Pastoral work is not unique in the challenges we face at this time. Every worker is having to learn new patterns and skills, and not all of that is fun. But for pastors who are used to being with people so much of the time, and whose leadership and reason for being is so people focussed, lockdown is an especially trying experience.
Rather than being a restful break from the normal round of meetings and commitments this time has felt pressured and fretful. How can shepherds really know what is happening amongst the flock when we are physically separated from them? It’s no wonder that emotions have fluctuated.
So as a pastor speaking to other pastors, my advice is to be patient: with others, with yourself, with the circumstances. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself some grace. Don’t be surprised when you have down days – those don’t disqualify you from your calling. Remember, we can trust the Chief Shepherd to care for his sheep. When you want to throw the video camera through a window or stamp on your laptop don’t worry about it too much – we’re all there with you! When one day blurs into the next and you’re not sure anything you have done has been effective (and are unsure even about what you have done) trust that the Lord is able to take your feeble efforts and by his mighty power produce good fruit from them.
As well as dealing with our own emotions and frustrations we are now at the stage where church leaders need to be giving serious thought to life after corona. We’ve all been sprinting like mad to adjust to the new reality but now need to turn our thoughts to how we emerge from this time.
For what it’s worth, here is an outline of how I’m working this through with my team.
We’re thinking about three phases:
The Response phase. This is from the start of lockdown through to mid-June by when (in the UK at least) we are likely to see some lifting of current restrictions.
The Recovery phase. This is the six months from June through to the end of this year.
The Reconstruction phase. This is the twelve to twenty-four months from January 2021 to December 2022.
(This short video helpfully explains more about these three phases.)
For each of these phases I’m looking at what we can expect and plan for in five areas:
1. Physical meetings. What gatherings will we be able to have in this phase? How will they be organised? How will they be different from what we were previously doing?
2. Congregational psychology. What are the likely emotions of the church going to be in this phase? What impact might economic changes make? In what ways are work and leisure patterns likely to change? What will be the attitude towards authority?
3. Technology use. How can we use tech most effectively in this phase? What new tech uses we’ve initiated in the first phase should we develop and carry forward into the later phases? What tech use should we draw back from? How can we help church members use technology in a healthy way?
4. Team dynamic & focus. What ‘philosophy of ministry’ conversations do we need to have? How are we doing team meetings in this phase? What new thinking do we need to bring to the table for this phase?
5. Community engagement. How can we most effectively serve our city in this phase? What ambitions should we have for community influence and service? What partnerships do we want to strengthen? What are we dreaming for?
Pastor, it’s a trying time, but you have work to do! We will come through this. We can come through it stronger.