What are Pastors doing during the Pandemic?

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. 

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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):

  1. 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.
  2. Pastors are reflecting theologically on this crisis in order to rightly direct Christians and non Christians alike to think and respond in appropriate ways.
  3. Pastors are listening to Government advice and guidelines so that our churches adhere to best practice in order to flatten the curve.
  4. Pastors will continue to study the Scriptures, in order to be refreshed and to refresh others.
  5. Pastors will continue to shepherd their Churches, exercising responsibility for the spiritual health of the body.
  6. Pastors are regularly connecting with church members: phone calls, emails, live conferencing, etc.
  7. Pastors are meeting with their leaders in order to see that they are doing ok and are equipped to carry out their responsibilities 
  8. 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.
  9. Pastors will continue to guard their churches against bad theology which rots peoples’ lives and offers misleading hope.
  10. Pastors are organising Sunday gatherings for their congregations online, and discerning what is theologically appropriate and pastorally edifying. 
  11. 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
  12. Pastors are organising spiritual, financial, and practical care for people.
  13. Pastors continue with the task of evangelism
  14. Pastors are trying to model godliness in the face of uncertainty.
  15. Pastors are helping at home, loving their spouse and children, and finding more time to help make homestay a success.
  16. Pastors will continue to serve the sick and the dying
  17. 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: 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; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

Stay at Home

Stay at home. This is the new warning being issued to my suburb.

I’m typing away on a beautiful autumn day here in Melbourne. The sun is out, the sky is blue and the temperature is nudging toward a perfect 25.

Dare I say it, it’s almost beach weather. It would be a stunning day for lazing about at the beach except that my local council has today closed all the beaches in the City of Kingston. I happen to live in a beachside suburb of Melbourne. In fact, both Parkdale and Mentone beaches are within walking distance of my house. Despite the close proximity, I have a small confession to make, I rarely wander down to the sand and water. As a lifelong Melbournian, Melbourne and beach have never quite synchronised, as they do for Sydney. Melbourne should be about food and culture, enjoyed under gloomy skies and drizzly rain, not this pseudo subtropical lifestyle for living in Byron Bay and Bondi.

 

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Speaking of Bondi, last night we discovered that Melbournians are as poor at doing maths as our northerly neighbours in Sydney. Only a day earlier we tut-tutted the masses in Bondi for flouting the new social distancing rules, but then St Kilda beach revealed that we are as stupid.

The warning coming to us beachside homemakers has become, Stay Home. 

The new limitations being brought to bear on our lives are a challenge for many. We don’t like our freedoms being curbed. Like the Law of Moses, we read a prohibition and subconsciously begin to plot how we can break it. 

In Australia, we have lived the dream. We have maximised pleasure and autonomy. Melbourne is regularly voted the most liveable city in the world, and not without good reasons. But what are we discovering? All this is fleeting. The good life is not certain. 

The book of Ecclesiastes should become required reading for this season. We would do well to listen to the wise person and in their pursuit for meaning.

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;

    I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor,

    and this was the reward for all my toil.

11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done

    and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

    nothing was gained under the sun.”

The COVID-19 crisis will eventually subside and a new normalcy will settle into our lives. We will return to the beaches and to the footy. We’ll once again hang out at the cafe and pub, and splurge on shopping and holidays. These can be good things to enjoy, but will we learn the lessons that are now being forced upon us? How will we understand life’s meaning? Will we return to all the extras and scoff them down in a frenzied attempt to make up for lost time, to will we discern that contentment and happiness can be had without them?

Here is a simple word of advice: don’t waste your stay at home. This forced homestay presents us with an unusual and unique moment. We could, by God’s grace, learn the answers to the biggest and most important of questions.

Accompanying these social closures are some very real dangers; we can anticipate growing social distancing and loneliness. Authorities have good reason to be fearful about increased domestic abuse in our homes. We need to be conscious of these awful realities and to combat them.

Without diminishing the negative, there are also enormous benefits and possibilities to be seized at this time. Here are a few:

  1. We can spend more time with our children
  2. We can rediscover the long lost art of creative thinking
  3. We can reevaluate the big questions of life
  4. We have the time to form healthy spiritual disciplines: regular prayers and Bible reading
  5. We can catch up on sleep
  6. We can develop intentional habits for looking out for friends and neighbours
  7. We can learn how to enjoy and be content with the simple things

How are you planning to maximise your home stay?

