Closer to the Finish Line

Redeeming the Time: Calvary Chapel Cleveland Seizes Opportunities During COVID-19

Story by Lindsey Benitez and Margot Bass
Photos by Christian Rodriguez

“The Lord is truly redeeming the time,” exclaimed Mike Bucher, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Cleveland, OH, as he recalled the weeks that his church body could not meet in person because of COVID-19.

Throughout those weeks, the church–the body of Christ—has remained very much alive and active. “The Lord has given such significant opportunities lately to share the Gospel, and [I’ve experienced] peace beyond words more than ever. The world has been dark, but His light is shining brighter than ever,” Mike affirmed.

And the light [Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:5

pastor vacuums hallway

Pastor Mike Bucher vacuums the hallways before service, getting ready for Calvary Chapel Cleveland, OH, to meet for the first time in months.

A Wider Reach

Until COVID-19, CC Cleveland had been reluctant to embrace social media technology, fearing that the church body might have less fellowship or not use their spiritual gifts. Mike explained, “I’m not a fan of social media. But because we couldn’t be active in person, social media has been a huge tool for the church. People are being drawn to the Lord. I see its value in getting out God’s Word. A lot of people are tuning in who would not have, otherwise.”

pastor preaches in church

Pastor Mike preaches for the first time meeting in church since the pandemic started.

Spreading God’s Word through social media has not returned void, according to Mike. “Satan wants to scatter the church, but honestly, this has made God’s Word go even farther than before. I sent, and am still texting, links to virtual Bible studies to over 40 people per day—old friends, relatives and drag racers.”

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order … to save many people alive.” Genesis 50:20

mother and son

A mother holds her son while fellowshipping after church service.

women with baby

Members were eager to fellowship again.

With a smile, Mike described himself as The World’s Fastest Pastor: “I get to drive a dragster at 275 mph. I also get the privilege of being pastor of an awesome church.” A drag racer himself, he is the son of the late championship NHRA driver Jim Bucher, a Top Fuel driver who won the 1975 Summernationals. Over many years, Mike has used his platform as a racer to share the Gospel, including through his Hope Over Heroin parachurch ministry.

joyful people worship together

Church members were joyful to fellowship again after two months of not meeting in the church.

Elder Jim Delmonte was thankful for men in the fellowship who were adept at learning and using technology to livestream services. “Wow, the reach has astounded us! We had never livestreamed before, and we weren’t sure how it was going to work. But we’ve been able to see some of the people who were donating afterwards, who specifically mentioned they had caught us on livestream,” Jim noted. “Some of them used to come to the church and had moved out of the area. They would say, ‘It’s great to see you livestream. It’s nice to know you’re still there.’”

pastor seeking God

Pastor Mike Bucher and a few others from his congregation spend time in prayer after every service.

Pastor Mike’s son Caleb added that the technology has allowed people watching online to feel like they are a part of the fellowship. “No matter where they were, they could reach out to us. This has allowed us to bring those people back. Something evil, something crazy has come, and God has been able to take it and allow us to expand,” Caleb reflected.

worship team leads worship

The Worship Team leads worship in Spirit and Truth.

The Urgency of the Gospel

“Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14b

Mike declared, “The Lord put on my heart years ago that in Cleveland I would be a pastor during a crisis, for such a time as this, a time of desperation. I think that vision means giving out God’s Word. A lot of the fluff has been taken away—not only from the world but from the churches. So, what is lasting, solid? Where are you going to find peace? Only through God’s Word.”

Caleb leads worship

Caleb Bucher, leads the congregation in worship.

As we move closer to the End Times, Mike warned, “The Bible says that God is going to shake everything. If your foundation is on anything besides the Lord, you will be shaken. Jesus said when you see these [events], begin to lift your eyes as your redemption draws near. The finish line is close.” But these difficult days have provided a great opportunity to advance the Gospel, Mike exhorted. “The Church has always been about Jesus and sharing His message to all—every day and in every way—competing through the finish line without any compromising of Christ.”

women with baby

Two women fellowship after service, one holding the woman’s newborn baby.

A father of 14 children and grandfather of 12 (with three on the way), Mike is passionate about sharing the Gospel and encouraging his flock and all Christians to do the same. “Evangelize every single day, everywhere we go, with every person we meet. I’ve led two people to the Lord on an airplane. I told the church family that if they are in a grocery store and someone says, ‘Hello,’ that’s God saying, Evangelize to them,” Mike urged. “Use every opportunity to share the Gospel. We need to take it seriously. One way or the other we are to be a light to every person. People are what matter.” I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14

pastor preaches in church

Two church members encourage each other in the Lord through God’s Word.

A Joyful Return

Online services worked well, but Mike and others missed the voices of their church family. “I remember Psalm 33, about the refreshment [you get] from the gathering of Christians that you will never get [when] alone.” Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy (Psalm 33:1, 3). “Sometimes you take things for granted—fellowship and worship with people. It was sweet to have everyone here and hear the voices,” Mike related. On the first Sunday of May, church doors opened again for a Sunday gathering, welcoming back about 20 attendees in a joyful, safe atmosphere honoring governmental social distancing guidelines. “Ultimately, the details of personal worship should be a Holy Spirit-led decision for everyone, whether attending inside the church or at home with us virtually,” Mike encouraged.

church prays together

Pastor Mike worships the Lord.

church prays together

Members seek the Lord together in prayer, praying for our nation and the church.

Caleb led worship both virtually and during the regathering. Remembering the shutdown, he said, “I would play like there were people there because I knew people were listening. In the end, [however] we worship, we worship unto the Lord.” But he was happy to have people in the sanctuary. “I looked out there and saw them worshipping, and it brought more excitement in my heart to see the oneness we have in the Lord.”

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.