Two years ago, Easter looked very different for many churches. Most church members celebrated the resurrected Savior in their living room or their church’s parking lot. Pastors did their best to make the most out of a difficult situation.
As difficult as that season was for every church, it was even more challenging for those churches that did not have a pastor at the time. I still remember the churches in my region and the difficulties they faced. When in-person services were paused, they had no one to lead them and no one to preach for them. And as I soon discovered, three of those churches had no plans to conduct an Easter service of any kind.
For those churches, it was difficult to celebrate the empty tomb due to an empty pulpit.
Two years later, nearly all churches will celebrate the resurrection in person this Sunday. A fact for which we are all very grateful!
Still, many churches will have an empty pulpit. Please don’t misunderstand; a preacher will be standing behind the church’s pulpit on Sunday. He will proclaim the glorious news of the resurrection. He will remind the church of the hope we have in Jesus. He will shake hands or provide fist bumps to congregants as they exit. He will fulfill all the duties you expect from a pastor on Easter Sunday.
But he is not their pastor. He will simply fill in because the church is currently without the one called to lead, feed, protect, and comfort the flock of God.
When the pulpit is empty, the church often experiences many negative emotions. Doubt. Despair. Fear. Worry. Hopelessness. Frustration. Uncertainty. The list could go on and on.
If your church is currently without a pastor, I understand how you might feel, and I also know that those emotions might be heightened if this isn’t your first Easter Sunday with an “empty pulpit.”
However, I have good news for you. The resurrection can serve as a glorious reminder that better days are ahead. It can point to the fact that God is still working even when it seems like He is silent. In other words, the empty tomb eclipses the empty pulpit. Here’s how:
#1: We are Never Alone
Churches without pastors sometimes believe they are like sheep without a shepherd. They can convince themselves that no one cares for them. They can feel like they are orphans in the wilderness. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The empty tomb reminds us that we are not alone. The empty tomb reminds us that our Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. The empty tomb reminds us that our risen Savior will never leave us nor forsake us. He will be with us always, to the end of the age.
#2: God’s Light Shines in the Darkness
Churches without pastors can struggle with doubt and despair, especially if the search has taken longer than expected. The situation may appear bleak at best and catastrophic at worst, and it may seem that the Lord has abandoned the church at their most desperate hour. The result is a church filled with fear and anxiety, unsure of God’s plans for their congregation.
But the empty tomb reminds us that God’s light shines the brightest when the hour is the darkest. The crucified Messiah lay dead in a tomb at the lowest moment in mankind’s history. The hope of so many had so quickly shattered with Jesus’ untimely death. The light of the world had been extinguished, and darkness reigned in the disciples’ hearts for a very brief but excruciating season.
But then, the stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. God’s miraculous power was on full display. And the disciples’ hope was renewed!
Similarly, although your pastor search may appear hopeless, God might be preparing to show up and show off in some amazing ways. It wouldn’t be the first time He’s done so!
#3: Uncertain to Us, Certain to God
Churches without pastors live in a constant state of uncertainty. They don’t know the identity of their next pastor. They don’t know his age. They don’t know if he has children. They don’t know if he’ll be a good fit for their church. They don’t know how long he will preach each Sunday. They simply don’t know what the future holds.
But the empty tomb reminds us who holds the future! The same God who raised Jesus back to life is the same God who has already selected your church’s next pastor. He had the power to raise Jesus, and He has the power to make His selection known to your church in His perfect timing.
While we don’t know what the future holds, we know who holds the future! And we can trust Him.
#4: Nothing Can Frustrate the Plans of God
Churches without pastors can quickly become frustrated. If the search takes longer than expected, the church becomes frustrated. If the Search Committee doesn’t communicate with the church in a timely manner, the church becomes frustrated. If an announced candidate doesn’t receive the required votes, the church becomes frustrated.
While we can become frustrated many times throughout the search process, the empty tomb reminds us that nothing can frustrate the plans of God.
Many times throughout Jesus’ earthly life, Satan tried to prevent God’s plan for Jesus to save His people from their sins. Satan used Herod to try to execute Jesus as a baby. He tried to get Jesus to jump from the temple during the wilderness temptations. He used Peter to try to convince Jesus to avoid the cross. He used mockers to try to get Jesus to use His power to come down before He breathed His last breath.
Satan tried to frustrate God’s plans at every turn. But Jesus did not take the bait. He declared victoriously, “It is finished,” and then he breathed his last. Therefore, the empty tomb is a lasting reminder that nothing could frustrate the plans of God. He will work all things according to the counsel of His will.
While you may become frustrated throughout your search for a new pastor, you can trust that God is not frustrated even in the slightest. He will send your new pastor in His perfect timing.
The Proper Perspective
When viewing your church’s empty pulpit through the lens of the empty tomb, everything comes into focus. While the empty pulpit is a source of discouragement and frustration, the empty tomb is a source of encouragement and hope. Remember, the same God who was faithful to raise Jesus back to life will be faithful to send your next pastor!
If you’re struggling with fear and doubt right now, I pray that the empty tomb will eclipse the empty pulpit in your heart and mind!