During times like the coronavirus pandemic, pastors need pastoring as much as members.
Shepherds spend considerable time tending their flocks. Pastors are similar. Church members commonly call pastors “shepherds,” and pastors describe a congregation as their flock. Shepherding a church congregation requires much time and attention. Beyond the visible work of preaching and leading worship services, other shepherding activities abound. Pastors visit members’ homes; visit sick and hurting people; contact visitors; conduct pastoral counseling; study for preaching and teaching; and handle church administrative matters. Depending on church size, that last item sometimes includes mowing the church’s lawn, cleaning toilets, shopping for the church’s kitchen and more.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rules changed. Unacceptable methods of conducting church suddenly became normal. Pastors adapted. Most of them had settled into ministry routines with church families that matched their personalities and gifts. COVID-19 interrupted that harmony.
Changing circumstances and mass gathering rules pushed pastors out of their comfort zones. Introvert pastors had to start interacting in new ways. Extrovert pastors suddenly lost their interactive opportunities. Non-technical pastors plunged into the realm of Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams. Social media became essential, not optional.
At the same time, many pastors also lost the advantage of volunteer helpers. Church members asked pastors, “What now?” But, pastors also wanted to know, “What now?” They watched a virus trample their ordinary ideas of “doing church.”
Church leaders scrambled for new ideas, new knowledge and new skills. Pastors pressed themselves into rhythms and strategies that they never knew existed and into others that they had intentionally ignored. They struggled to hold onto their theology and religious identity. Many of their typical practices disappeared. They struggled to appear enthusiastic and positive while they felt anxious inside.
Pastors and God’s people navigated the new obstacles and altered ministries. While preachers preached from lecterns in parking lots, members and guests honked car horns in response. Other preachers stood stalwart behind their pulpits in the sanctuary. However, they faced empty pews and a cellphone on a tripod a few feet in front of them. The phone broadcasted them to members via Facebook Live. While preachers found new ways to ply their trade, God worked. Church members showered livestreams with reaction emoticons.
Members stayed faithful. Everyone prayed. Some churches began to see new people appear. People asked how to become Christians. Some wanted to be baptized and join the church. Though baptisms waited, God’s people celebrated God’s work.
Governments began talking about “reopening.” But, reopening did not mean returning to “normal.” New rules and restrictions erased any chance of the old “normal” reappearing. Churches who are reopening have differently adjusted how they use buildings for worship services. “Normal” remains elusive. The new adaptations bring a fresh wave of stress to pastors and church leaders.
I have admired pastors. I wish I could watch them all. Some of them, in tiny churches, have suffered because their church had to stop meeting. They have resorted to phone calls and drive-by visits, if possible. That change is stressful.
Some larger church pastors have embraced social media and online video presence. They have turned every ministry possible into an online ministry. They labor tirelessly to produce content - much more than they previously prepared. That change is stressful.
Great men of God have been under tremendous pressure. They need pastoring, too; and, they need a break. I have heard no pastor say, “Wow, what a relief this pandemic has been for me.” Instead, they say, “I need a break.”
They have worried so much about so many people. They need their congregations to worry about them. Church members need to protect their pastor for the future by granting them rest during the present. For a pastor, a “break” means a respite from planning, from preparing, from caring and from worrying.
Laymen who are not preachers can preach one or two sermons. Members can plan and call one another for a couple of weeks. Members can let their pastors know reassembling at the church building can wait if it will relieve pressure.
Even during COVID-19 times, churches can still collect a special offering for their pastor to say, “Thank you.” Though coronavirus nixes sending cards, church members could plan a particular evening to drive by their pastor’s home, honk, holler and wave posters with messages of gratitude. Invite the local newspaper to send a reporter and photographer to capture the spectacle. Whatever will help your pastor, plan and do it - soon. It is time to tend the shepherds.
I have a message for pastors: Thanks for all you have done. Your actions during these times have mattered to people. The reality that you worry about church members honors God. God is watching your labors when no one else can see. He knows.
Thanks for calling. Thanks for driving by. Thanks for being creative. Thanks for doing new things. Thanks for your extra time. Thanks for learning. Thanks for caring. Thanks for preserving the essence of our church. Thanks for helping us to see that going to church never meant going to a building.
Thanks for wanting to be with us, even though it is impossible. Thanks for helping us value one another. Thanks for keeping on going when no one showed up on Sunday. Thanks for being there. What you have done is extraordinary.
Pastor, I hope that you will soon be able to say to your church, “Thanks for caring for me.” Churches, this is the time: Tend the shepherds.