James explained, “The challenges that we faced this year have shaped our vision for 2021 and beyond. We are starting a food pantry in January for food insecure families. At some point in the year, we plan to start a creative arts program for the kids whose parents participate in the pantry. And God-willing, we will contract with licensed mental health counselors to offer free/subsidized counseling to those parents as well.”
Brian Howard says that the importance of mental health counseling is one of the primary takeaways for church leaders from this year. “It is widely expected that the psychological impact of COVID—like many natural disasters—will last much longer than the medical impact,” he said. “We know that depression, domestic abuse, and suicidal thoughts have increased dramatically.”
A recent survey by Gallup found that Americans’ mental health is the worst it has been throughout the past 20 years. The decline in mental health, said the report’s authors, is “undoubtedly influenced by the coronavirus pandemic” and is also likely influenced by the U.S.’s racial tensions and the 2020 presidential election. “Churches have tremendous opportunity to address issues of mental health and counseling,” said Howard. “God’s house should be a place where people can seek peace and healing.”
Other significant lessons for church leaders from church plants like New Hope include the importance of community—both building it and serving the one around you. “In many countries with high poverty, the church is the premiere place for meeting the needs of the poor, the elderly, the widow, and the orphan,” said Howard. “The ministry of justice, benevolence, and community service should be more prevalent among the church. Meeting practical needs in the name of Jesus is an effective evangelistic tool that has stood out during the pandemic, and should continue beyond it.”
Jason James: God Is at Work in the Midst of Loss
New Hope got a chance to meet a very practical need toward the beginning of the pandemic. A few hours after James had finished this year’s Easter service, a local business owner who is not a Christian called him. “She was distraught,” he said, “and wept on the phone because she just found out that one of her former employees had been dead for a week in the hospital and that the city was going to bury him.”
The business owner had been reaching out to funeral homes, trying to find one to take care of her friend, but they were all at capacity. So she called New Hope for help, and thankfully the church was soon able to find a funeral home to assist her. The business owner then asked James to write a prayer for her late friend.
“She asked if I would write a prayer for him to have a safe passage,” said James. “I tried to write something that I thought would be comforting to her and also faithful to our convictions: that God loved this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that those who believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life.” The business owner ended up posting the prayer on the window of her café.
“The hope of God’s love, the promise of redemption through Christ, posted on a local café window,” said James. “Regardless of what comes from this, it was a reminder to me of how God is at work in the midst of so much loss, though we are often unaware of it.”
As Jason James and New Hope Church look toward 2021, the pastor says, “We don’t want to move out of ambition and haste, but with a watchfulness for what God is doing and the opportunities and networks that he opens at his pace. We know that this is an ambitious work. But there is not a doubt in our minds that the Lord will do immeasurably more than we could ask or think.”