Post-COVID Pastors in Pain

Post-COVID Pastors in Pain April 18, 2023

“Aren’t we supposed to be feeling better by now?”

So came the question from a pastor friend of mine recently.

Free Man Depressed/ image courtesy of Pixalbay

The effects of COVID-19 on our churches was the conversation. And after all, the worst of the effects of the pandemic on our churches have been over for a while now.

But of course, as most of us are learning, even if we are more or less “done” with the pandemic’s effects our day-to-day life, we are most certainly not done dealing with the emotional fallout of all that we went through.

As a pastor, my main social circle is mostly made up of church members and pastors. That wasn’t on purpose, but after all these years of ministry and seminary and ministerial connections, I interact with lots of pastors and get to hear lots of stories.

And a topic that continues to come up over and over again as pastors check in on each other is the question of how are we doing – like, really how are we doing?

In many ways, we are still very much under the influence of the last 3 years.

We’re all wired differently, and we all handle things differently, and your pastor may be in a different place, but based on my conversations, I am hearing pastors still struggling mightily through the following hurts and disorientations since 2020:


  • We watched people that we invested much in leave our churches, either for other ones or sometimes altogether. People who we baptized, married, celebrated with, cried with, prayed with, counseled, supported, journeyed with through the valleys and the mountains of life. There was anger and frustration in all directions, and many people moved on from our churches. That grief does not pass easily when people you care about are no longer in your life.


  • We watched many things that we gave our lives to fall apart. Churches, ministries, structures, programs, efforts that took years to build – many investments took hits or even crumbled during the pandemic, making us question what we have given our lives to. When everything that you’ve poured your life into gets turned upside down, it is most certainly disorienting.


  • We realized that many of our relationships with church members were not as meaningful as we thought. We thought we were co-labourers in the Kingdom, loving and helping one another on this spiritual journey, but we found out that for many, this relationship was much more transactional that we believed. We offer a service, and some people we care deeply about will partake of the service, until they don’t – and then they will move on. It was confusing and surprising, and it happened far more than once.


  • We were attacked, insulted, and abused on all sides. Wherever your church landed on COVID rules and restrictions, pastors heard the differing opinions from every direction, and they were often not compassionate or polite. We were called fools, cowards, selfish, blind, ignorant, uncaring, and unfit to be pastors, amongst many other things. These words came from people that we loved and watched over for years. The pain of this is hard to bear.


  • We had to (and still have to) reimagine everything. On the fly, with no warning and no way to prepare, we had to figure out what church would look like, what community could look like, what programs we could made work, in the middle of a global crisis. Even as things have returned to “normal,” it’s still not the same “normal” as before, and there is so much work to be done, and many of us lack the energy to do it. Learning such heavy lessons on such a steep learning curve with such a high emotional cost has been and remains taxing, to say the least.


  • We learned that the vision of church and community that we had in our heads was not actually the reality for many in our churches, which led to profound disorientation. The testing of the last three years exposed many weaknesses in how we do church. Many of us were not as mature as we would have hoped. Most of our churches were not as strong or healthy as we thought they were. Much of what we were investing in turned out to bring a poor return when the heat was turned up. A lot of what we thought was one way was in fact another. The toll on the mental health for pastors has been significant.


  • We now need to lead forward, and it’s not always clear how to do it. Our church members are not the same group that they were 3 years ago. And some want to charge ahead and get moving, making up for lost time, while others are weary and want to rest, taking it easy and being comfortable. It can be difficult to know the right path forward or how to take it, and this is an uneasy feeling.

No doubt there are other factors at play, but these are the ones I am hearing the most from brothers and sisters on the front lines of ministry.

And also no doubt, there are many things that are indeed better than they have been. The initial pain of a lot of those things does legitimately feel better than it did 2-3 years ago, and there are exciting things happening (and truthfully, even in the darkest days, God will still doing good things!)

But for pastors, there are still lingering effects. It has been a painful and thoroughly disconcerting time, and the pain and disconcertion did not automatically lift just because COVID restrictions did.

So where do we go from here?

  • Pastors, take care. And I mean – take care of yourselves. Deliberately do the things you need to do to take care of yourselves. This may include less time and energy given to ministry. That is right and good.


  • Pastors, be truly honest. Ignoring, numbing, or dismissing the hard parts of what we’ve been through (even when it’s done in the name of “faith!” and “victory!”) doesn’t help us work through the grief. If we don’t deal with our emotions, they will most certainly deal with us. It is no sin to lament authentically and transparently, or to express anger, or to vent frustration and disappointment, even as we strive to celebrate the good things too.


  • Pastors, find a place to process. Trusted friends, mentors, counselors, coaches, etc. – find safe people who you trust. We cannot sort through this alone, it’s not possible. Seek those who can help!


  • Pastors, lean into the good. God did many good things, even in the pain, and those good things remained standing after all the shaking of the past 3 years. Wonderful people stepped up, incredible ministry still happened, and amazing days lay ahead of us. We have just celebrated Easter, which constantly reminds us that God is a Redeemer, and that is His Name. You were not laid low to be left there. That is not who He is.

And to our beloved church members, look to your pastors with patience and compassion, even if you disagreed with them during the pandemic. It is hard to explain what it was like if you weren’t personally in the trenches, but I think it is very likely that most who weren’t there have not truly understood these challenges. Pray for them, and where you can, contribute to their ongoing healing.


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