“It was definitely a testing year,” says Pastor Alvin Love III.
As of January 2021, Love is the lead pastor of Nashville Life Church (NLC) in Nashville, Tenn. The church was co-founded by his parents, Alvin Love II and gospel legend CeCe Winans. Prior to assuming the role of lead pastor, Love served as executive pastor at the church.
Many pastors and churches had a difficult time in 2020, a year notable for its political, social, and racial unrest. Complicating the challenges that Love faced is the fact that the racial makeup of his congregation is about half Black and half white. This is something NLC is proud of, said Love, but the events of the past year “really challenged the unity of our church.” In a February interview with ChurchLeaders, the pastor explained, “This is the first time that one of our greatest assets ended up becoming one of our greatest challenges.”
As his church has been healing from the wounds of the past year, Love said he is seeing God do a lot of work among the members. But it has been hard. “I think when anything is shaky, it ends up being an opportunity to test where your foundation is,” he said. “I think our church really got a rude awakening of how planted we really were.”
Alvin Love III on NLC’s ‘Testing Year’
Multiple high-profile deaths of Black people at the hands of police officers have drawn national and international attention to the U.S. and led to rioting throughout the summer of 2020 and beyond. Many of the Black members in Pastor Alvin Love III’s church were shaken by these events, particularly if they had had bad past experiences with the police and with white people.
“Not everybody really knew how to deal with that while still calling people who look different than you your ‘brother’ and ‘sister,’” said Love. On the other hand, he said, “A lot of white people were feeling guilty, which made me upset.” Empathy is good, he explained, but self-condemnation is not, and Love was defensive of white church members who felt this way.
On the other hand, some of NLC’s white members would make comments that were unhelpful and uninformed in an attempt to defend themselves. Love found himself mediating between these various groups and faced pressure from each as far as what to address from the pulpit.
Race, however, was far from the only topic over which people were divided last year. There was the extensive political tension, for example, as well as the disagreements among people about whether or not to wear masks and follow other COVID-19 restrictions. “All of this has been happening right when I’m trying to make sure that I’m ready to take on the pastorship,” said Love.
Added to these challenges, of course, was the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the church from meeting in person. NLC members did not meet from mid-March of 2020 until the last Sunday in June of that year. Love believes the isolation made people vulnerable to doubt and negative thinking. “That was really tough,” he said. “I think we’re still recovering from that.”
Alvin Love III: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
So how did Love navigate these challenges as a pastor? It was important, he said, that he followed what God was calling him to do, not what various groups wanted from him. His preaching needed to be gospel-driven, not socially-driven. The result was that most of his pastoral decisions have simply focused on reminding his church members of what they already know to be true.
Love spent some time on Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7 about the house built on sand and the house built on rock, challenging his church members about where their feet were planted. It’s not news to most Christians that life will bring trials and storms, said Love, but it’s one thing to know this in theory and another to actually walk through a storm. “I wasn’t really saying anything new in 2020 as much as reminding everybody, ‘This is it. We are in that time when we have to stand on the rock.’”