Tending the Lambs You Can’t Touch

A friend messaged me yesterday asking, “How do we effectively pastor during this time?” In this odd season of quarantining and social distancing and church service suspending, how can pastors maintain their duties to the flock?

In some contexts, perhaps the work of shepherding continues fairly normally. For many others, however, the daunting prospect of ministry in the season of COVID-19 entails more than simply figuring out how to live stream a service. If you can’t be near much of your congregation, how do you pastor them? Some suggestions:

1. Keep preaching.

Obviously, conscience and conviction may dictate whether you want to preach via the internet, but it’s still important to put the gospel in front of your people as many ways as you can. If that means broadcasting a full sermon each Sunday, do it. It may also mean publishing podcasts, vodcasts, blog posts, tweets, or Facebook updates involving devotional thoughts. Right now, your people are taking in all kinds of messages—some helpful, some not, some simply distracting. Don’t let other voices tempt them in their loneliness or anxiety to tempt their eyes away from Jesus. Figure out the ways that work best for your convictions and your context to “show them Jesus.” This is your prime directive.

2. Resource them.

Recommend good books, podcasts, blog posts, or articles. Many families stuck at home may be trying to figure out family worship for the first time. Maybe this is an opportunity to help them with simple outlines or “plans of service” for working through with their kids. Show them devotional helps or other resources that will aid their private worship in the interim. Put missional opportunities in front of them—help the use the time wisely by seeing if there are ways to fund or even participate in helping others. Lots of people are out of work or school and may be struggling with paying bills or finding meals. Lead your people to troubleshoot how to serve even if from a distance.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Keep them updated with church deliberations. Meeting as a staff? Post updates. Walk them through how you’re working in this weird season. Social media can actually be a blessing in these days as it can help people feel connected to the life of the church and the heart of her ministers. Reach out via email or phone call to folks and let them know you’re available for counseling or to take prayer requests. Don’t let the Sunday interruptions be a means of “out of sight, out of mind.” Maybe even send a daily email or post a daily Facebook update to your church page with some brief Scripture and a reminder you care about them. Few ministers are in danger of over-communicating during normal times; certainly in this season, the need for communication is heightened.

4. Keep praying.

Next to preaching, prayer is the primary task of the church elder in every age. Believe in the supernaturality of the access you have with the Father to intercede for your people. This isn’t a cop-out. Praying for your people is a necessary ministry. During this season, it is especially vital to carry the lambs you cannot see in person to the throne room of grace. Carry them in your heart.