It’s a fresh, new year. 2023.  I love New Year’s.

I love new starts, beginnings, hitting reset, starting with a clean slate and all those other cliches that apply. Love it. AND..I feel like I’m spinning my wheels right now in ministry. It’s not the first time this has happened in these 25+ years. I’m not depressed or discouraged, I love what I do, there’s no one major obstacle sitting in my path. There are good things going on–premarital counseling with a great young couple, our volunteer worship leaders are thriving, I was part of a city-wide gathering of leaders to pray for the incoming mayor, a woman of deep faith. AND…I feel like my tires spinning. It’s just kind of messy, and at the moment, hard to find traction. People are sick. Meetings are getting postponed. In Northern California, we are in the middle of a long series of absolute monsoons. Our church building is leaking and taking up more time than it should. It seems like as a community we are sometimes majoring in the minors and missing what’s important. Messy.

My biggest outlet to recharge is usually running, but about once a week I also get a good bike ride in. In the late fall I took a couple hours at lunchtime to ride a small Sonoma County road. It was a stunning day–vineyards spreading out in every direction, some vines barren after recent harvesting and others ready for picking. Pristine rolling hills and oak trees. It’s a gorgeous county. As I came over a little hill near some large vineyards I saw…pieces of white paper EVERYWHERE.  It looked like it had snowed. Paper had blown all over the road, into the drainage ditches, and was stuck on fences for a solid quarter mile. It was a little while before I could identify what those thousands of pieces were–disposable toilet seat covers! Good Lord. I’m sure a truck carting Sani-Cans to construction sites or harvesting locations had inadvertently dropped some boxes off their trailer that had split open and–voila. Such a huge mess.

I pedaled on. After all that litter came a steep hill, and then at the top…beauty everywhere again–the valley, grapes, barns, horses, fields, trees.  Breathtaking. I kept thinking about the jarring juxtaposition of the litter behind me, and the beauty I now basked in.  If I had stopped, and let the mess distract me, I would have missed something very special.

Our culture is a mess right now. Maybe it always is and will be, but right now seems a particularly nasty time. Our world is a mess, pain and hardship everywhere. I don’t need to list it all out for you, you see it and read about it and hear it every day. The Church is a mess right now too. Rampant leadership failures, the frustrating mixing of nationalism and faith, stories of abuse and racism and financial greed that sound no different than the secular society we are trying to influence. It’s so messy, in fact, that with understandable justification some people are just opting out. Fewer people believe in God, fewer people are part of faith communities, fewer people are in worship.  To some extent, it is always going to be that way. Sometimes we feel like we are just spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere.

But. We can’t let the mess distract us, because we will miss something special–God’s presence in and among us. So we pray our prayers, sing our songs of praise, open scripture, rally around people in grief, share resources, point to hope. God’s Holy Spirit does and will swirl and nudge and bring about things utterly unexpected.  The presence of Christ does and will enable forgiveness and growth and give us purpose in times of despair.  We can’t stop. We can’t be distracted, even in the midst of mess, even right through the mess, because we are surrounded by something beautiful in every direction. We’re not alone. God’s word to his people in difficult, messy times (Isaiah 61, The Message) says he will give bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.” Keep pedaling.

Peace of Christ,

Dan Baumgartner


Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as Secretary on The Fellowship Community Board.