As I stated in a previous article, none of us have pastored through a pandemic or have had the benefit of a pastoring in a pandemic 101 course, yet all of us have far more skills and knowledge from seminary, CPE, and our life experiences than we realize that we can draw on to continue to lead well during this time.
During CPE, you undoubtedly faced many new challenges and were present for moments of crisis. One of the ways you grew from this was by reflecting regularly on your experiences and processing them with others. The lessons you learned from CPE lead the way for being a pastor during a pandemic. You can be non-anxious presence, even if that means just having a calm, reassuring tone over phone or video. You can process what is happening in your setting by reaching out to colleagues. You can reflect on your experiences to keep growing as a leader through this time.
Call a Thing What It Is
In seminary, you likely learned that a good theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is, so what does that look like during a pandemic? It can be too easy to slip into too much negativity, but it can also be tempting to gloss over the bad and force a false optimism on our churches. Calling a thing what it is doesn’t mean either of those; it means naming what is happening to give a voice to what others in our care may be unable or unwilling to articulate.
This is a powerful moment to remind people that it is okay to feel uncomfortable, to grieve, to feel stressed, and to acknowledge those negatives that we are all experiencing. As a leader, it can be your very uncomfortable duty to go first in naming the ways people are feeling right now and to be vulnerable in appropriate ways in naming your own challenges.
Calling this pandemic what it is for your community can help relieve some of that tension and give people some breathing room to realize they are not alone in suffering at this time.
In your lived experience, you have felt grace extended to you, seen it given to others, and been called on to share God’s grace yourself. To offer grace at this time where we cannot meet in person looks different than usual. Calling a thing what it is also means calling out the moments of joy, gratitude, and blessing as they happen.
Simply sending a call, text, card, or e-mail of encouragement is one powerful and simple way to offer grace. Consider thanking your congregation in a post over Facebook for adapting to this new and hard situation. Share with people over various mediums the small triumphs that are happening in your midst, like the number of people watching worship videos. Publicly thank those who have stepped up to help in worship and who have been reaching out to others in the congregation. This doesn’t have to mean potentially embarrassing people by name but simply making a public thank to those who are helping via video or social media and a more personal, private thank you to specific people.
Moments of grace offered publicly build up the whole congregation and are one way God can use us to knit our people together at a distance.
As you manage your own anxiety and resist managing the anxiety of others, remember too that God has called us all into a different and deeper experience of Sabbath. This is a Sabbath that we have not chosen the parameters of, but we can choose to practice moments of quiet, rest, and care for ourselves.
Model this Sabbath for God’s people by taking a hard look at how many video meetings and services you have set up. Ask yourself if all of them are what’s best for you and for the body of Christ at this time. Do you need to have several video meetings, prayer meetings, and worship services going every single week, or is one online service enough?
Think about how to address the immense pressure, busyness, fatigue, and worry that are driving so many people now. Parents and grandparents are struggling to educate their children at home, work from home, or facing the burdens of working outside of the home, while the children in their care have no school to go. Others are lonely and resisting staying at home. Talking openly about Sabbath is one way that God can use us to help people who are facing these many pressures.
Now is a time to offer peace by letting go of some of the meetings and services that you may feel need to happen. Now is the time to offer less information and more listening and to remind people that God calls us to intentional moments of rest.
Pray for Your People in New Ways
We don’t always know best how to pray for our people, but we trust that, as the New Testament promises, the Holy Spirit knows what to pray in our stead. If you are feeling too overwhelmed to pray for people or are having trouble finding out the specific needs of the congregation, get out your church’s most recent directory and lift each person up to God confessing that you don’t know what to pray for, but that you trust God knows what each person needs.
Keep praying as needs come in and keep praying by simply holding each person up to the light of God.
Live Out Your Ordination Promises
Finally, take a fresh look at the promises you made during your ordination. Ask God for the wisdom to live out your vows in new ways and trust that God will show you the way
Pastor you can do this. You are doing this. Amen.