Looper column: Pray for your pastor during the COVID-19 crisis
Your pastor needs prayer right now. He is facing significant stressors, making decisions that may have far-reaching consequences and handling questions from concerned parishioners for which he may not have answers.
I spend the first hour-and-a-half of each day in my study, doors closed, a cup of coffee in hand. I reach for the Book of Common Prayer and turn to the Daily Office readings, bookmarked to the current week. After a brief prayer, I read the psalm of the day, the Old Testament reading, and the reading from the Epistles. About this time, I head to the kitchen for another cup of coffee or a cup of Earl Grey. Then I return for the reading of the Gospel.
I pray as I read. I reflect. Sometimes I make notes to myself. If I have time, I read from a helpful book. Over the years, I have used George Macdonald’s remarkable sermons, Dallas Willard’s and Richard Foster’s books, C.S. Lewis’s sermons and essays, and many more. Lately, I’ve been reading Scot McKnight’s “Kingdom Conspiracy.”
After the reading of the Gospel, I pray. Today it was a disjointed prayer of submission, adoration, and intercession. As I prayed, I found myself wondering why I have been feeling so anxious. I am not, by nature, an anxious person but the last couple of weeks have been stressful. As I thought about this before the Lord, three particular stressors came to mind.
I find making decisions very stressful when I don’t have sufficient information. During the COVID-19 crisis, I (and tens of thousands of other pastors) have had to make one decision after another: First, it was, “Do we cancel in-person services?” Then, how long must we cancel in-person services?
The decisions just keep on coming. How do we communicate during this time? Do we live stream Sunday services? How do Family Ministry, Youth Ministry, Kid’s Min communicate? Do they live stream? How do we care for our most vulnerable population? What about our staff? Will they work from home? Will they have enough to do to occupy their time? Can they afford the time off?
All this is uncharted territory. We do not have the facts, don’t know how long the social distancing measures will be necessary. We have volunteers calling our most vulnerable folks, many of whom are seniors, but we’ve discovered they don’t answer the phone if they don’t recognize the caller. Many have mailboxes that are filled or were never set up. How do we reach them? Each question demands a decision that itself requires a flurry of other decisions.
Another stressor for me is being around disagreements. From day one, the response to the coronavirus has been full of disagreements, even at the highest levels. Congress and the White House were hardly in lockstep when all this began. It’s been reported that the president and his own coronavirus task force are at odds. People’s response to the crisis largely depends on whom they are listening to, and our church people aren’t listening to the same authorities.
To every question, someone has a different answer. Should we cancel services? Before our governor banned gatherings of more than 50, one would answer, “Of course. It is the only loving thing to do.” Another would say, “No way! We must not give in to fear.” In most churches, people look to the pastor for guidance during disagreements, but how does one guide when one lacks sufficient information?
A third stressor has to do with expectations for (or, more accurately, with efforts to influence) the decisions being made. There are always people who strive to get their way, thinking that their idea is best or their need most urgent. Of course, everyone’s need is most urgent to them.
All of this adds to the burden pastors carry for the church family they love. Pray for your pastors and let them know it. Look for ways to help your church family during this crisis. Reach out to the vulnerable with concern and help, including unchurched neighbors and friends. Churches that do this will not only come out on the other side of this crisis; they will come out stronger.
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Michigan. His blog, “The Way Home,” is at shaynelooper.com.