Last year I underwent a stress test at the direction of my cardiologist. As you may be aware, this is a controlled test where the exercise level on a treadmill is increased over time to stress the heart and reveal any problems with blood flow. A few years before that a good friend of mine worked for a bank and he was in charge of the financial stress test to see how their bank would hold up in crisis. I feel that the past year has served as a stress test for churches. However, the conditions have been anything but controlled. Churches have had to deal with the pandemic, economic crisis, racial reckoning and extreme polarization in politics. The good news is that by and large churches have fared well. They have shown creativity and adaptability in bringing worship to their people. They have worked faithfully to address needs in their communities brought on by the economic stress. And most have survived the financial down turn. We did not die nor have to be hospitalized as a result of the test!
However, the stress test has revealed some potential blockages to God’s grace flowing freely throughout the church and community. First of all, I have noticed that some of the same polarization found in politics has crept into the churches. Secondly, while people have acted sacrificially in these days for the most part, a "what about me?” attitude has also shown up in discussions over worship, masks and priorities in most all congregations. After a year of struggle and sacrifice, it is natural to want things to operate for our own benefit. While natural, it may not be the most helpful attitude for the future of the Church in our world.
At my cardiac stress test, I was told that I could stop it at any time. Unfortunately, there is likely no stopping the stress our churches are under today. Even when we get through the pandemic, the problems which plagued churches before the pandemic will still be there in addition to problems remaining from the pandemic. Our united front which guided us through the past year may dissolve. I recall how after 9/11 the leaders of the two political parties were pictured together on the Capitol steps. In twenty short years division may have contributed to a storming of the Capitol.
Fortunately I passed my cardiac stress test. I was encouraged about diet and continuing exercise. Today I’d encourage churches to feed on a diet of prayer, scripture study and fellowship in authentic community. I would further prescribe exercising what Dr. Jamie Clark Soles calls the "logic of the cross”- in all things ask "are we regarding the other person with love?” To treat others as Christ treated us will give the Church years of abundant and healthy life!