A few days ago I was scrolling through my Timehop and I came across a tweet that I had retweeted from Ray Ortlund in which he said, “If your pastor loves the Lord, is faithful to his wife, preaches Jesus from the Bible, don’t hassle him. If he’s imperfect in some ways, don’t fix him. Who can flourish under that scrutiny? Instead, get down on your knees and thank God. He gave you your pastor (Eph 4:11-12).”
This is a good word no matter the season. Pastors reading that would give a hearty “amen” to such sage advice year-round. But there is no greater time to take this advice as a church member than right now.
We find ourselves in an incredibly strange and taxing time. I do not need to recount the ways in which our world causes us to be anxious, for you are well aware. At the height of our anxiety is the present pandemic which has caused us all to change our lifestyles for the greater good. But even something as impartial as an unseen virus has become political fodder and subject to conspiracy theories.
On top of the stress of coronavirus, opinions offered uncensored across social media. When it comes to the reopening of churches and how pastors lead during a pandemic, the opinions are legion. Some think churches should re-open ASAP, others think we should wait awhile. Guess who is caught in the middle of every opinion about what the church should and should not do in the midst of the pandemic?
I have been privileged enough to study theology and pastoral ministry on the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level and I have not once taken a class called, “Pastoring in a Pandemic.” Why? Because no such class exists.
My point is thus: all of us are navigating this for the first time. There is no playbook on how to lead when a global pandemic is ravaging communities in which the best course of action is to do nothing and stay home. Questions abound concerning when is the right time to re-open the churches for in person gatherings. Is there a right or wrong answer? I don’t know, but I do know your pastor is under incredible stress about what is the right thing to do.
While coronavirus caused many people to slow down and do less, I promise this is not the case with your pastor. In fact, your pastor may be working harder than ever in an attempt to shepherd his flock from a distance all the while keeping them connected and provide content to minister to their souls. Add to this the prospect of opening too quickly and putting members at risk of illness and you have a “perfect storm” for pastoral stress.
Many members might not realize this, and they may be genuinely trying to help by offering critique or advice, or maybe they think they are the only ones doing it, not realizing he is hearing things from multiple people. That adds even more stress.
But wait, there’s more.
On top of all of that, your pastor and church are being compared to other churches in town. “Fourth Baptist Church has already re-opened, why haven’t we?” or the opposite, “Maybe we re-opened too fast. I’m not going to attend for a long time. Other churches are being more cautious.” Or the classicly unhelpful “People have been saying…” or “Brother Demas thinks we should have opened a long time ago and this is all blown out of proportion.”
What is your pastor to do? Pastoral ministry is already a highly criticized, stressful calling. Add a pandemic and you may have a pastor who is questioning his calling and/or is on the brink of burnout—a dangerous place to be, for sure.
I have seen pastors admit this on social media platforms. Many comments and replies are supportive, offering prayer and an ear. Others suggest the pastor should “suck it up,” or compare them to others who “have it much worse.” How helpful is that?
I tell you all of this to offer a simple plea in these strange times: give your pastor grace. He needs it, he hurts, he’s stressed about doing the right thing in a moment where there is no playbook, he loves his people, he wants what’s best for the physical and spiritual well-being of the people Christ has called him to shepherd, and he is trying his best. Would you give him grace?
Consider Hebrews 13:7, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Or, right before Paul talks about God giving churches pastors in order to equip them for the work of ministry, he commands his readers in Ephesus (and us) to patiently bear with one another in love (Eph 4:2).
So brothers and sisters, be patient, be loving, bear burdens (don’t add to them), and remember the grace you would want to receive and then give it to your pastor. He needs your support and encouragement now more than ever, would you lovingly offer it to him? Because he desperately wants to give it to you, but may find it difficult when he’s ministering with “groaning,” which “is not advantage to you.”
Give him grace.