FIRST-PERSON: Letter to pastors in the hurricane zones
NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- The horrors of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma tell us anew that these are scary times.
For those of us who came through Katrina in 2005, nothing about this is fun. We recall all too well the hundreds of deaths, flooded neighborhoods, destroyed churches and uprooted lives. God bless our friends as they recover from Harvey and Irma.
I was the director of missions for the Southern Baptist churches of the New Orleans Baptist Association, which gave me a front row seat to all that had happened and what the Lord was doing. With that in mind, I would like to offer a few thoughts for the pastors and other church leaders in these war zones:
-- You are about to see what God can do with thousands of His faithful people.
You already know His power; that has been amply demonstrated. But the power of His people flocking into your area to help neighbors rebuild their lives may be more inspiring than anything you have ever imagined.
They will feed the hungry and knock themselves out ministering and giving, and your neighbors will be amazed that they ask nothing in return. As a result, most will be more open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than at any time in their lives.
You will be talking about things God does in the next few months for the rest of your life. Personally, I hope you don't have to move away to another place of service but can stay and see what God does. Jesus' words to Martha before raising Lazarus from the dead come to mind: "Didn't I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40).
-- This will be a time of great change for your church.
On our first Sunday back from evacuation, about half our congregation was in town. Our pastor at the time, Tony Merida, welcomed everyone, then said, "If you don't like change, you've come at a bad time."
To pastors and other church leaders whose services had been disrupted by Katrina for an indefinite period, I said, "Have you ever wanted to put an end to some of the programs in your church that have outlived their usefulness? Now's the time. When your people come back, just don't restart them. And are there programs you have wanted to begin but just couldn't find the right time? You've been handed a golden opportunity. Just do it."
While it's true some of your best people will be moving away, new ones will be coming. Staid, stagnant churches are going to be infused with new people bringing new energy and zest. You don't want to miss this.
-- Tell everyone of your prayer requests; tell them to "Pray Big."
John Newton said this about our prayers: "Thou art coming to a King; Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much."
After Katrina, I printed up business cards with that poem on one side and on the other something like this: "Thank you for praying for us. But please don't pray just another 'God bless New Orleans' prayer. Pray big. Perhaps something like this: 'Lord, You love this city. You have many people here. Please do a new thing in our city, a God thing, a big thing. For Jesus' sake, Amen.'"
-- This is the time to reach out to your neighboring churches.
Often you will have more volunteers than you need, while the church down the street has none. Reach out to them and share the blessing.
Lynn Rodrigue was pastoring Port Sulphur Baptist Church, some 50 miles below New Orleans. When he found out the Catholic church down the highway needed an electrician and was unable to find one, he sent a volunteer from Oklahoma who was a certified electrician. As a result, Lynn and the priest became friends and eventually they invited Lynn to preach to their congregation, truly a "first" for our part of the world.
-- Though you are stressed and distressed, keep good records on money given to your church.
At the time we were so scattered and so few, I pulled together a few leaders and asked them to serve as administrative committee for the association. They would pass on all our Katrina-related expenditures and decisions. That way, if and when the day should come that anyone questioned how we spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled through our office, we had the records and the written approvals. No hint of scandal ever appeared.
God bless you during this trying time. Know that you are being loved and prayed for throughout the world. We're going to be watching to see what new things the Lord will be doing in your part of His Kingdom.