Series - 2yrs

Two Years Later: Where Are We Now? (Part 7)

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Are you and your ministry prepared for the next crisis that will inevitably flow from these “perilous times” in which we live, “in the last days” (2 Tim. 3:1)?  

SermonAudio is preparing—which will allow all of its broadcasters to be better suited for the next cultural calamity, whatever that may be.

The company is building The Vault—a secure space on the second floor of the Mack Library, on the campus of Bob Jones University, which will house new technological infrastructure, providing security and independence for “the largest and most trusted library of audio sermons,” upon which so many churches have come to rely.

SermonAudio founder Steven Lee summed it up simply: “This will protect us from becoming cancelled,” he stated.

“We are in the business of trying to protect even the smallest church,” he said. “Nobody is working on a solution for the small church. So that is where we come in.”

Jesus predicted a day when “the love many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). There are few terms more chilling than cancel culture—a concept with which we’ve become all too familiar since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resultant shutdowns, and the battles over the freedoms of religion and speech that directly ensued.

“Cancel culture is a real thing,” Lee stated. “To me, it is just one small step away from it being a wholesale gospel issue.”

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Two Years Later: Where Are We Now? (Part 6)

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Online ministry efforts have doubtless expanded exponentially since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It expedited my own plans for engaging in online ministry—and I am sure it did the same for many others.

I shared quite a few of my own thoughts on this theme in parts two and three of this series. I have also described at length how the shutdowns provided the time and opportunity—and compelled me by necessity—to launch the type of online outreach that I had envisioned from the beginning of my service with The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

Now, I believe that our next question as church and ministry leaders ought to be: How can we think strategically, and prepare ourselves and our ministries, before we are ambushed by the next crisis?

Once again, we’re drawing on the experience of Steven Lee, the founder of SermonAudio.com, in looking at this question. I interviewed him regarding The Vault, which SermonAudio is building on the campus of Bob Jones University, and related issues.

“This whole pandemic—there is a lot that we can say that’s negative about it,” Lee stated. “But, obviously, I think that churches and ministries are seizing upon this tool to get the gospel out far and wide.”

Lee was referring to using the tools of technology in broadcasting our message—a practice that many ministers embraced during the shutdowns of 2020.

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Two Years Later: Where Are We Now? (Part 5)

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Cybersecurity is a subject about which I know almost nothing, and would certainly never give advice.

Yet this is an issue that affects all of us—in our communications, finances, and now, especially, ministries.

So, along with many other people, I am dependent upon the expertise, advice and assistance of those who really live within this realm of technology.

I am thankful, especially, for the help of Steven Lee, the founder of SermonAudio, who visited with me in a video that is posted to SermonAudio.com/pscharf.

In last week’s column, I covered The Vault that SermonAudio is constructing on the campus of Bob Jones University.

“The Vault is going to be playing into a much stronger tomorrow for us,” Lee told me—assessing his situation after SermonAudio suffered a serious cyberattack in March of this year.

The second portion of our interview, then, focused on cybersecurity.

“We were hit pretty hard in a portion of our infrastructure that we would consider more legacy,” Lee said. “We have a lot of very new infrastructure that’s very, very secure. None of that got touched. Then we have aging legacy infrastructure which is more difficult to just lock down, and that’s the one that got hit.”

Among the areas suffering damage were the eDocs sections of each broadcaster’s page—one place where I post my column. Thankfully, that feature is now back up and running.

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Two Years Later: Where Are We Now? (Part 4)

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I began this series this past March, in which I set out to look back at how we have responded to the events of 2020.

I am not going to focus on the medical or political aspects of the pandemic or the shutdowns. Rather, I am concentrating on local church ministry—zeroing in on how this has affected their outreach, both locally and online. Certainly, coronavirus and all that surrounded it has left a lasting mark on numerous aspects of our ministries.

I am also persuaded that we need to look back at this past crisis only long enough to learn from it and prepare for the next similar crisis. I do not believe that it is a matter of if—but, rather, when—that will occur. Specifically, are we poised to handle another catastrophe, and to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities that it will doubtless bring to those who have organized themselves in advance?

We need to be in the best position possible to minister to hurting and confused people—and, ultimately, to address the substance of any forthcoming crises head-on. There will simply be no excuse to be caught off guard, at least by the onslaught of the next calamity—whether it is real or artificially produced.

We are blessed to live at a time, however, when ministry can continue to be multiplied, even in times of crisis, through the use of technology.

So, for help with these issues, I turned to Steven Lee, the founder of SermonAudio.com.

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Two Years Later: Where Are We Now? (Part 3)

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When I first heard of the concept of COVID-19 lockdowns in the United States, including effectively closing down many churches, my first thought was how many lives this would cost—not save.

Speaking broadly across our culture—including all congregations without regard to Biblical fidelity—it is my conviction that small churches are still the backbone of this nation, and serve as a lifeline for many, many people. (I believe this is also true in a spiritual sense with regard to those churches that do remain Biblically faithful; see 2 Thess. 2:6-7.) These people very often count on the friends they see and know from their local church to take them to the doctor, bring them their medications, and just visit and check up on them.

Looking at it from the ministry side, then, how have our churches fared during the past two years since the crisis broke out? I would submit that the big difference between those that have thrived and those that have merely—or barely—survived depends on their focus on effective communication.

In the previous installment, I encouraged churches and ministries to evaluate their responses to the changing ministry climate, now two years into the pandemic, and we considered especially the area of technology.

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Two Years Later: Where Are We Now? (Part 2)

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“Two weeks to flatten the curve.” If that infamous line from 2020 still makes you grit your teeth, you’re not the only one.

But here’s the real issue that we as church leaders should be focused on: How have our churches and ministries handled the last two years’ worth of unprecedented opportunities?

Yes, granted, these years have also been fraught with peril, and none of us had ever “passed this way before” (Josh. 3:4). We might even well be shown grace for mistakes made, or decisions that we regret, from two years ago at this time. If we are still in the same holding pattern 24 months later, however, there may be a serious problem. In fact, I would submit that our focus ought to be on the next crisis, not the last one. From my humble view of the world, it is not a matter of if such a thing is going to happen again, but when it is going to happen.

I don’t know what form that crisis will take and, granted, it may be of such a nature that will be outside or beyond any preparations we endeavor to make. However, all of us should be using this time to allow for “iron (to sharpen) iron” (Prov. 27:17). We should want to be in the best position possible to minister to hurting and confused people—and even to address the substance of any forthcoming crises head-on.

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Two Years Later: Where Are We Now? (Part 1)

I will never forget the third Sunday in March of 2020.

On Saturday, March 14, I attended my first Prophecy Up Close event hosted by The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, in the Milwaukee area. That night, we drove down to Mendota, IL, to prepare for our ministry at Mendota Bible Church.

The fear of coronavirus was spreading quickly, as was the talk of locking down society—a term previously reserved for situations involving either extreme weather or an impending attack. I spoke about Biblical prophecy that day, and told the congregation that this would be a day that none of us would ever forget. And, indeed, it was. I remember reading news stories that afternoon about the emergency rules that would shortly be going into place in Illinois—all the while wondering how they related to our United States Constitution.

We stayed in our hotel that night, planning to meet a pastor for lunch on Monday. We walked over to McDonald’s for a snack to eat while we watched the final presidential primary debate, and there we caught a glimpse of what life would look like under lockdown.

The next day, as we left, our hotel clerk cried. At lunch at our restaurant, our waitress cried. Both of them feared financial ruin. We drove home, relieved to get back to Wisconsin—only to learn that the lockdowns would very quickly be following us north.

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