2020 has been a challenging year for almost every person in the world. Like many pastors during the pandemic, I was looking for ways to encourage my congregation during this season. I felt it was my responsibility to be encouraging to them in as many ways as possible.
Something very unique happened in this process, however. As I encouraged our congregation, time and time again, I walked away as the one being encouraged. Let me share with you three ways that the people of Plymouth Park Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, have encouraged me during a global pandemic and strengthened my love for the local church.
1. Authentic support
One of the first things we did as a staff was to divide the membership among us to reach out and call those in our church. We wanted to make sure they knew how to remain connected to the church as we moved primarily online, check that their needs were being met (spiritually and physically), and find out how we could serve them. As I made my phone calls, I was constantly the one receiving the encouragement. Members were thanking me for everything we were doing.
There are no less than 50 handwritten notes that I have received during the pandemic on my desk at work—simple words of encouragement from the flock that God has entrusted to me. After preaching 63 out of 64 weeks and having two trips canceled due to the pandemic, the church allowed me to take two consecutive weeks off on vacation. One member graciously paid for my family’s gas. My birthday came during the pandemic, and our members led a 50+ car birthday parade through my neighborhood to show their support. Yes, I have been the one who has been greatly encouraged.
2. Extravagant generosity
Another way my church has encouraged me during this time is in the way they have sacrificially given their resources. Like many churches during the pandemic, we had no idea what giving would look like during this time. We pushed online giving and encouraged those who did not want to do that to mail their offering to the church. The leadership figured out a minimum number we needed to pay people and keep the lights on, and prayed that we would receive it. The people of our church once again encouraged their pastor by their giving.
I often believe pastors feel like they have to be everywhere for everyone, but sometimes we need to sit back and see that our people are there for us.
May ended being one of the highest giving months that we have had on record in a long time. In fact, to date, we have received 98% of our budget goal through 2020. Because of this, we were able to do more than pay people and bills. We upgraded our cameras in the sanctuary to stream our services, we were able to divert money to help support the local school system in feeding families in our community, and we sent $5,000 to a partner of the gospel in East Asia who has 14 foster children when the father suddenly passed away due to COVID-19.
Our deacons went grocery shopping for older members, they ran meal trains for members who were in quarantine because they contracted COVID-19, and did work around the church building we normally wouldn’t be able to do when meeting in person. Our people used their finances and talents to give back tremendously to our church. It showed me over and over again that they love PPBC, not the building but the people. As a pastor, that left me inspired me and encouraged me during a time where it would be easy to get down.
3. Bleeding for the mission
We desire to have a tangible, transferrable excitement so that everyone interacting with us walks away thinking, “Wow, they really care about us.” Our church’s mission statement is, “To see the people of Irving forever changed by the Gospel of Jesus and holding dear to Him as their source of all joy and worth.” When people have been cautious about meeting other people, our church has found ways to fulfill this and be a light in our community.
Our student ministry team packed over 400 bags of snacks and treats for local middle school students on the first day of classes. Several church members built an outdoor “Free Library” as a resource in our community for kids and adults to have access to free books. Our members flooded the church with books for the library, so it was stocked and ready to go once construction was complete. Other members went door to door, leaving invitations to church and a letter explaining the hope we have in Jesus during these times. Another group wrote handwritten notes to our homebound members who were the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and were driven into isolation. Then, one of our deacons built a prayer-walk map around our campus so members could walk around our property and pray for our church and community.
These are just a few of the things the people of Plymouth Park did, and all of it has encouraged me. I often believe pastors feel like they have to be everywhere for everyone, but sometimes we need to sit back and see that our people are there for us. During a time when ministry has been different and challenging, I have felt the most encouraged and privileged to pastor this church.