The past two years have been some of the hardest for pastors and ministries. The global pandemic has proven to be a once-in-a-lifetime circumstance that is fracturing relationships and institutions. With the fear of variants looming once again, it is easy to sink into a fatalistic mentality.
Yet, with such negative thoughts, we must turn our attention to the Word of God and ask what he is doing in the midst of all of this, and how we might come alongside with him to be part of his restoration of all things. In the infallible Word of God, we find comfort and hope to know that our better days lie ahead.
In the book of Esther, we find that, at the right place and time, the Lord raises up an uncommon heroine in Israel’s story. In Esther 4:14, we read that “For such a time as this” is how Esther understands her place for the relief and deliverance of the Jews in Persia. That phrase helps keep us present in the moment.
I find myself referring to this passage often these days in light of all that has transpired in the last few years. The weight and toll of the leadership challenges that pastors and leaders have faced is enormous. I have witnessed several pastors leave the ministry or make call transitions because of the mental and emotional struggles they have faced.
For such a time as this, we need to consider the larger vision of what God is doing. The simple truth is this: “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). While we can focus on all the unique aspects of what we are facing currently, the fact is that the message and focus of the gospel remain constant. As we take a look at all the struggles in church history (previous pandemics, theological division, etc.), we can be assured that Jesus is not only the same but that he still remains our living hope (1 Pet. 3:3).
For such a time as this, we need to keep in mind that “the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37). At the time Jesus spoke these words, it was true that there was a missional need, and Jesus’s exhortation to pray for workers to be raised to help in the harvest has been answered. From a small group of misfit disciples of Christ, the gospel was proclaimed and the Kingdom has expanded, truly demonstrating the faithfulness of God in that there are now so many Christians around the world.
My own faith story is one woven by missionaries who saw the harvest. As South Korea opened its doors to missionaries, many Presbyterian missionaries went throughout the country to share the gospel because they saw the harvest and responded to the call to be laborers in that mission field. A fruit of those missionary efforts was my grandmother, who would eventually immigrate to the United States to care for her grandchildren. I would not be who I am now without following the thread back to Christians who responded to that great call to see and labor in the harvest fields of South Korea. Would the Lord give us such eyes to see?
For such a time as this, we could see that the US is one of those harvest fields that needs workers. Anecdotally, the last time I was on a missions trip to Cuba, a small group were praying that God would send them to US as missionaries to reach us with the gospel that had transformed their own lives. Christianity is spreading faster globally now than it has in any time in human history—but not in the US. The US is the fourth largest unchurched nation in the world, with over 200 million who are unchurched, making our country one of the largest mission fields in the world
For such a time as this, we need to keep in mind that God is building his “church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The fact is that the pandemic has proven to be a challenge for many churches and pastors. The need for church planting was great prior to the pandemic, but now it has only grown more urgent. According to David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, “up to 1 in 5 churches could close their doors permanently as a result of shutdowns from COVID-19 closure orders.” While many churches have reopened, he says, fewer people are attending in person, which is having an impact on donations and offerings.
The PCA which has traditionally planted around 50 churches each year for the past decade, yet it only planted 25 churches in 2020, according to the Mission to North America report at the 48th General Assembly in 2020. Although this news may appear bleak, we hold fast to the promise of God that he will always love and build the church, his bride (Eph. 5:32).
For such a time as this, I am convinced that the need to plant churches is urgent. While I know that the pandemic has produced a level of haze on our thoughts, let us fix our eyes on Jesus to give us clarity that we might join him on mission. It may seem preposterous to think of planting during a pandemic, but perhaps the Lord is calling us to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Let us walk by faith in believing that God can raise up new workers for the harvest, and that Covenant Theological Seminary gets the privilege “to glorify the triune God by training his servants to walk in God’s grace, minister God’s Word, and equip God’s people—all for God’s mission.”
Covenant Theological Seminary established the Church Planting Track to address the growing need for planting healthy churches. By God’s grace, Dr. Phillip Douglass, Professor Emeritus of Applied Theology, can attest that over 300 of our graduates have planted PCA churches over his teaching career, and we believe the Lord is still answering prayers to raise up more workers for the harvest. Would you join us in praying that God would answer our prayers for Matthew 9:37 harvest workers? Here’s a simple method to help remind us to pray: I have a friend who set an alarm on his phone to go off at 10:02 every morning; that time reflects Luke 10:2 (“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”).
As we enter into 2022, I am convinced that Lord still hears and answers prayers. I believe he answers prayers according to his unchanging Word. Would you join us in praying that new churches would be planted, lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the invisible Kingdom would be made visible in new communities—for such a time as this?
Dr. Robert Kim is Assistant Professor of Applied Theology and Church Planting at Covenant Seminary.
 NPR Interview with David Kinnaman, https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/08/24/church-giving-covid-19-pandemic, August 24, 2020,.