Writings by Cole Huffman


Surveyed

Recently, a four-question survey was given to the church through our adult classes. Normally, I feel about surveys like Darrell Royal felt about the forward pass in football: “Three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.” Applied to surveys, it’s good to hear where people are and what they need. Open-ended surveys tend to send the ball all over the field, however, and if the leaders don’t catch every pass, unmet expectations are created.

This hasn’t been a normal year by any stretch, so whatever misgivings I have about surveying was offset by needing to move the ball downfield. You could say the survey was for making halftime adjustments. Coronavirus has been a hard opponent to line up against. The survey was offered in good faith and received in good faith, with encouraging and constructive inputs for the most part.

I’ve put the four survey questions in italics below, in order to take it myself.

What’s the biggest challenge or unmet need for you since the pandemic began? I can’t say I have unmet needs. Neither have I suffered isolation, though many in our church have. The challenge for me in my role is encountering layer after layer of double binds in just about every matter of public concern there is these days. If you say something about Issue X, fault is found with what you say (or that you’re saying anything). If you don’t say something about Issue X, fault is found with that also.

Due to everything being so sharply politicized now, it feels to a lot of pastors like we’re always playing from behind, that there’s always someone you can’t win. The boundary lines are still in pleasant places, as Psalm 16 puts it, meaning there is for me plenty of encouragement and satisfaction in ministry at First Evan. I’m grateful daily. But it feels like we’ve put electric fencing around some of our boundary lines. I’m not under a pile of cast aspersions, thankfully, but double binds are tough. No matter what you say or don’t say, do or don’t do, you lose with someone.

In general, what has been the biggest blessing of this time? Blessing means wellbeing. Physically, I thank God for my family’s health. Over the last few years, I’ve caught colds and bugs easily, so I thought for sure I’d contract Covid. I may yet, but the last six months has been a season of great health, which I don’t take for granted.

The biggest blessing for me, when I think about it, was the time spent preaching Job through April and May. I organized Job like a play, each act a collection of scenes that together tell the story. Job’s story is one of wellbeing resulting from continuing to trust God even when every benefit for doing so was stripped away.

I didn’t want that play to end, though I did want the audience back, since I was preaching to an empty sanctuary during the Job series. But even in that, I got to reaffirm something important for preachers, which is that we preach for an Audience of One anyway. I’ve told preaching groups I’ve led in the city that the marks of good preaching include the preacher worshiping the Lord through the sermon. And so while I missed you, the congregation, I didn’t miss the Lord as I looked around the empty room, and there is deep blessing in that.

How can the church best serve you right now? Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19). Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:18).

Do you see any unique opportunities the church might be missing at this time? I’m sure we have missed some opportunities in fellowship, worship, and service. Each of these areas have been circumstantially limited, but there has still been ripe fruit.

For me, I’ve been so geared to output that I missed the opportunity to slow down some. When the pandemic hit, people wanted to know what to do, how to lead their families. Heavy current events and national divisions compounded it all. My job didn’t stop—not that I’m an essential worker—but I felt I needed to be even more “on” for our church, given the uncertainties everyone was feeling and the unknowns we’re facing. Many said they gained from being forced by lockdowns to turn life “off” for a time and just be. I kept running, doing. Opportunities to “just be” are missed in that.

Consider me surveyed now. That wasn’t so bad after all.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 4:15 PM
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