Lava once flowed across the land on which the Hualalai Golf Course now sits.
Years before the resort was constructed, this part of Hawaii’s Big Island looked much different. Yet, once the lava altered the landscape, there was no going back.
Looking at the plush fairways and the bordering lava rock on the TV broadcast covering the 2022 Mitsubishi Championship, one could only imagine the devastation caused by the molten lava before that eruption subsided and the lava hardened.
“The paradox of volcanoes was that they were symbols of destruction but also life,” Matt Haig writes in The Midnight Library. “Once the lava slows and cools, it solidifies and then breaks down over time to become soil – rich, fertile soil.”
My wife and I made our first visit to the Big Island in January 1996. Along with a group from our church, we had purchased tickets for a helicopter tour of the Volcanoes National Park.
We learned upon arrival that a significant eruption had begun at Kilauea, and a news crew from CNN made an offer to purchase our tickets at a premium so they could film the eruption. Knowing that this was a once-in-lifetime opportunity to observe an active volcano, we declined and flew right over the cauldron.
Although this eruption was nothing like Mt. St. Helen’s, the bright orange lava was flowing indiscriminately toward the ocean, destroying or covering whatever was in its path.
For many years, we’ve been hearing that the church was going through a paradigm shift. Phyllis Tickle noted that such a shift has occurred every 500 years since the time of Christ.
Prior to 2020, there were already periodic tremors shaking the crusty methodologies of ministry. It was as if the lava tubes were filling beneath the surface with occasional steam vents opening and exposing the instability below.
In March 2020, a major eruption began with the rapid spread of a global pandemic. This disruption affected every sector of life around the world, including business, education, entertainment and religion.
The last two years have felt as though a major eruption began spewing lava in all directions, leaving a wake of destruction and creating a new landscape. As a pastor, I am particularly interested in the effects upon the church.
The interesting thing about a volcano is that once the eruption subsides, the lava continues flowing for a while before slowing, cooling and hardening to establish a brand-new terrain.
When we first visited Hilo, we were amazed to see attractive residential communities built where red-hot lava once flowed.
It seems to me that as the church emerges from the pandemic, we are witnessing the birth of a new social and cultural landscape. However, in some places the lava is still flowing and, in most places, it is still cooling.
One cannot build something new until the lava hardens. So, we are in a stage of molten ministry where we are scoping out the emerging landscape and preparing to launch new projects and initiatives.
On the one hand, it is unrealistic to think we are going to rebuild what once was there. The ground has shifted. On the other hand, it would be foolish to create a complete blueprint for post-pandemic ministry before the lava hardens.
Perhaps the best practices for ministry in the in-between is to encourage one another, care for one another, and to be faithful and flexible.
Perhaps we need to be less dogmatic and more adaptable. Perhaps we need to be less programmatic and more relational. Perhaps we need to be less concerned about building structures and more about building up the body.
As I admired the tropical views of the Hualalai Golf Course, I began to think about the fertile fairways of ministry that can be launched after this season of prolonged isolation and separation.
It is not too early to begin scouting out the emerging landscape for post-pandemic ministry, but perhaps we shouldn’t seed the greens and cut the holes until the lava cools.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.