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by Jim Killam | 7-minute read

 

As we look forward to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we spoke with Lead Pastor Luke Uran about what it’s like to be a pastor in this most unusual season.

 

I mean this beyond the superficial greeting: How are you doing?

We have good days and bad days. There is a certain amount of grief and loss. Some of the freedoms that we love, we miss. Jessi and I were just talking about this. We are in this posture of: What is God trying to teach us in this? I’m not one who says there’s a lesson in everything or who tries to over-spiritualize things. However, there are a lot of things that God is teaching us in this. He is teaching us the preciousness of being able to meet together as the church, in a physical sense. For us, we are living differently than we have ever lived before in our lives. Community in a person-to-person, physical sense has completely changed.

Headshot of Lead Pastor Luke Uran

Lead Pastor Luke Uran, First Free Rockford

A positive thing is, people are searching for answers. More importantly, they are searching for hope in the midst of this. I still am grieving the fact that the church is not going to be able to be physically present together on Easter Sunday morning or Good Friday. But I am also celebrating to think that literally anyone in the world who has access to the internet this Sunday has access to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. That is exciting.

I always close my sermon with that phrase. “Go and be the church.” This is the Lord literally kicking us out of the building and saying, “OK, now is the time to practice what you preach.” That is exciting.

 

It’s not exactly what we all thought it would mean.

For the Love Walked Among Us series (which starts Easter Sunday), what we want people to know is that ultimately Jesus, God in flesh, walks among creation and among humanity. Throughout the gospels, there wasn’t a place where Jesus went and something or someone was not changed. As people interact with us as followers of Jesus, are things in their lives and their world changed for the better? Are we using encouraging words?  Are we exercising the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us, to continue to point people to Jesus? Even in the midst of a global pandemic and sheltering in place, are we using the technology at our fingertips to encourage others, to support others, to pray for others, to lift others up?

It would be easy for us to say that the whole idea of walking and being among people is not happening right now. And I would say, no, it very much still is. I hope we allow the Lord to open our eyes to see the opportunities before us now. They are probably greater than any moment in the time I have been alive.

 

Yes, it’s not like God is taking a break during all of this.

That’s one of the things we’re going to be talking about on Easter Sunday as we looked at the life of Thomas and what took place after the resurrection. He got his nickname, Doubting Thomas, because of a specific instance. But ultimately, what people don’t see in this passage is in John 20:26. After Thomas says “Unless I see the nail prints in his hands and the piercing in his side, I will not believe,” then it says, in verse 26: “A week later …”

So Thomas made this comment and a week later Jesus decides to be the full answer to that comment. I think what we often forget is that the presence of silence does not mean that God is absent. Even in the midst of a pandemic, God is not absent. God is doing mighty, mighty things in the lives of people all around the world.

I don’t want to use that as a mask, to say there is not grief or loss or tragedy. I’m not taking those things lightly at all. But the truth is, God is still at work. He is not absent.

 

How has COVID-19 impacted your sermon preparation? Has it changed your focus?

When this first began, we were kicking off the Proverbs series. People (not necessarily from our church) asked me, “Are you going to switch what you’re preaching on?” I prayed about it and thought about it. But this same truth is just as applicable even in the midst of a pandemic, and some would argue even more so as it applies to wisdom.

I would make the same argument for Love Walked Among Us. In the midst of a pandemic, lots of churches are doing sermon series on worry and anxiety. I totally support that and it is needed. However, for me, I felt like the Lord was saying: Stay the course but don’t be blind to what’s happening. Continue to preach the timeless truths because they apply even now. But in addition to that, address the issues, because I am speaking to a pandemic even in the midst of Doubting Thomas. Those principles apply just as much today.

 

So it’s not like God was leading you toward these series topics but he didn’t know this would be happening now.

Even as I look back to the Acts series, here we are now practicing what the early church did. We are doing church at home. With The Simplest Way to Change the World, what is more hospitable and what is more loving to your neighbor right now than following instructions and respecting healthy boundaries? But then also putting a heart on your window. Doing sidewalk chalk, painting rocks. That’s amazing. That’s the simplest way to change the world right there. People know that you are a follower of Jesus, or at least they should, by the way you live and love and follow God.

Then we look at Wisdom for Life, and it’s like: Right now, which path are you going to take? How are you going to wrestle through this? The elders and the church leadership and I have been making decisions daily about what’s best for the church and what is most pleasing and honoring to God. It has all been so applicable and timely. The Lord has been preparing us for such a time as this. I am grieving that we’re not going to be present together for Easter, but I am also stepping back and saying, “God, you brought us to this point.” I believe he is going to do some exciting things on Sunday morning.

 

How can the congregation be praying for you and our church staff? What are some pressure points you are dealing with?

Staying on mission in terms of equipping the congregation to do what the church ought to be doing. Our Kids team, for example, is still mailing out and emailing the Kids lessons. Our student team is still regularly meeting with students on Zoom calls. Our life groups are still meeting via Zoom. Just continue to pray for wisdom in how to continue to engage people into what God is doing, even through this.

There wasn’t a seminary or undergrad class called “How to Lead a Church Through a Pandemic.” Continue to be praying for our leadership, our elder boards and the Senior Leadership Team, for wisdom in the decisions that are being made, making sure we are in alignment with Scripture and are pleasing and honoring to the Lord.

Finally, be praying that the Holy Spirit would continue to soften hearts, that people would continue to find the hope that they are looking for in Jesus. That we would see those opportunities and take full advantage of them.

 

 

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