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by Jim Killam | 10-minute read

 

In this “everything but the kitchen sink” interview, Lead Pastor Luke Uran talks about adjusting to a unique season, the Ten Commandments sermon series, the national conversation on race, COVID-19 and gathering again for worship.

 

First, how are you?

I’m hanging in there. It’s been a whirlwind, going back to the beginning of the coronavirus and now obviously with the racial tension and divide that our country is facing. I think it has definitely affected everyone in one way or another. There is a heaviness to these days. It’s still taking some adjusting.

 

As a pastor, it’s been a different rhythm for you, obviously.
Headshot of Lead Pastor Luke Uran

Lead Pastor Luke Uran, First Free Rockford

With COVID-19, it was such a scramble to get everything lined up because it all happened so quickly. Three weeks in, we realized our best option was to pre-record the services. Our sermons are always written by Thursdays anyway, but then we had the ability to percolate on it and pray about it over the weekend and revisit things that we needed to. And now, Thursday is when we record it for the congregation.

For me, some of the difficulty has been understanding that there is no right answer in terms of pleasing everyone. One of my biggest weaknesses as a leader has been to naturally lean toward people pleasing. What the Lord has been teaching me lately is to keep my eye on him. To continue to go to the wise counsel that he has brought into my life through our Senior Leadership Team and our Executive Elder Board. And then continuing to seek what is best for the mission and vision of the church.

It has been a really growing time. But it’s like going to the gym. When you are done working out and tearing down that muscle, you are exhausted. So it has been a tiring time, but it has also been good.

 

When a disruption last this long, do you think we start to hear from God in ways we might not have, had this passed quickly?

That’s another area where the Lord has been working with me. I am a type-A planner. I am very strategic as to what the future is going to look like. When something doesn’t go according to plan, it throws me for a loop. The times in my life where God has hit the eject button on Luke’s plan have been learning curves. But this probably has been the largest learning curve for me. And we are still at a point where we don’t even know “when” or “if” on a lot of things. So it is just stretching that faith muscle and saying, OK, God. We will do this your way and we will pivot as best we can in the days ahead.

The Ten Commandments sermon series was not what you originally planned for this summer. What took you in this direction?

We had a different sermon series lined up. But I didn’t know how well it would translate to people streaming the services. So we changed it to the Ten Commandments. I think it’s very fitting. You look at what the Israelites endured, being brought out of Egypt and out of slavery, and the Lord led them in the wilderness. They didn’t know where they were going. They didn’t know what was going to happen. And yet the Lord continued to give them these commandments and remind them who he is.

When I love God most, it frees me to love others best. Through this time, we have continued to ask a question that Andy Stanley asked recently: What does love require of me? I feel like that ties this series together with what we are currently going through.

 

Has this taking you to any place surprising, as you have studied the Commandments again?

It’s been refreshing, looking at them not just from the lens of the Old Testament, but also pointing to the New Testament and how Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of each of these commandments. Not just the ten, but the other 603 on top of that. And not only that, but Jesus is also looking at the heart and the true purpose behind them. It isn’t just a do or a don’t. He is articulating and modeling how those commandments are to be practiced.

It’s been good to take a closer look at each one, especially the commandments we think we have a handle on. Then we go deeper and we aren’t so sure.

Some of the ones coming up — don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t commit murder. We rattle those off and think, I’ve got that. Check, check, check. But when you take it from the perspective of Jesus and look at the heart behind those things, then we know it’s much more. It’s not just committing the act of murder, but Jesus says if you hate your brother or sister, you have committed murder.

 

What is going on in your heart and mind with the national conversation on race? Especially with you being from Minnesota, and that’s where the flashpoint has been this time.

It’s breaking my heart. For numerous reasons. Sadly, this wasn’t the only time this has happened in Minnesota.

I have had to allow the Lord to do a work in my life, to surrender to the fact that now is not the time for personal fear or anger to rule my life. Instead, what I needed to do was look to the Lord for grace, for mercy, for courage, for boldness to speak the truth in love.

