What a bizarre season of life and ministry this has been! Just in regarding pastoral ministry, SO much has changed. We’re fighting battles we never imagined, and tectonic cultural shifts that are impossible to predict or even keep up with. Most of us never fathomed a world where wearing a mask or getting a vaccine was a politically charged, polarizing issue within our churches. We knew racial tensions were a very real concern, but we never imagined a world where supporting black lives somehow meant you had to hate the police, veterans, or the American flag. We knew an online presence was important for a church, but we never would have guessed that it would be the exclusive way anyone interacted with our ministry for months on end, up to a full year.
Somewhere in the perceivable future is a relative end to the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve been living in for almost two full years. And the temptation to “go back” to the way things were before is strong. But what does going “back” even look like?! Is it possible even if it seems preferable?
Most of the pastors whom I would consider peers are very hard working, driven people. Like most of them, I’ve felt trapped, stuck, or in some sort of holding pattern over the majority of the past 2 years. I’ve been itching to break out in “full throttle” ministry again. But the truth is, I haven’t rested much at all during these near two years of quarantining, sheltering in place, and social distancing. I’ve been busy trying to lead my church who is struggling emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. People have had financial setbacks, break ups, marriages, and deaths in the family. Spiritual needs have multiplied, rather than subtracted over the past 18-24 months. With shifts in office hours, schedules, and kids’ schooling, the “Type A” personality in me had to fill that shift with something – anything that felt productive.
As a result, I know hold two IT certifications, started writing a book, and started a BBQ business! What?... some of you got really into making sourdough! But I digress…
God willing, we’ll see a peak to this recent surge, and case rates will die back down soon. But what will that even mean for pastors, post-pandemic? I have some predictions, and they’re not all great…
- There will be a rash of senior pastor resignations. Many are barely hanging on. Some of them – good men – are dying to quit, but can’t take the guilt of leaving their church in the middle of the current situation. They’re long past burnout, running on fumes. Some have quit, or emotionally resigned already.
- Those who don’t quit, will need a break. The idea of a pastoral sabbatical has become much more common. Most pastors will likely need one over the next 2 years. If you’re an elder and you’re uneasy about the idea, please realize that this is generally preferable to the first scenario. Even allowing an extended vacation for your pastors is better than nothing.
- Many churches will close or get consolidated. If I’m correct about my first prediction (and we already see the signs everywhere), it won’t be possible to fill all the vacancies. As a result, many churches will close down completely, while others will get absorbed into other, often larger churches; which is often a very good thing! But it will still feel like a reluctant necessity for many ministries.
- Pastors who have rested will be eager. I’m trying to rest! I know there’s a coming wave of momentum that the church must be ready for – and I want to be ready. I believe people are longing for spiritual and community connections – a real need that healthy churches have a long track record of providing for. These lead to opportunities for the gospel seed to take root in hearts it might not have otherwise. Rested pastors will be ready pastors… Ready to take ground for the Kingdom in the next season.
That’s why I’m trying to take care of my soul better now. I’ve got a bad track record of of doing great for myself for a few months at a time, and then “falling off the wagon” of soul care. But you can’t pour into others from an empty vessel. And a cracked vessel doesn’t hold much for long.
I want to be ready. I want to charge ahead when the time comes. I’m not just resting… I’m resetting. The next season after this pandemic is going to require the best out of me. We can’t go “back” – I don’t think it’s preferable or possible. But by the grace of God, I intend to charge forward with all my might. What about you, brother? What about you, sister?