You don’t need to hear it from me, but maybe I need to hear it from myself: Pastor, you have permission to be a pastor.
Let’s see, you got into ministry because you love people, love the church, and love the Word of God. Your weeks are full—even in a pandemic—with leading meetings, preparing agendas, responding to emails, praying, counseling, reading a book with your staff, meeting a student for coffee, putting out relational and institutional fires, and, oh yeah, trying to find time to write a sermon.
And now, with everything going on in our country, you have to think through COVID protocols, navigate racial tensions, and help steer your congregation through another divisive election.
Not tired of Jesus or tired of the gospel or tired of being with people in their moments of pain and joy. You are not tired of being a pastor. You are tired of not being a pastor.
You didn’t sign up for the ministry to become an expert in epidemiology or Supreme Court nominations.
You aren’t quite sure if masks are saving lives or the first step of government oppression.
You don’t know how to fix policing in America or if it needs fixing in the first place.
You’re not looking to sign up for Black Lives Matter or for Trump’s re-election campaign.
You don’t have an opinion on everything, or at least not an opinion you think needs to be shared with everyone.
But somehow, you’re wondering if you’re a squish for plodding along with social distancing and masks, or if you are insufficiently attuned to social justice because you aren’t sure the nation is a racist nightmare.
You’d like to think that reading old books, reading commentaries, and reading your Greek and Hebrew are still the most important things you can read each week. But it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like being up on the news is more important than being up on the mountain with God.
You’d like to think, even in the midst of COVID, that the old paths are still the right paths, that the ordinary means of grace are still the right means of grace. But that’s not what you’re hearing. Experts are saying we can’t go back to the way ministry was before. Once the pandemic passes, we have to start over and rethink everything.
What is a pastor to do?
If a few pastors have the time and the calling to speak into the pressing cultural issues of our day with courageous grace and winsome truth, go for it. We will rise up and call you blessed. But most pastors are not short on things they need to do. Don’t neglect what the Bible says about good shepherds: they feed, they guide, they protect, they preserve.
It’s tempting to think, Nothing prepared me for this. Perhaps. But don’t lose sight of what you were prepared to do. Don’t think that preaching the whole counsel of God is not prophetic. Don’t think that caring for the least of these in your congregation is not doing justice. Don’t think that being faithful in all the mundane messiness of your church and family is not real Christian discipleship. Keep your hand to the plow. Keep praying. Keep preaching. Keep loving people.
Everything is changing, they say. True, it always does. And at the same time, nothing has changed. God is still God. Sin is still the problem. The cross is still the answer. Jesus is still mighty to save.
Head down, chin up, one foot in front of the other. The world is broken, but what’s new about that? The Word still needs to be proclaimed, the darkness still needs the light, and the sheep still need a shepherd.
Don’t give up pastor. You have permission to be the pastor you always wanted to be.