It’s very easy to pretend that we have the right answers. And what I am learning during this time is to realize I don’t have all the right answers. I need to hit the pause button. I need to lament, to listen, to learn. Those are steps that we have naturally wanted to get through quickly. Our culture has conditioned us for immediacy. We want to skim over things and quickly get to the end of it. We haven’t sat and actually lamented what has taken place.

People get frustrated when an intersection might be blocked by protesters. I understand, but at the same time, don’t skim over this. Let’s listen. Let’s lament. Let’s learn. And then let’s be courageous enough to be a voice where there needs to be a voice. As followers of Jesus Christ, the hope we have is eternal and rooted in the life-changing truth of the Gospel. God calls us to a ministry of reconciliation through the gospel. He gives us the responsibility to call people in broken and estranged relationships to be reconciled to God and to one another through the work of Jesus.

So we need to remember that as followers of Jesus, it is our duty to be the voice of hope for the broken, the hurting, the wounded. The exact way that Jesus modeled all of this in the gospels. Remember, we see him meeting both physical and spiritual needs. That’s also what we are called to do. Faith and works.

So what I have been hearing from God is: Luke, this needs to continue to break your heart. Don’t skip over this too quickly.

 

Do you have specific advice for our church family on this issue?

People process in different ways, and some of the ways people are processing … I don’t know if it’s more helpful or more hindering. Just because you see something on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter doesn’t mean you need to share it or hit “like,” or comment on it. I have gotten to a point where I needed to delete the Facebook app from my phone. (So if anyone has been trying to message me through Facebook, that’s why you haven’t heard from me.) It was bringing me to a place where I didn’t need to go, as I continued to listen and learn. Getting rid of the app isn’t burying my head in the sand. It just means I am doing my own research on all sides of the issue and continuing to develop my understanding based on what the Lord is revealing to me.

So for our people, maybe put Facebook down for a while. Do your own research and fact checking and continue to ask the Lord to lead and guide us through this.

 

Let’s move to something lighter. Standing on that stage in an empty auditorium and giving a sermon has to be just weird.

It is weird. I am lonely (laughs). When we were still in our regular routine, every Sunday morning two of our elders would come and pray with me before the services. And thankfully, one of our elders is still driving in on Thursday mornings. He comes in with a mask on and prays with me before we record the sermon. Which is amazing, and it is such a blessing to me.

Then we go in and record it. I have been picturing individuals as I walk in. People have their spots where they sit — their clusters, their rows, their seats. So I pray for them as I picture them. That has helped — to see in my mind’s eye that these people are there and listening. It has helped me preach to people and not to a camera lens.

Well, I’m at least glad to know you aren’t using cardboard cutout pictures.

The first couple of weeks, when we were doing it live, some people brought in stuffed animals and put them in the front rows.

 

I know you don’t have final answers on this, but can say what the process looks like for deciding about reopening the church building?

We have a reopening team, and they are constantly evaluating, going to online seminars and communicating with other churches. I’ve been talking with other church leaders in the area on a regular basis, bouncing ideas and getting information from them.

What we are continuing to look at is wanting to be sure, to the best of our ability, that we are keeping people safe. We have to keep reminding ourselves that some people may be comfortable with gatherings right now and some may not. And that’s fine.

There are also people who have experienced the loss of a loved one because of the coronavirus. I don’t think it has hit all that hard here in Winnebago County, so I think we quickly forget that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. It doesn’t mean that we cower in fear, but it does mean that we need to be wise and loving in the decision processes.

We sent the survey out to the entire congregation, and we heard back from almost 400 people. It’s pretty much split right down the middle in terms of how people feel about reopening and coming back.

We do have some very exciting news that I am going to be announcing Sunday before the service. So tune in.

 

Have you learned some things through the Wednesday night prayer and praise gatherings so far?

People are very excited to get back and be worshiping together again in person. So that has been awesome. But we’ve also learned that we’re going to need to continue to remind people that the precautions we have put in place are for loving concern for everyone, whether they personally agree with them or not.

So, in order for us to be able to do this well in the future, and to be able to reopen, there is intentionality behind the guidelines and procedures we are putting in place. We need to make sure we are being wise and loving in how we go about this.

 

 

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