A Church Deployed

The pandemic gives us unique and imaginative ways of sharing God’s love and life with others.

You ever notice how often things don’t go exactly as you planned? Along with that, certain life events seem to come at “the worst time”—at least from our perspective. My daughter was pregnant with our 2nd grandchild when she called with news that weighed heavy on my heart. “Dad, Chris is being deployed and will be gone a minimum of six months.” “When does he leave?” “Just after the baby is due.” My heart just sank. What a horrible time for the military to take my son-in-law. What were they thinking? There had to be a better time.

I found myself thinking the same thoughts these past several weeks as I’ve spent more time at home than I have in years. I can’t go to the store like I want; I can’t visit my kids like I want; I can’t go out to eat like I want; I can’t visit pastors and churches like I want; I can’t even go to church like I want. What a horrible time for this pandemic to occur. Why isn’t God doing something? Why is he allowing this to drag on and on and on…?

I am currently reading a book from a retired Lt General—a three-star general. (Yes, this relates to the topic, so bear with me.) The book is about leadership lessons he has learned over his life of serving in the military. He made the statement that most people in the armed forces look at deployment quite a bit differently than those of us outside the military.

Military people want to move to the sound of the gun. Putting aside family separations and the wariness one feels over the possibility of memorial services, there’s not a soldier, sailor, airman or marine serving today who, if given a chance between being stateside or being in Iraq or Afghanistan, wouldn’t want to be over there. Because that’s what we’re trained to do.[1]

Deployment gives the armed forces the opportunity to put into practice all the things they have been training for. My son-in-law hated being away from the family, but he didn’t hate being deployed and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. He was doing what he was trained to do, and he did it well. His initial motivation was love of country, but he found himself loving those he was serving. And, by the way, the timing of his deployment turned out well. Our daughter and grandchildren lived with us while he was gone, enabling them to save quite a bit and purchase a nice home when he returned. God blessed them more than they imagined—he seemed to know what he was doing. (Tongue in cheek intended.)

It’s a new way of looking at deployment, and perhaps what God is doing during this pandemic is giving the church opportunities to deploy that we normally wouldn’t think of. We love Jesus, we love the church, we love each other, but this pandemic gives us a unique (unprecedented) opportunity to practice the things we’ve been training for outside the walls of the church. We have new opportunities to love as Jesus loved—to share his love and his life with others. Those aren’t just words we put on our church walls—those are words that shape our values, our vision and our mission—corporately and individually—and our neighbors and friends need the benefits and blessings of our values, vision and mission.

The apostle Paul was constantly encouraging believers to stir up their gifting and use those gifts in participation with our Lord. He continually reminded us to look to Christ, to put on his mind, to bear the burdens of others, to allow his love to compel us to love others.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. (2 Cor 5:14-16)

People in our church neighborhoods are lonely, hungry for relationship. They are anxious, fearful of the virus affecting family and friends. They are looking for answers, wondering what God is up to, fearful things might not return to normal.

Paul continues:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Cor 5:20)

There is the answer. God is making his appeal through us. Isn’t that amazing? This is the time for us to be there for our neighbors. This is the time to pick up some groceries, to mow a lawn, to check up on our neighbors just to see if they are OK, or to give them a person to talk to (from a safe distance).

We talk about being Jesus’ hands and feet, and this has truth to it, but aren’t we also his heart and his smile, and his accepting eyes to others? This is the time to get creative and find ways to let others know we care about them and that we want to share Jesus’ love with them. I love that our GCI President called an international day of prayer and fasting, encouraging us to seek God and his will during this time—asking him how we can best express this love he has given us for others.

I’ve been impressed by how many of our GCI congregations and members are offering worship and prayer on Facebook Live or other video platforms. One of our congregations organized a neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt by hiding giant cardboard Easter eggs throughout the neighborhood. Hundreds participated by driving around following clues given on Facebook and finding those eggs. Other congregations have distributed toilet tissue (who would have ever guessed that would be a ministry?). I heard an idea of using the church parking lot to distribute free water, toiletries, hand sanitizer, or freshly baked goods. All of this can be done while still maintaining distance.

I believe we will look back when this pandemic is past and say, “GCI members moved at the sound of the compelling love of Christ. Putting aside family separations and the fear they felt over the possibility of getting exposed to a virus, our pastors, ministry leaders, worship coordinators, children’s church teachers, worshippers and Christians serving Jesus today were finding creative ways to share God’s love and life with others. Because that is what we are trained to do, and that’s what we love to do.”

Welcoming our deployment,

Rick Shallenberger

[1] Rick Lynch, Adapt or Die, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013, pages 66-67.

8 thoughts on “A Church Deployed”

  1. As I mentioned today to one of our European pastors…I believe that God might be “up to something big” and the Coronavirus crisis may actually play a significant role in “the plan”. While the pain of many at this time is very real, we can trust in the one who is HOPE.

  2. Amen! Thank you, Rick, for your encouraging insight! One way our leadership team is staying connected is through Zoom. Some of our members are serving their community by being available to shop or run errands for neighbors, making household repairs or, even, sharing home for family members in need.
    Being present in the moment for opportunities to participate in God’s care for His children…that’s what we can do!!

  3. What an uplifting & encouraging message. Using military deployment and we as ambassadors of Christ was a great analogy. I truly believe that our awesome God is up to something big & good. Thank you so much sir. Blessings to all.

  4. Great article Rick. Home Office has been so helpful during this time. Great encouragement!

  5. The bible told us that perilous times would come. We therefore should not be surprise. Thanks Pastor Rick for reminding us that we need to be ready for deployment to give hope to a dying world.

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