Many churches today are seeking to rethink, reimagine, and refocus on the basic foundational understanding of the local church. Through the last 18 months, we have witnessed COVID-19, politics, and cultural ideologies wreck local churches both large and small. Yet, over this past year, our church has moved in a vastly different direction. We have experienced a season of joy, growth, and unity like no other year in recent history—certainly not in my eleven years of ministry within Pray’s Mill Baptist Church.
Why has our church experienced this joyful season in the midst of confusion and chaos in our world?
The Church’s Commitment to the Ordinary Means of Grace
While other churches were toying with the idea of virtual church, we remained committed to the fact that the church must meet, gather, and worship God publicly as a called-out assembly. Early on in the months of the COVID-19 season in 2020, we were watching the brewing storm approach when we had our first case of COVID-19 in our church. We immediately moved to an online format for a few weeks as we assessed what was happening. However, it became clear that although COVID-19 is a real disease, it was likewise being used as a political weapon to divide people.
During those weeks as we gathered in our living rooms with our families, we refused to reference the worship service as “online church” or “virtual church” because we understood that it was not a real church worship service. It was an intentional “band-aid” that was not intended as a long-term solution. During the weeks that followed, we returned to campus and met together in a corporate worship service. Although we still had Zoom meetings for small groups for a season, we remained committed to gathering for the ordinary means of grace in person as a corporate body.
Through this season, we watched our church grow stronger as we gathered each week. Not only was there a spirit of joy, love, and confidence that filled the church, there was likewise a hunger for people to be with one another. It’s amazing what happens when people receive the preached Word, the ordinances, and engage in prayer together as a church family. The ordinary means of grace shape individual lives, homes, and the church as a whole in ways that cannot be accomplished through pixels on a screen.
The Church’s Commitment to Intentional Community
During a time when the news media literally screamed at us through the television every single day to distance ourselves from one another and wear masks—we pushed back against that idea within our church for a very specific reason—we need community. Not only do we need general community, we need gospel community.
In Hebrews 10:24-25, we see a clear picture of how the church functions. We are called to “stir-up” one another and to not forsake assembling together as a church. When you consider the meaning of Christian fellowship “κοινωνία” (see fellowship in Acts 2:42), it becomes clear that the church is intended to gather together for worship and fellowship. There is an intimacy that marks the community of the church and without that intentional fellowship, the church grows cold. At the heart of the fellowship of the church is the gospel of Jesus. Wayne Mack has written the following:
Many of our responsibilities to believers are spelled out in terms of the “one another commands” found throughout Scripture. There are fifty-eight “one another commands” in the Word of God, and, realistically understood, it’s impossible to understand how these commands may be truly fulfilled toward other believers without involvement in a local church. 
During this last year, our love for one another has resulted in patience and a refusal to split and splinter relationships over trivial matters. Although we used common sense and practiced good hygiene—we still gathered together for corporate worship and enjoyed intentionally designed times of Christian fellowship beyond the walls of our worship auditorium. Sometimes we gathered together in smaller groups at our homes for fellowship while on other occasions we met together as a corporate body for a fellowship meal.
During the summer of 2021, we had intentionally longer Sunday fellowship options on the last Sunday of each month. We called them, “Extended Sunday Fellowships” and we met for lunch in our fellowship hall and then gathered for a 3 o’clock worship service in the afternoon. This resulted in a lengthy fellowship meal from 12:30-2:30pm with longer conversations over coffee complete with children running and playing on campus.
The joy and depth of our relationships has increased drastically over this last year within our church. It has been something unique to witness. As we hear the horror stories of churches splitting and fracturing over CRT/I, COVID-19 politics, and other cultural issues—it’s a reminder of the grace of God that has been lavished upon our church over these last 18-months.
The Church’s Commitment to Remain Steadfast in the Faith
This season of growth, joy, and success is not about me. While I sought to lead alongside our elders and shepherd our church well during this difficult season within the history of our church, the blessings that we are experiencing as a church family is the direct result of the ordinary means of grace applied by the Spirit of God.
Not only have the elders of our church remained rock solid during this season and served with steadfastness—so has our church family as a whole. Rather than dividing over trivial issues, our church has remained unified in the gospel. Rather than being gripped by the fear of death, our church has experienced the joy of the assurance of eternal life in Jesus. Rather than listening to the news media and allowing progressive politics to lead them, our church has remained committed to God’s sufficient Word and submissive to the leadership of our elders.
This past week marked my eleventh year of pastoral ministry within the life of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church and it was without question our best year. I praise God for what he has done and continues to do in the life of our church family. I’m grateful to be a member and even more honored to serve as pastor.
1 Corinthians 15:58 – Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (ESV)
- Wayne Mack, To Be or Not To Be a Church Member, (Greenville: South Carolina, Calvary Press, 2004), 26.