If I hear anyone else say we’re living through “unprecedented times,” I think I may pull out some of my quickly disappearing hair. First, no plague is truly unprecedented. People across the world have been here before, even if a worldwide outbreak hasn’t happened in our lifetime. Second, every era is, in some sense, both similar and different from the one that has gone before. There is both precedent for how the church has responded in the past, and there are new opportunities (many that involve technology) for how we might respond in the future.
In the midst of unusual and trying circumstances, our mission remains the same. That doesn’t mean the mission is easy though. Pastors are dealing with a lot of pressure right now, and many of the pressures today are unlike whatever they’ve experienced in the past. I was able to look through many of the comments pastors left when a recent LifeWay Research survey asked what pressure points they are feeling most right now. Below are some answers that helped me better understand how to pray for church leaders during this season.
Pastoring Older Saints
Since COVID-19 has a disproportionate effect on the elderly, pastors are burdened about the older saints in their congregations. The concerns go beyond the health of these church members to their need to stay connected via technology.
“For the most part, our older adults (the largest age group in our church) are not well versed in social media. They are missing many of the notices we send out and the social media broadcasts we are working so hard to produce and transmit. We need a simple way to bring them up to speed, especially in light of the social distancing order and our concern of possibly infecting them that prevents us from going into their homes to explain it all to them.”
“The real challenge is staying connected with my church. Many are seniors who either do not have a computer or are not familiar enough with accessing the website or Facebook accounts.”
I know of pastors who are sorting lists of names with other church leaders and then calling (via phone, not Zoom) every week all the members of their congregation, to ensure that no one goes without a pastoral contact.
In addition to pastoring older saints, some pastors are struggling to stay connected relationally to people in their congregations.
“The greatest pressure point is the change in routine. So much of what I do (before COVID-19) is geared toward in person interactions, whether they be with large groups, small groups or one-on-one. I have to find new ways of connecting with folks.”
“Keeping our congregation connected is a pressure point. While we are sending emails, posting videos, livestreaming, making phone calls, and sending texts to our congregation, I fear people will disconnect due to social distancing.”
“The expectation of pastoral care by phone has increased exponentially and cold calling is super uncomfortable for me. The number of calls I’m making each week has gone up exponentially.”
And as shepherds, most are simply missing their sheep.
“The greatest issue is not being able to have person-to-person contact and very limited visitation.”
“I miss so much the social interaction. I love my congregation!”
Getting a Crash-Course in Technology
As I said in a recent article, I’ve never been so thankful and so dissatisfied with technology. No question technology has aided us in maintaining at least minimal contact through Zoom and livestreaming. At the same time, it’s added to the difficult workload of many pastors currently. I talked to a pastor recently who felt stressed out by all the details of setting up a livestream and learning on the fly how to preach to a tiny camera.
“This new way of doing church has a steep learning curve. Video production is not easy, and it is time-consuming. It takes time away from study and allows for very little interaction with our church body. There is no immediate feedback and knowing where to spend more time, or less, on a given subject. You have a week lag time.”
“Also, doing counseling sessions via video takes a personal element out of it. Finding an area where kids aren’t playing while you are trying to aid in very personal issues is a challenge.”
Watching the Finances
Across the country, businesses, nonprofits, and churches have begun to see losses in income and giving. Pastors are grappling with new realities, seeking to make wise decisions and projections concerning staff, programs, and projects.
“The tension between talking about giving and knowing so many are just trying to feed their families being out of work is a pressure point. Also, the long-term effects economically for our rural area.”
“So many of our folks give traditionally in a ‘gathered’ context, and if that gathering doesn’t happen, they don’t give that money at all. That, plus the many folks in our area who have lost jobs (permanently or temporarily) is going to have a large financial impact on our church in the next 2-3 months.”
Added to all these pressures, pastors often feel as if they’re not up to the challenge before them.
“I feel unsure whether I am making the right decisions. Not knowing exactly how to minister to my people. Tough calls on whether to visit hospitalized and homebound members. There are many different opinions, whether praises or critiques of how I am handling things.”
The isolation only exacerbates the feeling of wondering whether or not all this activity is actually having an effect.
“Mostly just not knowing the most important thing to do and technically how to do them. Wanting to lead well and not having feedback as to how effectively or ineffectively I am leading.”
Meanwhile, some pastors are at a stage in life where multiple pressures are present at home.
“My biggest struggle is parenting while pastoring. There’s not enough time in the day to do my work and care for my family.”
Pray for Pastors
Let’s not miss the opportunity to pray for pastors who are doing their best to shepherd their flocks from a distance. The burdens are real, but so is the Spirit’s power. Pressures are strong, but Christ’s grace is sufficient.
Yes, we are inadequate, but God is able. Pray for your pastor today.