As you read these words, the 2021 year has just begun. Yet, I am writing in 2020—a year that will not soon be forgotten, yet (for some) might have seemed not to go fast enough. The Lord has challenged us to understand that expectations for a year may not be what one would expect.
In the Central District Conference (CDC), 2020 was the start of Rick Eshbaugh and me partnering together as district ministers to serve our pastors and churches. I will serve as part-time district minister while also pastoring here in Mountain Lake, Minn. In January and February, we worked to plan out our job responsibilities, and in mid-March, I was to head to my first set of national USMB meetings—mid-March—of 2020! These meetings would suddenly shift to a virtual meeting because of a virus starting to make news headlines. And so would everything else for much of 2020.
Whether it was the inability to travel to visit churches or not being able to meet for our national and district gatherings, 2020 felt a bit like the disconnect between where the Apostle Paul wanted to be and where the Lord had him—longing to see the brothers and sisters in other churches (Rom. 1:11, 15:32; 2 Cor. 1:15-24).
Yet, we have discovered that we are blessed to have means of connecting with the people we aren’t able to see and can still encourage one another, despite not being in the same location. For Paul, it was a pen on paper. For pastors in the Central District this took the form of webcams on a weekly Zoom call.
What started in the early weeks of COVID-19 for pragmatic discussions, as we scurried to answer questions about doing services in nontraditional ways, soon became much more significant. As the dog days of COVID-19 rolled by in 2020, this weekly hour became a lifeline of sharing and sharpening. Now, did each pastor attend each week? Of course not. Some weeks only a few dialed in. On other weeks, more faces appeared on my computer screen.
In these times of connecting, and throughout 2020, the Scripture that stayed on repeat in my mind was Paul’s words he shared when he couldn’t visit the church in Corinth: “Do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Our time together helped remind us that the events we are living through are light and momentary. Light in that the heavy lifting of real hope was already carried. Not by us, but by Christ, who shouldered our sins at his death. And temporary not in that maybe 2021 might see some normalcy, but temporary as we look to the length of the eternity that remains ahead. Connecting helped remind us that what we see is not all there is, but that these days shape us for what is still to come—unseen, eternal, glorious days.
In 2020, these reminders encouraged us in ministry and shaped us for ministry still ahead. These reminders came as we pastors, brothers in faith, used the communication tool of our day. Would we rather meet in person? Of course. But it seems that, like Paul’s own trials, God redeemed a situation characterized by distance to work in ways he only could.
Dan Strutz is the pastor of Community Bible Church, a USMB congregation in Mountain Lake, Minnesota. He and his wife, Susanna, came to serve the southern Minnesota congregation in 2015. In 2020 Strutz became the part-time Central District Conference district minister.