It has always been the case that congregational life is sustained by invisible labor. Relational work does not announce itself, but builds trust gradually through being dependable, like a mother. I dedicate an entire chapter to this invisible labor in my book about clergy mothers, “Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God” in the chapter “Scrutiny (and the Ministry of Unseen Details).” It is very difficult to log the time spent remembering and tending to myriad details or creating a safe and nurturing environment for all, so it often goes unnoticed and undervalued. At this time, when no one can observe the pastor, staff or lay leaders mingling during fellowship time after worship, or see them being a community presence at high school events people may question “what do they do all week, anyway?”
Here are at least 4 invisible tasks on church leaders’ plates right now:
1. Figure out the details that nobody but paid staff has on their radar screen. This used to mean tending buildings (campaigns to fix them, dealing with insurance, even fixing toilets in some places), and now includes testing and trouble-shooting the technology required for us to gather virtually, plus creating and enforcing protocols for safely regathering.
2. Clear the mind and heart enough to listen to God and discern what our mission must look like now and how to motivate people to pursue it.
3. Keep track of pastoral care needs, in order to be the one who remembers, even though our pandemic brains are as fragmented as everyone else’s. Check in more via phone, text, or social media, since we can’t catch everyone who needs attention easily on Sundays.
4. Field criticism. We can pull back the veil a little bit, on our work and its effects upon us. As a mother knows all too well, when she invisibly takes care of everything, no one knows how or why to help. If we want church members to learn how to better support leaders, to volunteer to help instead of complaining, or at the very least, to aim for better timing for delivering “constructive criticism,” we have to reveal our need.
Revealing invisible leadership also makes theological claim, that the entire community, not just the leader, has responsibility for the labor of love that is being the Church. Leaders need to share the work, by revealing what we do. For this is what God does, and how Jesus built the Church of disciples that both helped and exhausted him. He commissioned them to do what he does, down to the details of feeding his sheep, washing people’s feet, and other tasks that had to be done but were rarely even acknowledged.