If you care deeply for your pastor and love your church, I hope you will take however much time is needed to read this.
First, let me say that I do not presume to speak for every pastor, or even most of them, but I’m pretty sure my thoughts echo those of many on the front lines of ministry.
Indulge me for a moment, and please hang in there.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
For me, this October (2020) marks sixty years upon this old terrestrial ball and thirty-one years as a pastor. Counting my current and almost surely my final charge, I’ve served as senior pastor of four churches in three states.
I’ve watched people die, dedicated babies, baptized scores, married and burried hundreds, and preached more than 2,500 sermons. I’ve counseled through divorce, suicide, depression, and child abuse. I’ve seen scores flock to the altar to meet Jesus for the first time.
I say all this so you have no doubt that when it comes to pastoring, I’ve been around the block. Several times.
HAVEN’T BEEN HERE, HAVEN’T DONE THIS
Bible College and Seminary prepared me for most of what I wrote above, but nothing, including leading my third church near NYC through the aftermath of 9/11, has prepared me for COVID-19 and its impact on the church. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, literally figuring it out as I go along. I am assuming every pastor is feeling this way.
THE CHURCH HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
My church, because we’re committed to the health of our members and our community, and because we believe that our testimony to the world matters, has chosen to not conduct public services until it’s safe to do so. We were already live-streaming our services, so that transition has been simple, but we’ve also had to launch virtual prayer meetings and ramp up our communication, improving our texting and online presence, including revising our website. But these things are relatively mundane to the real challenges we face.
Let’s face it, everyone is “feeling” isolated now because we actually “are” isolated. But being isolated from your spiritual family carries its own unique burden. We’re kept from the ones we pray with, worship with, study the Bible with, and serve alongside with.
The pastor feels especially isolated for several reasons. First, he is generally the one who plans and leads most or all the public gatherings. Second, he has the spiritual interest of every person in his heart, not just his own interests or those of his own family. But what most people totally don’t realize or at least ponder is that the pastor is ALWAYS thinking of the church; always. And because the church is everything to him, his isolation from his flock is nothing less than heart breaking.
A SENSE OF INCOMPETENCE
With today’s celebrity preachers, megachurches, and the ubiquitous “social media pastors,” the average pastor of the church down the street can feel overwhelmed. He neither has the skills nor the resources to pull off those flashy services with professional musicians, stunning lights (and even fog machines), and amazing multimedia presentations.
Now that we’ve gone “online,” the pressure is even greater. Most people have no idea how much the pastor frets over his own inadequacies and lack of creativity. After all, he entered the ministry to preach God’s Word and serve God’s people, and feels totally lost trying to navigate today’s technology-laden waters.
Additionally, small church pastors, which make up about 85% of all pastors, don’t have support staff and multiple associates like the pastor of the medium, large, or megachurch. The small church pastor simply does the best he can, knowing that’s enough for God, but secretly hoping that it’s also enough for his flock.
LOSS OF RESOURCES
COVID-19 has wrecked what was arguably the best economy living persons can remember. Just weeks into this healthcare crisis, millions are unemployed, businesses are closing, and the masses have kicked in to survival mode. For most, the church is the last thing on their list of financial obligations. For many, the church isn’t even on the list at all. And yet ministry expenses continue whether people are gathered in the building or not.
Your pastor may not tell you this, but I’m pretty sure he’s concerned. We preachers don’t like to say we’re “worried,” because that just seems sinful, but the truth is, we are. Sure, we’re trusting God. Sure, we’re practicing faith. But in the meantime those electric bills keep coming in, missions need to be supported, community members keep calling and asking for help, and the pastor still needs to feed his family just like you. I’m blessed and glad to be bi-vocational, and don’t depend solely on the church to support my family. But if your pastor is “full-time” with your church, he is trusting, by faith, that his family’s needs will be met.
Reaching, serving, and leading followers and community members requires resources. Your pastor is working hard to creatively lead the church through these lean and challenging times.
THIS IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT
Finally, and perhaps the heaviest weight your pastor carries, is that COVID-19 isn’t going to be with us for a few weeks or a couple of months; this is our foreseeable future. The lack of physical gatherings, and with all that we lose because of it, is going to continue to weigh down your pastor. Ongoing isolation will impact him greatly, if it hasn’t already. His sense of incompetence will only increase as he’s expected to figure things out and blaze the trail. And the ongoing depletion of resources are sure to be a burden on an already-burdened soul.
BE A PASTOR TO YOUR PASTOR
If you’ve made it to this point I think it’s safe to assume that you care about your pastor. He’s a man of God. He’s a man of integrity. He’s a man with a big heart. But in the end, he’s just a man; 100% human. Here’s how you can minister to him.
1. Pray for your pastor daily and let him know it.
I can’t tell you how much it lifts my heart when someone texts me and says, “Pastor, I’m praying for you.” It makes a difference.
2. Offer your pastor help in the areas he may struggle with.
Are you good at technically? Offer this knowledge to your pastor. Do you have some creative ideas during social distancing? Suggest these to your pastor. Believe me, he needs all the help he can get.
3. Encourage your pastor.
Most people would be shocked if they knew how much criticism their pastor deals with. Social media only expands this. Don’t be a complainer: be an encourager. A positive phone call, text, or email may save your pastor’s ministry.
4. Help your pastor promote your church’s ministries.
Share social media posts, Facebook Live events, and information about your church with your friends and social media followers.
5. Don’t stop giving to your church.
If you’re able, continue to support your church financially. Expenses don’t cease when “services” do. Most churches have online giving portals or PO Boxes for mailing a gift in.
If you can’t give financially, volunteer to do things the church generally has to pay for. Mowing the grass, taking a meal to a shut-in, or making phone calls are a few ways to serve the Lord through serving the church.
JUST LOVE YOUR PASTOR
I bet your pastor hasn’t shared most of what I’ve written because he doesn’t want to be a burden. He doesn’t want you to worry. When it’s all said and done, just love your pastor. He’s not perfect. He’s only human. I believe that when you show your pastor that he’s loved, he’ll thrive, and so will your church, as he leads you through these strange and fearful times.