By Chris Walker
To the Exhausted Pastors Working Through COVID-19,
Hello, dear brothers and sisters. I too have been a local church pastor during this season.
We’ve really been through something, haven’t we, you and I? It’s one of those things that no one can truly understand unless they’ve sat in our chair. Unless you’ve sat in the chair, pastoring is a difficult role to understand, and can be a difficult role for us to explain to others.
But those of us who sit in this chair do experience an unspoken bond with other pastors, those who uniquely understand the highs and lows and beauties and joys and pressures and struggles and pains of what it really means to be called by God to shepherd His people.
I can relate to the great weight you’ve carried since early 2020, from the very beginning, when COVID-19 first emerged and our churches shut down and everything was unknown. Would we survive? How would we do ministry? Would all of our people be safe? How could we stay connected, pray for others, preach the Word, love our community? Would our churches make it through?
Everything was overwhelming, and yet the good news is that every single one of us began to prayerfully figure things out.
I can feel the great heaviness of those decisions you made that were controversial and divisive in your church, where you carefully did the best you could to seek the Lord, to honor God and honor His people, and yet which nonetheless provoked anger and criticism from those who didn’t agree with you. It felt like we couldn’t win, didn’t it?
No matter what choice we made, someone was going to be angry. There was always someone on the internet espousing the opposite view. I know that I will carry life-long scars from this season, many of them caused by the very people that I love and am called to care for.
The pain was real, and yet the good news is that wounds stop hurting after a while, and the scars simply remain as a poignant reminder of anguish that has been overcome.
I can relate to the pain of those members of your church family who left the church, or who refused to come back until things were “back to normal,” or who otherwise checked out in the interim. In a time when we all needed one another, when we were desperate to lean on one another, I know that it felt like we were abandoned by some of the very ones that we care so much about.
The loss was intense, and yet the good news is that sometimes parting can turn out to be a blessing, or sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, or sometimes prodigals come running home when the door is left open for them.
I feel the exhaustion that you are carrying, even as we return more and more “back to normal.” Who would have thought that a year full of shuttered buildings, less programs, and stripped-down ministry could somehow lead to exponentially more work, as we were forced out of our comfortable and convenient and efficient modes of ministry and instead had to work significantly harder for seemingly less obvious results.
The effort was wearying, and yet the good news is that we also learned that some church things actually needed to change, and that some of the changes are very good, and will lead to a better future.
I connect with the weight of your wondering, “Who’s checking in on me in all of this?” and “I have fears/angers/frustrations too!” I know that you too had all the normal concerns about loved ones, financial pressures, disappointment over restrictions, exhaustion from the season, and that you too wondered how your kids were holding up during all of it. Not many thought to see how the shepherds were doing, and it made the extra challenging season feel extra-challenging.
The loneliness was aching, and yet the good news is we learned who we could and couldn’t truly depend on, and also that ultimately, the Lord was there to meet us in our brokenness.
I feel the weight of those long, dark nights of the soul where you even questioned your calling and your future ministry, if one exists at all. I have heard more than one of us say, “I’ll see the church through this crisis, but then I am done.”
The toll has been significant, and yet the good news is that no one actually needs to be making any major decisions in this moment – and perhaps it is great wisdom that we don’t. St. Ignatius taught us that we should be wary of our discernment when our souls are in a state of desolation, and when we are there, the best thing to do is to wait and seek the Lord until His peace comes.
COVID has beaten the pastors down in many ways, there is no doubt about that.
And yet the good news is that the cliché that we have often shared with our people from the pulpit and the counseling chair still stands: “This too shall pass.”
The good news is that God sees and God hears. (Genesis 16:11-13)
The good news is that God is close to the brokenhearted. (Psalms 34:18)
The good news is that, however we are understanding the Gospel, a key word involved is reconciliation – us being reconciled to God, and to one another – and that there is nothing divided that cannot be reconciled. (2 Corinthians 5:11-19; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:19-20)
The good news is that, although some pastors leave the ministry, and ministry isn’t the only place to use our gifts and live out our calling, that ultimately the gift and call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), and that our pastoral placement is dictated by Him and no one else.
The good news is that although words hurt, wounds heal. (Psalms 147:3)
The good news is that there are times of refreshing available for all who would seek the Lord. (Psalms 23:3; Acts 3:19)
The good news is that His very Name is Redeemer (Job 19:25); redeeming things is simply what He does because it is who He is. Nothing that has happened is beyond His redemption.
The good news is that the pandemic will end, the fog will lift, the days will change, and the Church will survive, because Jesus has promised that even the gates of hell will not prevail against her. (Matthew 16:18)
The good news is that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again, and the belief in this confession has the ability to reframe and rewrite any challenge that we face in this life.
And so, we arise again today through a mighty Strength, and we seek to steward well what has been entrusted to us, and by grace we find the faith, hope, and love that we need to continue on, pressing into His goodness and caring for those under our care, because that is who He is, and that is who we are.