pastoral leadership

Quarantine Letters: Illusion of Strength

Dear Church in Quarantine:

Here’s some more insightful thoughts from Skye Jethani on lessons we’re learning from this current COVID-19 crisis:

When Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior, confronted the armies of Israel they were terrified. 1 Samuel 17 describes Goliath, his armor, and his weapons in great detail emphasizing his unparalleled size and strength. The text presents the Philistine as the perfect Bronze Age war machine designed to outperform any other soldier and possessing the strength to overpower anyone’s spear or sword.

But David was not a soldier and he did not wield a sword or spear. He was a shepherd boy with a sling and stones. Against this unexpected opponent, Goliath’s greatest asset—his size and strength—became his fatal weakness. The Philistine’s massive forehead was an easy target, and just one stone from David’s sling vanquished the giant.

There are many lessons to take from the famous story of David and Goliath, but one is the illusion of strength. By the conventional standards of war, Goliath appeared unbeatable. Change the standards, however, and the Philistine’s true fragility becomes glaringly obvious. Likewise, seen through the conventional standards of war, David appeared weak. In truth, he possessed the exact qualities necessary to defeat the giant—and David knew it even if the soldiers of Israel did not.

The COVID-19 virus, like David’s small stones, is revealing the true fragility of systems and structures we thought were so strong. The United States possesses the greatest military the world has ever seen, but it is powerless against our new invisible enemy. The global economy has grown to record-breaking levels in the last 12 years, but the coronavirus has brought the markets to their knees in just days. And the very technologies that have made our military and markets so strong—particularly intercontinental travel—is why the virus has been able to spread so quickly around the world.

The dangerous captivity to conventional measures of strength is no less evident among Christians. Consider our fixation on megachurches over the last 30 years. I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with megachurches, but have we been naive about their fragility? Their size and influence project an image of enduring strength, and yet a sad number of megachurches have been brought low in recent years by often small, foreseeable events. The retirement or transgression of a single leader, which is not uncommon among all churches, has a disproportionate impact on larger ministries. The bigger they are, as the saying goes, the harder they fall.

And what will the COVID-19 pandemic mean for our churches? It’s too soon to know, but it may be that ministries traditionally seen as weak—smaller, decentralized, networks—are better equipped to thrive in this new reality, while the ministry Goliaths discover their strength has become their greatest weakness. Rather than measuring ourselves or our institutions by a conventional definition of strength, this crisis is an opportunity to rethink our assumptions and to remember that God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

I am very proud of our MainStreet Church, and we have been thinking outside the box and pioneering new ways to “do church” for a while now. I’m very hopeful that this crisis will help to strengthen and focus our ministry for deeper and wider impact.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeremy

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