One of the questions I’m often asked by unbelievers is, so what do you do? Once I have explained that I’m a pastor of a local church, the follow up question is often (and sometimes by Christians too), do you only work on Sundays? What do you do for the rest of the week?
I’m sure there are a few people who are curious to know what pastors are doing during this pandemic, given that Sunday Church services are postponed for the foreseeable future. Walking the dog and watching Netflix aside, there are one or two responsibilities that occupy a pastor’s time.
The principal of Ridley College (Melbourne), Brian Rosner, has written an excellent article on the ABC, Coping with coronavirus disappointments: Five lessons from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Rosner highlights,
“Bonhoeffer’s approach to prison life was not to allow the confinement to restrict his activity. Quite literally, he did not sit still while waiting for his hope for freedom to materialise”
Not that any of us are in prison, but parallels with today’s restrictions have some warrant. Speaking of his incarceration, Bonhoeffer wrote,
“I read, meditate, write, pace up and down my cell — without rubbing myself sore against the walls like a polar bear. The great thing is to stick to what one still has and can do — there is still plenty left — and not to be dominated by the thought of what one cannot do, and the feelings of resentment and discontent.”
So how are pastors spending this time during Stage 3 lockdown? In short, the work never ceases. In fact, the past three weeks have proven to be extra busy and particularly stressful. They are also exciting, not because of the threat to peoples’ health and livelihoods, but because we believe in a Sovereign God who can exercise his grace and mercy even during a season such as this.
Here are some of the things Pastors are continuing to do during this season of uncertainty (not in any particular order):
- Pastors will be praying for their congregations, neighbours, community and nation. Pastors will be praying for the sick, for medical workers, and for our Governments.
- Pastors are reflecting theologically on this crisis in order to rightly direct Christians and non Christians alike to think and respond in appropriate ways.
- Pastors are listening to Government advice and guidelines so that our churches adhere to best practice in order to flatten the curve.
- Pastors will continue to study the Scriptures, in order to be refreshed and to refresh others.
- Pastors will continue to shepherd their Churches, exercising responsibility for the spiritual health of the body.
- Pastors are regularly connecting with church members: phone calls, emails, live conferencing, etc.
- Pastors are meeting with their leaders in order to see that they are doing ok and are equipped to carry out their responsibilities
- Pastors are finding new ways to teach and using older models of teaching. Among the methods I’m using are: preaching a weekly sermon, writing short articles, publishing short podcasts, personal conversations (virtual) with particular people, and starting an online cohort who are studying a subject at Bible College.
- Pastors will continue to guard their churches against bad theology which rots peoples’ lives and offers misleading hope.
- Pastors are organising Sunday gatherings for their congregations online, and discerning what is theologically appropriate and pastorally edifying.
- Pastors are maintaining the administrative side of church, ensuring that the every day behind the scenes structures remain in place and are in working order
- Pastors are organising spiritual, financial, and practical care for people.
- Pastors continue with the task of evangelism
- Pastors are trying to model godliness in the face of uncertainty.
- Pastors are helping at home, loving their spouse and children, and finding more time to help make homestay a success.
- Pastors will continue to serve the sick and the dying
- Pastors will continue to conduct weddings and funerals
These are some of the activities that require a Pastor’s attention and energy.
The stresses experienced by many pastors will be similar to those of a small business owner: for many, financial difficulty is a very real prospect. And yet the analogy only goes so far, for pastors are not selling products to consumers, they are Shepherding God’s people.
A pastor’s work can also be likened to that of a medical professional, although we are not fighting against physical disease but caring for both peoples’ temporary and eternal condition. As has been witnessed in Italy, sadly many doctors and nurses have fallen ill and even died from COVID-19, and by their sides many priests have also become ill and died.
A pastor’s duty is also analogous to that of a teacher, trying to establish healthy discipline among students, encouraging them to learn and not give up or become distracted in this virtual world of online education.
By no means is any of this meant to play up or down the work anyone is doing during this time. A pandemic requires a whole community approach. I simply sharing with readers the kind of activities pastors are engaging in at the moment. While pastors are very much conscious of their responsibilities, we are also thankful for and reliant upon the Chief Shepherd. We will make mistakes. We will grow tired and grumpy and not handle every situation with grace. There is one Saviour to whom we direct our congregation, and for whom we serve. He is our great joy and it is our great privilege to be engaged in his work at this time.
I’m reminded of what Peter wrote to the elders of the churches in Asia,
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)
2 thoughts on “What are Pastors doing during the Pandemic?”
I think it’s also a time for pastors to intentionally learn; to be asking 1) Lord, what are you teaching me/us in this time of great disruption? 2) Lord, how do you want this COVID-19 context to change me/the church so I/we will become more like Jesus in his world?
This pandemic is a test for pastors because it is going to test the pastoral care that is the remit of all confessors of the Name above every Name. The pandemic tests all Christians as it tests all our neighbours everywhere. The entire Church of Jesus Christ, the Body of Christ, the People of God continues to be winnowed. We are now more conscious of our union with sisters and brothers around the world in their winnowing. This shaking, this winnowing is still within and part of God’s world which He loves so very much. This is a sharp discipline. In all likelihood it is going to be extremely hurtful. Pastors will be sore tested too; pastors need pastoral care. They need to be open to it; they need to be opened. This is no waiting for “normality” to return. It’s something else, a “waiting for the Lord”, a shaking reconfiguration for all of us as we live out our days as the flock of the Good Shepherd. We will have to learn anew what “we” means as we profess our faith. The Letter to the Hebrews (espec. Chapter 12) takes on new cogency now we are so obviously “under the pump”. The pandemic has a potential for spreading even greater confusion and disillusionment that was already part of our daily life in the time before its outbreak first occurred. Will our own deep neglect of Jesus’ teaching come to our notice too during this time? Maybe that is what we all, and those with pastoral responsibilities, should be praying for so the Lord can show us our folly and crookedness, the ways we love that we have gotten too used to? Lord open our hearts so we can repent. Long before the New Year outbreak in Wuhan, there was much that required our attention and to forget those things can only foment a deeper bitterness with contaminating potential (12:15). Thanks Murray for opening up this important topic. Sorry for being so long-winded.
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