Be refreshed by God

Another way I am to encourage readers during this time is with this new podcast. My aim is to publish a couple of short messages each week that you can listen to on your phone. They are only a few minutes in length.
In today’s episode, I present a meditation on Psalm 23, as an encouragement for us to spend time with God and to be refreshed by him in his word.
If you want to listen and to subscribe, click on the graphic and follow the link
MurrayCampbell

New Podcast now available

During the global crisis, I am planning to post regular and short messages to encourage people and to stimulate theological reflection.

 

To subscribe follow this link,

https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/murray-campbell/id1504044662

Hope during uncertain times

We all need hope during uncertain times.  As a way of giving encouragement and stimulating thought on important topics, I’m starting a youtube channel (and podcast to come). The aim is to upload 1-2 short messages each week.

Feel free to subscribe

MurrayCampbell

You can also subscribe to the podcast on itunes:

https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/murray-campbell/id1504044662

Imagine there is God

Imagine there is no ultimate meaning, purpose or goal toward which our lives are headed.

Imagine there is no overarching design and no inherent significance. 

Imagine if our lives were reduced to the pot luck outcome of billions of years of impersonal atoms and molecules running around hitting and missing, making and destroying.

Imagine a world where the reality of conscience and moral choice has no grounding in a purpose beyond that of group survival in the evolutionary race to the top.

Imagine human affections are ultimately an illusion, a cruel joke orchestrated by the impersonal rules pf physics.

Imagine all the people living for today, for tomorrow is the end.

Welcome to the world offered by John Lennon’s song, Imagine.

A group of celebrities have posted a new version of Imagine. The only reason this is going viral and being watched by millions of people is that these people are celebrities. Otherwise, the at times tone-deaf warbles in the rendition of this average pop song would probably have attracted zero attention. Music criticism aside, the song itself is hardly a suitable anthem for a time like this, or for any time in the world history for that matter.

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In contrast to Lennon’s nihilist proclamation, people want to know that there is hope beyond a crisis and that there is hope when faced with mortality. Times of economic uncertainty can drive people to the kinds of selfish and greedy hoarding of supplies that we have been witnessing. A health crisis can lead to further fragmentation in societies. Indeed, the longer this crisis continues the more likely we are going to witness the breaking of social cohesion. And yet as these economic, social and health pressures tighten, it is all the more necessary for people to hear news of hope.

There is little consolation to a gravely ill person that not only is death imminent, but that it is ultimately meaningless. This atheistic ethic doesn’t do much to help grieving families who have just witnessed a loved one being ripped from their lives.

We want there to be a heaven, a better world with a better life. We want the cessation of sorrow and suffering, but Imagine cannot offer any such promise. 

At the same time, hell is also a necessity, for we do not want to live in a world where evil wins or where injustice prevails. While we should be thankful for our judicial system, it is not full proof and many terrible deeds are never prosecuted. People need to know that in death the wicked do not escape justice. Imagining there is no hell would be a form of hell its self.

John Lennon’s song collapses in on its own irrationality. He imagines ‘living life in peace’, and there being no “greed or hunger”, but such talk demands a form and purpose, but atheism and naturalism cannot provide such a definition. 

The COVID-19 crisis is a voracious reminder of the fragility of life and the uncertainty of building society on credit. Hedonism is vanity. Pushing against greed and social disharmony suggests meaning, but meaning is disqualified in a God absent universe. As Solomon the wise wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, 

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

    says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

    Everything is meaningless.”

Nietzsche was right, at least as far his logic is concerned, that “the masses blink and say ‘We are all equal – Man is but man, before God – we are equal.’ Before God! But now this God has died.” A contemporary of Nietsche, Anatole France retorted without regret,

“It is almost impossible systematically to constitute a natural moral law. Nature has no principles. She furnishes us with no reason to believe that human life is to be respected. Nature, in her indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil.”

What if there is heaven and hell? What if God exists? Everything must change. What we think and say has greater import. How we live and how we treat others has far more consequence. 

What if the God who exists is the God of the Bible: who is Sovereign, and altogether righteous and loving, just and kind? What if Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, the One who as John testifies, 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

These words are far more sustainable and substantial than the sentiment of living in a world without Divine structure. A Biblical view of the world both assesses its beauty and its horror, the worth and the uncertainty. These Scriptures bring us to the most astonishing words, ones that counter John Lennon’s pipe dream with concrete hope, 

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)