Being a Pastor in a Pandemic
by Dr. Drew Hill, Pastor
(Guest Blogger and Just Jump Ministries, Inc. Board Member, Dr. Drew Hill serves as Pastor at Memorial Baptist Church in Arlington, VA. Though he has several years of pastoral experience in multiple locations, this is the first time he has found himself "being a pastor in a pandemic." )
I was asked to share a few thoughts about what it is like to be a pastor during these days of pandemic. Whatever insights I may possess, they have all come to me in the course of the last six weeks. We are all learning as we go and learning it the hard way. So here goes. (Though I am using male pronouns, my thoughts certainly include the many women who serve so well as pastors.)
First off, you need to know that your pastor was never trained or prepared for a pandemic. There is no class or curriculum, no workshop or seminar that prepares a pastor for such circumstances. So, if your pastor seems a little dazed and confused at times, it’s because he is dazed and confused. These are unprecedented times in modern history. None of us have been there and done that, so you may need to cut your pastor some slack. Give him a little time to adapt to this new reality.
Remember this, the number one job of a shepherd is to keep the flock safe, not to expose them to needless risks. Pastors must weigh their decisions not based on what is familiar or traditional, but on what is wise and prudent. The welfare of the many must outweigh the preferences of the few. Trust your pastor to care for the flock.
You may not realize that your pastor misses you deeply. Sharing life with you and your family is a source of great joy and to be separated from all of you for so long is a painful experience. You may be close to a number of friends at church, but your pastor builds relationships with everyone. The more you love, the more you miss.
And here’s a sad reality. In this crisis, your pastor feels helpless to care for his people. Following all the protocols of social distancing, your pastor is unable to visit the hurting, the hospitalized, the homebound, the bereaved. Limited to calling, texts, and emails, the ministry of presence that is so vital to pastoral ministry is not available. Though it is frustrating to be unable to do what we have always done, pastors must trust the ever-present Spirit of God to minister where they cannot go.
Please know that your pastor never quits praying for you in your need, even from a distance. Your pastor believes in the power of prayer, and in these days of distancing he must once again trust the Holy Spirit to intercede and intervene in every situation.
What about online church? In these days of virtual worship, your pastor is struggling to communicate the Gospel in new ways and means that may seem strange or distant or impersonal to you. Hearing you complain that “It’s just not the same,” is not helpful or encouraging. Of course, it’s not the same. It is less than ideal, we all know that. But right now, it’s the only game in town. So, be a cheerleader, not a critic. Pray for your pastor week by week and watch him grow and improve.
Here’s another truth to keep in mind. Your pastor is calling all of his people to a deeper level of faithfulness and a greater spiritual autonomy as parents assume responsibility for the spiritual well-being of their families in ways previously delegated to the church. Many parents operate on thepremise, “If I get my kids to church, I’ve done my part in their spiritual development.” Actually, that never was true, and it is even less true now. Moms and dads need to step up and fill the gap that their absence from church activities leaves. Pastor and parents must be partners in raising up our little ones in the faith, especially these days.
Finally, as an uncertain future unfolds, your pastor will need your trust and support as he leads the church to make difficult decisions and adjustments. As you may have guessed, things will not be returning to “normal” any time soon. When we are all able to resume onsite worship services, things will be different as we adjust to the continuing protocols of this pandemic until a vaccine is found. Be patient with the required changes, unwilling to put anyone at risk, and be supportive of your pastor. We are off the map, moving into uncharted territory, trusting in Jesus to lead the way. Together, we will get where we are going.
When I was a young pastor many years ago, my mother-in-law, Donna Jones, was a wonderful and thoughtful encourager to me. One day at the kitchen table she was asking about my work and I was filling her in on my week. She listened intently and said, “Your job is not for sissies, is it?”
“No, I guess not,” I responded. I’ve thought about her words many times through the years, usually when times were hard and burdens were heavy. Her words were true then and they are certainly true in these strange, troubled times. So I say to all my pastoring brothers and sisters, “Your job is not for sissies, is it?” Be strong, be brave, and know that the people of God are following close behind.