinker.
One church, who was looking for a part-time pastor, was honest and brutally shot it down, stating, “We can’t afford to take a risk with such an idea. What happens five years from now if this doesn’t work?”
That was three years ago, and where are they now? No further along and perhaps their dire straits becoming more dire. Imagine where they might have been if they went with this pastor’s crazy idea of using technology before technology was a ministry necessity in 2020?
But they didn’t want to feast on faith. Their taste buds had grown accustomed to the empty calories of fear. And I, in the process, accepted their invitation to sit at that table with them.
I can’t help but feel a tremendous sadness that these churches would have been way ahead in digital ministry as the pandemic swept through the country. They would have been showing their communities faith, not fear. They might have started to see a revival. They might have learned that seeking what they want in ministry never works. They might have seen the amazing things that I have seen in my ministry when you trust God all the way and only seek to follow what God wants.
Yesterday I had a wonderful chat with a minister in Tennessee for a magazine story I am writing. He took a small church of 15 members all in their 70s and turned it around. Well, he didn’t turn it around. The members did because when he came on board as their pastor they told him don’t fear the lack of money, don’t look at the empty pews, don’t worry about the budget. “We have decided to put our trust in God and God alone,” they said. He then told me their mantra became, “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King.” That was all they needed to allow the Spirit to enter and transform them.
“Donna, they never once asked me as pastor to get children into the church. They never once asked ‘how do we fill our pews?’,” he said. “They just kept saying, ‘Jesus is Lord.'” To that I say, “Amen!”
My crazy dream of using technology to zoom pastors and the word of God into people’s homes and other sanctuaries has become true. While I didn’t get the chance to actually launch it, I feel validated that it wasn’t as crazy as others thought.
I look over at my frozen turkey thawing on the kitchen counter. I am done feasting on fear. It’s time to sit down to the table of faith where a crusty loaf of bread is broken and in that act, my eyes once again open and see Jesus smiling, nodding a loving “yes” to me, saying, “Dream, live, fear not. I am with you.”
What will you be feasting on this Thanksgiving? Faith or fear?