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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Looking out the window the first week of January, I watched as the snow and swirling wind around the house created an eerie scene. It was so cold that even the young at heart exercised caution. Some of our churches suspended Sunday worship.
As a pastor, I always hated not having a scheduled service because of weather. But there are times that warrant prudent caution over proceeding with what one might consider normative.
I read a post by pastor/evangelist Bill Dudley of First Baptist Church in St. Robert, Mo. He said he had never cancelled a service due to weather-related anomalies over the course of his six-decade ministry. However, this time it was wise for him to do so. Across our state, many faithful pastors and church leaders faced this same decision.
The challenge with not proceeding with a worship service is multifaceted:
First, you could miss that person who needs to respond to the working of God's Holy Spirit in his or her personal life. When the Gospel is proclaimed, there is always the potential of that one person saying, "Yes, Lord, yes to Your will and way for my life." Stories abound of people who came to the Lord during inclement weather. When the weather becomes so treacherous and church services must be cancelled, you might miss those opportunities. Yet in this case, the weather was being described as life-threatening.
Second, you don't want to make your decision too early because the weather guy/gal is not always right. You wouldn't want to close your church and discover that the adherents of the "temple of the mall" or "the enthusiasts at the arena of the gladiators" must bring on extra help to accommodate the crowds. Pastors and church leaders must be consistently patient before making any decision to cancel services due to weather.
Third, you have to deal with the aftermath of lean budgets. Pastors know that maturing believers are the most consistent givers. No matter what the weather does, they plan to give proportionately through their local church to God's Kingdom work. Sometimes, however, those who are just beginning their walk of faith, or those struggling with the issue of Lordship in all things, especially finances, conveniently forget that their gifts matter.
With rare exceptions, churches do not operate with huge financial reserves. A church has ongoing expenses such as ministry costs, building/utility expenses, insurance premiums, salary commitments and missionary support. In a day of automatic giving through your bank account or online giving, you wouldn't think this would be much of a problem. However, missing a Sunday or multiple Sundays can create financial havoc.
Because of the reality of ongoing expenses, it might be prudent for church finance committees to consider establishing a reserve account. This is not because of a lack of faith but the realities of the unexpected. For most congregations this is not accomplished quickly. Just begin by setting aside a very small percentage allocation called "reserve." The committee establishes rules as to when the account is tapped. Sixty to ninety days of operations should be sufficient. When it flows over, you can always send a windfall check to missions. Adventure in adversity
An evangelist friend reminded me of a great G.K. Chesterton quote on having the right perspective in the middle of challenging circumstances:
"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered."
With the weather, might it give us the opportunity to network more intently with those who are without Christ or with those believers who need encouragement to walk by faith? Does it give us the potential for a unique form of devotion to worship the Lord Jesus in our homes? Is there someone in the body of Christ we need to check on to make sure they have food and shelter? Are we Good Samaritans for those stranded?
Could the weather create a new adventure of faith to trust God as Lord over our church's finances? Will we learn to take steps of deeper faith with our personal finances so that the Kingdom advances rather than retreats?
No matter what -- inclement weather, or storms of life that impact the health or relationships of someone we love, or problems that result from a government oppressing our witness -- there exists the potential for a tailor-made adventure that matures our faith.
God is always working in and through our challenges to reveal Himself amid our struggles. Because of the personal nature of our God, part of the adventure is to trust the Lord in all things in such a way that we are surprised at His perpetual goodness toward us.
Join the adventure of faith and behold the hand of God at work in and through your life circumstances.
John Yeats is executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at the convention's newsjournal, The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com).