Davis, Chesser reflect on first-year anniversary of COVID, look to future
By Lonnie Wilkey
FRANKLIN — During a year marked by COVID-19, Tennessee Baptist pastors and churches stepped up and “took lemons and made lemonade,” observed Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Davis and Tennessee Baptist Convention President Bruce Chesser reflected on the challenges and ministry accomplishments of 2020 during the one-year anniversary of COVID-19.
“It was a year ago this week that we canceled Youth Evangelism Conference 48 hours before it was to take place. It was this week that churches started seeing the need to shut down their worshiping together,” Davis recalled during a video presentation.
“The majority of our churches did that, and we all kind of hoped for the fact that we would be back worshiping again Easter. But then it stretched through Resurrection Sunday and that wonderful season and then it went on through the summer and you know the history of what it’s been like,” he continued.
Davis acknowledged it was a tough year for all involved. “We saw pastor friends and members of our churches who suffered,” he said, adding that he knows of 50 or more pastors and spouses or ministry leaders and spouses who died from COVID-19.
Thousands of other ministry leaders in Tennessee suffered from the devastating effects of COVID, Davis continued.
Yet, through it all, pastors and churches stepped up and continued to minister.
“I’m so proud of our pastors, and I’m so encouraged by what I witnessed our churches doing. They really took lemons and made lemonade. They were so creative in how they were going to worship online or in parking lots or in vehicles or on the radio.”
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In spite of not being able to meet in person for weeks and months, churches found new ways to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, he recalled. “With so many churches being online on Easter Sunday, I have personally said that I believe that more people heard the gospel this past Easter Sunday around the world than any other time we have celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Chesser, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, observed that Tennessee Baptist churches also “did an incredible job in pivoting mid-stream and figuring out how to stay connected with their folks.
“The people, in turn, did an excellent job in trying to stay connected with their church family. A lot of creative things took place. But this is a continually changing situation. Every time we think we have a grasp on it, it shifts a bit,” Chesser observed.
“Going forward, we must continue to be creative; we must continue to be willing/able to pivot,” he added. “And we must do everything possible to stay connected with as many people as possible.”
Davis continues to be amazed by the generosity of Tennessee Baptists during a year marked by uncertainty and unemployment.
“We were expecting Cooperative Program receipts to decline by up to 40 percent,” Davis said. “But the truth of the matter is because of the faithfulness of God’s churches and the generosity of these churches, we came very close to meeting our expected budget last year, and we’re on target to meet the budget this year.”
Davis said he has heard story after story from pastors all over the state whose church attendance was devastated but members continued to send in their tithes and offerings to continue ministry.
“That can only be explained as a God thing and disciples of Jesus Christ being disciples.
“I believe the majority of our churches are filled with Holy Spirit filled Christ followers that just want to do church. And the faithfulness of their giving was incredible.”
Davis observed that churches across the state and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board as well had to prioritize ministry.
COVID provided an opportunity for churches and the TBMB “to dream the new dream. In the months ahead, we are going to be launching or we are going to be accentuating existing ministries that are focused on helping our churches,” he pledged.
Davis cited I John 15 where Jesus admonished his followers to bear fruit. In order to bear fruit, pruning is needed, he said. “I think that over the last 12 months the Lord has been pruning us. And as we’re submissive to His pruning, we will be put in the position of bearing more fruit than we ever have before,” he noted.
Chesser agreed. “We will get back to some normalcy in events and activities. This has been a great time to jettison some of those things that we have always done just because someone started doing it years ago.
“We have had time to rethink why we do what we do and be strategic. From that standpoint, this should have been a good time for church leadership to dream and plan. People might be a little hesitant to begin with, but we are social creatures by nature, and I do believe that people will resume doing the things that we have done before,” Chesser said.
Davis is confident that the lessons learned from COVID and “redreaming the dream” will enable Tennessee Baptists to see “more fruit for the Kingdom of God than we’ve seen in all of our lifetimes. I’m looking forward to that good and glorious day that’s ahead. It’s going to be wonderful.”
As to the immediate future, Chesser noted that a major university announced they plan to fill their stadium to full capacity this fall. “That is well and good. It makes for a good headline and it is encouraging, but it is just a hope and a plan. No one knows for sure.
“The same thing is true in our churches. We should plan as though everything is going to happen but have a secondary plan ready to go if something should prevent us from doing what we intend to do. Plan for the best, prepare for the worst,” Chesser encouraged.
The TBC president acknowledged that people have been slow to return to church.
“Some people are not coming back for various reasons. Some have gone to be with the Lord. Some have had health issues and aging that will make it difficult for them to be back at the same level they were previously.
“Others became a part of ‘pajama church,’ and they like it. But I have great news. It is actually old news, but it came from the Master Himself! The fields are white unto harvest. There are many, many families, couples, and individuals out in our communities that need the Lord, and they need a church family. We should blitz our communities in the coming months with new enthusiasm and excitement for the cause of Christ,” he said.
Chesser noted that he recently told TBMB church revitalization specialist Kevin Minchey that he has the best job in the state of Tennessee. “Every church is a revitalization church right now. I am excited about the next few years. I believe that we have a great season of opportunity ahead of us.” B&R