I’m going on leave today and beginning the first family holiday in 3 1/2 years. Before I sit beside the swimming pool and eat lots of satay, I thought I would update a list that I scribbled down late last year which mentions some of the tasks and responsibilities pastors have had to carry during the pandemic.
You’ll notice a couple of items have now been successfully crossed off the list, however, there are others that have been added.
Pastoring a church is a tremendous privilege and joy, and it’s not always an easy task. Indeed there are reasons why many pastors burn out after the first few years and many don’t make it beyond 10 years in the ministry. The COVID pandemic has bowled a googley at all of us, no matter our religious views, job, and life situation. Pastors are not immune from the daily stresses, troubles, and temptations that we all face. If there is a difference, there is an expectation that pastors will continue to work with a smile on the face, that they will accept all comments made to their face and behind their back, and push through whatever the cost.
Many pastors have shared with me how they are going; some were treading water late last year, and some now feel as though they’re sinking. This isn’t because our task is necessarily harder than others , but for this one simple reason, we are just like everyone else. It’s because of one such conversation that I first wrote down and share this list, hoping to an open window and let people see inside and gain a snapshot of the kinds of issues and responsibilities confronting pastors in Melbourne churches at the moment (in no particular order). Additions to last year’s list are written in bold and those items that are now resolved are crossed out:
- We are trying to pastor people who have undergone all manner of trials and hardships over the past 2 years.
- Trying to love and pastor people who are wrestling with all manner of non pandemic related difficulties.
- Recognising that everyone is tired, run down, and desperate for a holiday, pastors don’t want to burden their congregations with what are often routine tasks, so they agree to shoulder a little more. Rather than 2022 seeing things returning to normal, we are finding that people are even less able to serve in regular ways, as COVID continues and many people struggle with flu and colds.
- Every week somewhere between 30%-50% of the congregation is away with COVID, flu or colds. The capacity to run services, Sunday school and more is challenging and it’s often impossible to find last minute volunteers to fill in gaps for those who are sick or away.
- Reminder our people of the mission field and gearing everyone for evangelism.
- Organising financial aid, meals, and other helps for members who are struggling.
- Encouraging and equipping team leaders and filling in for them when they need a break.
- Overseeing COVID Safe plans.
Planning the regathering of our churches after months without any in person gatherings, and doing so under tight and changing Government directives. While many people are about to wind down for the year and planning to go away and take off time, the pastor’s workload is increasing.
- We are counselling those who are nervous about returning to church, including those who are immuno-compromised and those who are fearful of becoming a COVID close contact and being forced into isolation (again).
- We are counselling those who remain unvaccinated and who are feeling hard done by as a result of Government rules.
Navigating 50 different expectations and demands on what returning to church ought to look like.
- Navigating 50 different expectations and demands on what church should look like in 2022
Advocating the Government for the unvaccinated to be free to return to church while also encouraging people to be vaccinated and knowing the responsibility to protect the vulnerable.
- Working to uphold the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace when society has become fragmented and angry and these influences capture hearts inside the church.
- Urging people to remain gospel centred rather than allow political issues and allegiances to dominate and divide.
- Writing and preaching sermons every week.
- Organising church services.
- Leading Bible study groups.
- Training leaders.
- Meeting with leadership teams.
- Keeping an eye on ever unstable finances.
- Having late nights away from the family because of another meeting or crisis.
- Processing Victoria’s new Conversion and Suppression Practices laws that target Christians, Writing articles and letters to raise awareness, appealing to the Government to overturn these unjust laws, and preparing our churches for laws that are a genuine threat to Christian freedom, belief, and practice.
- Reading, understanding and responding to legislation amending the Equal Opportunity Act which will further limit religious freedom in Victoria.
- Spending time in prayer for the people under our care, and for our community and the world around us.
- Fast tracking the reading of books and articles that’s required to understand the theological doozys that regularly arise in our preaching and in our pastoral care.
Christmas. Did someone say we’re having Christmas Carol services and Christmas Day services? Planning for 2022. Who knows what that will mean!
- Planning the second half of 2022, and realising how uncertain our plans can be
- Welcoming visitors (and praise God for people who are checking out Church).
- Rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and mourning with those who mourn, correcting the wayward, and grieving those who depart.
- Burying the dead, visiting the sick, marrying couples, sitting with those with marriages falling apart.
- Loving our families and giving them the love, time and attention they need and deserve.
These are some of the things pastors are working on right now. As I hope you can see, these things are rarely quick, easy or unimportant. Most of these activities demand an intellectual, emotional, and psychological gravitas that overwhelms pastors at the best of times, let alone in the time and place we currently find ourselves. This isn’t a cry for help or asking for a slap on the back. This is just a little message to share what pastors are up to at the moment. To our churches, we love you and we’re there for you in the good times and the bad. But understand, we are also tired and the emotional fuel tank is running pretty low.
We get tired and grumpy and worn out. The words, actions, and attitudes of others impact us too. We love the people whom God has committed under our care, but there is only Saviour and we’re not him!
I am incredibly thankful for the saints at Mentone who despite their own tiredness and troubles, are persevering and together we are running the race.
And that’s how it’s meant to work. This isn’t about pumping up pastors with pride but as each member lovingly serves the other, pastors are better able to give and serve as we ought. And indeed, as pastors do their work well, the congregation is released to ministry and to grow together. This is why when one of my own congregation asks how they can be praying for me, I often ask them to pray for the church: let us keep loving one another and serving each other with patience and grace. Everyone wins and God is glorified and the Gospel is seen for what it is: stunning and beautiful and good.
The Apostle Paul put it like this,
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:1-5)
And pastors, let’s remember we are not superman, batman or whoever the current superhero is meant to be. And we are certainly not the world’s Saviour.
- Be content in not doing everything.
- Keep things as simple and straightforward as you can.
- Be willing to say no to people
- Be understanding that many people’s capacity for serving is reduced at the moment
- Take regular breaks.
- Make sure you take proper annual leave over the summer; otherwise you may not survive 2022.
- Do something fun.
- Refresh yourself daily in God’s word and in prayer
- Share and be accountable to a small group of peers (including inside the church)
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 10:1-3)