Years ago, I attended a conference on managing change in the local church. One of the keynote speakers was William Bridges, a secular author and business leader. His organization was and still is a leading expert on change management. In the conference, Bridges used the history of the exodus and sojourn to the promised land as his template to explain the dynamics of change for any organization. The analogy was simple and understandable. When people are thrust into a transition, whether through personal choice or external circumstances, they leave the familiarity of Egypt behind, but they have not yet reached the promised land. They are stuck for the foreseeable future in this barren, uncomfortable, unpredictable wilderness. The leader’s role during this transition is to not only remind people of their preferred future home, but also to show them how to manage the anxiety and unique problems that arise from life in this transitional space.
The Church in America is in the wilderness. We are no longer in familiar Egypt. The last two years of COVID, election, and vaccine chaos have put our Egypt in the rearview mirror. Among conservative Christians there is widespread conviction that the second coming of Christ is drawing near. I am old enough to have lived through the excitement generated by Hal Lindsay’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and the Christian movie thriller, Thief in the Night. I have watched previous waves of rapture frenzy come and go, but this season is significantly different. Recently, a friend shared with me that her godly, wise, ninety-nine-year-old mother-in-law, who does not watch the news, whispered to her, “You know, Jesus is coming back soon.” I believe the Spirit is whispering this to the Church, and His people are hearing the message. We have left Egypt and are now anticipating the promised land, but the wilderness experience we now find ourselves in is unsettling for many followers of Christ.
I served as a pastor for over thirty years. My heart is very burdened for the Church and particularly local church pastors. Many pastors appear to be trying to get the Church back to Egypt rather than helping us through this wilderness transition. Our congregations are filled with anxious and uncertain believers, reeling from the previous week’s world events. The response from many leaders appears to be, “If we can just get back to the way it was before COVID, our churches and people will be better.” News flash: We can’t go back to Egypt. If we as leaders do not correctly understand the problem – that the Church is now in the wilderness, moving toward the promised land – then efforts to return to Egypt’s pre-COVID stability will be fruitless. Worse than that, they will fail their people and harm them at one of the most critical times in world and biblical history.
I do not have a blueprint for this wilderness, but I want to raise the critical issues church leaders should be addressing from their pulpits in this season.
Help us understand from God’s Word how to know when to practice civil disobedience and when to submit to the governing authorities of the land. The Christian response to date ranges from hyper spiritual compliance to the stockpiling of ammo. We need help, but don’t just tell us – lead us!
Help us frame this season biblically. Give us an eschatological framework for understanding what we are seeing in the world. If you are not equipped to unpack these things for your people, find someone who can. If you don’t know where you stand on these things, take a deep dive into the Word of God and come to some conclusions. Too many pastors have wrongly avoided end-time prophecy as an unknowable mystery. This betrays the very reason God gave it to us – to prepare God’s people for future trials.
As we see the rapid erosion of our constitutional rights, the increasing villainization of Christians, the attempts to close churches, etc., God’s people (in the West) need to be equipped and prepared for some measure of persecution. Sadly, most think their pre-tribulation theology is going to provide them a free pass from suffering. Pastors who do not prepare their people place them at risk. We are already seeing a falling away in the evangelical churches in the wake of COVID.
Finally, if the Day of our Redemption is drawing nigh, to quote Francis Schaeffer, “How then Should We Live?” In the last two minutes of a football game, the game is played differently because time is running out. Remind us of what should be of value to us and what shouldn’t be in these last days. Every believer will soon stand before the Lord to give an account of their life. When Paul reflected on this in II Corinthians 5, he had some very specific admonitions on how we should live, and God’s Word has additional clear warnings. You should have no lack of sermon fuel.
In writing this, I risk being labeled as another end-times fanatic. The truth is I carry a deep burden for the evangelical Church in my nation. Although I have sympathy for the great challenge this new season has presented to pastors, sympathy is not what is needed. I beg you, as pastors and church leaders, to take up this new leadership challenge to help your people get through the wilderness and successfully enter the promised land.
Cleveland, TN resident
The Sentinel Group