An Encouraging Word for Pastors Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." -- Galatians 6:9
This Scripture came to mind as I was reading the latest research from the Barna Group, which found that 29% of U.S. Protestant pastors were thinking about leaving their ministries within the past year. The pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to many churches; some have not reopened, and others are still navigating their way through Zoom and Facebook streaming services. However, there was some promising news before Easter. A Pew Research Center survey in March showed that roughly 4 in 10 Christians felt confident returning to in-person worship services. That's still far from normal, but I believe that as more people get vaccinated and COVID-19 cases continue to decline, the number of congregants returning to church will gradually increase. When it comes to pastors, though, it is about much more than just filling up the pews again. The toll that the coronavirus pandemic took on pastors was one of great pain, struggle and, in many cases, fear, as they witnessed death, loss and vast suffering in the communities they served. I'm sure many of them have prayed with the earnestness that King David did in Psalm 22:14 when he cried, "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels."
The regular responsibilities of overseeing a congregation often make pastors feel "poured out like water," particularly when they encounter leadership obstacles, such as members fighting against ministerial vision, keeping youth and young adults engaged, and meeting church budget obligations. Being a pastor has never been an easy calling. Notice that I said "calling" instead of "job." Pastoral duties definitely have the characteristics of a job in terms of taking care of the needs of the church, but the office of a pastor is a calling that is listed in Ephesians 4:11 along with apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers. While these offices have different functions, the Apostle Paul wrote that their primary purpose is to edify the body of Christ "till we all come in the unity of the faith." So, in this trying time, if you're a pastor contemplating quitting but you absolutely know that you have been called by God, don't give up on your ministry.
Pastors are certainly being tried during this pandemic. The church came to a critical crossroads last year, as the acrimonious politics of the 2020 election splintered congregations and the racial protests of George Floyd's death pushed social justice to the forefront of the agenda in many black churches. The racial division in American churches was bluntly exposed as cries for justice arose for Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black victims of police brutality. White churches were called out for their silence on racial issues, and as the rise in COVID-19 cases caused church doors to temporarily close, the burden of isolation from members, especially those who greatly benefit from in-person services, like the elderly, wore heavily on pastors' shoulders. Many pastors are now wrestling with how to preach the Word of God with such distress and trouble all around us.
One of the many answers in Scripture can be found going back to what the Apostle Paul said about the edification of the church in Ephesians. To edify believers means to help them build a strong foundation of faith, hope and love as they apply biblical truth to their lives. This edification through sermons and Bible study forms the concrete spiritual structure of the church that is able to withstand the attacks of divisiveness and hatred we see festering in our nation. Edification is also reciprocal in that, as pastors help us strengthen our faith, we must do our part in bearing one another's burdens in our congregations: We have to go beyond the normal capacity of the load we are able to carry. We must lift up our pastors, as the load many of them have now is extremely heavy. We don't want them to faint, because much ministry work remains to be done this season.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.