You might be tired of hearing it, but that doesn’t make it any less true—these have been difficult days for pastors. And I think you need to hear as well that there are more difficult days ahead. That being the case, for the sake of your pastor and the sake of your church, he needs you to be praying for him right now and in the weeks and months to come.
Pastors, like everyone else, had their lives and routines disrupted by the lockdowns and they, like everyone else, had to make some significant adjustments. Even the biggest opponents of recorded or streamed services quickly found themselves preaching sermons into the cold and unblinking eye of a camera. Even the biggest Luddites found themselves spending countless hours on Zoom whether for counselling sessions or prayer meetings or elder visits. Even the most extroverted and most committed to pastoral visitation found themselves physically separated and relationally distanced from the people God had charged them to care for.
Then, as restrictions have eased, it has fallen to pastors to take the lead in determining whether to meet, where to meet, and how to meet. It has been up to pastors to understand and implement the overlapping and often contradictory public health measures. It has been pastors who have risked having their names and faces in the papers if their churches become the site of an outbreak. It has been pastors who have felt the pressure from some members to move so much slower and from other members to move so much faster, from some to accept every health recommendation and from others to reject them all. It has been pastors who have had to lead their members through issues that fall into a hazy area somewhere between matters of personal conscience and matters of public health. When a prominent Christian leader called for civil disobedience while another called for churches to remain shut for the rest of the year, it was pastors whose phones began to buzz with questions about why their churches weren’t following suit.
All of this made the second and third quarters of 2020 an exceptionally challenging time for pastors as they’ve been called to lead the people they love through a situation for which none of them were adequately prepared. That’s not to say they need or want you to feel sorry for them. But I am convinced they’d benefit from having you specially pray for them. And there is some urgency here because, frankly, I think their task may get harder before it gets easier.
While the majority of churches have resumed their Sunday morning worship, few have yet returned to their full docket of ministries, programs, and meetings. There are services but no nurseries, small group meetings but no choir practices. And while the services may have resumed, most still have restrictions and measures in place, whether it’s masking or family bubbling or new and unique methods for safely celebrating communion. Many pastors are feeling internal or external pressure to set those special measures aside, to once again start up all the programs and ministries, and to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. This is greatly complicated by the fact that in many congregations half the church considers this a public health emergency in which the enemy is a dangerous virus while the other half considers it a spiritual health emergency in which the enemy is an overreaching government—two very different kinds of emergency that obviously call for two very different responses.
And then there’s the matter of the impending vaccines—if Christians are being torn apart by putting cloth over our faces, what’s going to happen when it comes time to put vaccines in our bodies? What if all the strong opinions and divisions related to masks are really just warming us up for the vaccines? You hardly need to be a committed anti-vaxxer to feel some hesitation when it comes to vaccines manufactured under a partnership named “Operation Warp Speed” (as opposed, say, to “Operation Throughly Tested”). You know it’s going to be a struggle when less than half of Canadians, with our reputation for complacency, are willing to be among the first in line for that shot. It’s too early to know exactly how vaccinations are going to play out in the church, but I don’t think you have to be an inveterate skeptic to imagine it’s more likely to bring division than unity. There will be some people who consider accepting the vaccination little better than accepting the mark of the beast and other people who believe the unvaccinated should not be permitted to pass through the doors of the church. Some people will refuse to associate with the obstinate unvaccinated and others will refuse to associate with the compromised vaccinated. Pastors will need to plead for unity and serve as peacemakers.
The reality is that pastors will continue to face unique difficulties until this pandemic is brought to an end (or fades away or kills us all or is determined to not be serious or…). There are many decisions still to be made, each of which will demand weighing and assessing any number of factors and each of which will be contested by at least some of the members of the church. And all of this puts the call on you and me and all of us to pray for pastors. They are going to need divine assistance to lead well and to lead with wisdom. And while you pray for them, don’t neglect to pray for you, that you would be exemplary in obeying this precious verse: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).