Southlands Santa Ana started on the 24th of January, 2021. One year in, Jon Marshall, who (along with his wife, Kimi), leads the church, reflects on this milestone and how COVID-19 has impacted their formation as a church community.
2 Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.(James 1:2-3)
Last year was full of joy for us as a church. We faced trials of many kinds. But, if we really want to become like Christ, this was a year to celebrate. If we want our neighbors, coworkers and friends to become like Christ, then we can rejoice at what has been going on lately.
I don’t say this flippantly. I know how hard COVID-19 and its aftermath have been in many communities. We have not faced its full force in our city. But we, as a church, have really started to see the truth of what James claims in this well-known verse. Trials create steadfastness and resolve.
The trials of this past year have generated a level of perseverance in our people that I believe will prepare us if, God forbid, something more challenging were to arrive.
We have learned to be a little less “certain”. Americans (especially Californians) love to plan. But Covid won’t allow much planning. So, our people have grown more comfortable leaving things “up in the air.” In this way, their faith is growing because they must rely upon God in the midst of uncertainty. We have grown in our ability to fill in the gaps, adjusting to the new things presented to us in the moment.
We have learned to be a little less “attached” to this world and its pleasures. Americans (especially Californians) love pleasure. But COVID-19 keeps us away from our normal, earthly pleasures. I am so proud of how our people have been captivated by God’s word this past year. Several have begun to evangelise for the first time in their life. Others have taken initiative to serve in ways they never had before.
We have learned to measure “success” in new ways. Americans (especially Californians) love numbers. But Covid has made a mockery of the numbers game. Now we spend less time thinking about “the number” in our gatherings and more time on the “people” who are with us and those who are not. A small gathering number isn’t a hit to our ego, but a call to reach out to someone who often has an urgent reason they haven’t shown up.
In my mind, these are all signs of maturity and for that I’m grateful. My desire as a church planter is to partner with the Spirit to see individuals and a community formed into “the whole stature of Christ.” Trials are necessary. This year we were able to baptise a dozen people into the church and welcome dozens of people into membership. Praise God for that! But, our real focus is on the long game of seeing those people maturing into the fullness of what God desires for them.