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Roadmap to Post-Pandemic Recovery, Part 2: Coming in for a Safe Landing

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Remember when we thought the pandemic would last six weeks and we would all be back together in worship by Easter 2020? I am currently doing extended pulpit supply for a vacant congregation that weekly marks pandemic time. Last week was the sixty-first Zoom service in the time of COVID-19. This pandemic journey has been like an airplane flight with major turbulence and no promise of a smooth landing. As I write this in April 2021, we can see the runway, but we’re still not sure exactly how far away it is.

In addition, we are just beginning to understand what prolonged traumatic stress can do to our brains and bodies. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk is a helpful resource for exploring this concept. One of the questions ministry leaders should start asking is how to prepare congregations to be places of healing on the other side of this pandemic. Ministry leaders will need to be equipped to help volunteers and the folks they serve process the trauma and grief they have experienced before they begin to re-engage in ministry tasks. 

I recently posted about four things to consider when it comes to faith formation programming post-pandemic. But the roadmap to recovery will not solely be focused on programmatic renewal strategies. While we all pray for an uneventful landing from this strange pandemic journey, the landing may be bumpy for many of us. 

Here are three ways to begin to prepare for what Rick Warren (in a podcast with Carey Nieuwhof on April 9, 2021) predicts will be a tsunami of grief, which he is convinced will unfold over the few years. 

1. Put your own oxygen mask on first

Various polls show that up to 87% of pastors and ministry leaders feel ill-equipped to deal with the multiple levels of trauma produced by the pandemic. Many of us have pivoted so often this past year that we feel like we are in a perpetual spin cycle. 

How are you doing as a ministry leader? Pre-pandemic, many pastors and elders gave pastoral care from the outside of a crisis looking in. The pandemic has changed that for everyone. No one has been left untouched by traumas, both large and small. Ministry leaders will need to regain their own spiritual and emotional footing in order to be fully present and available to those they shepherd. 

What faith practices and relational supports do the ministry leaders in your congregation have in place to help keep them spiritually resilient? Here are two resources that might be helpful in moving ministry leaders from surviving into thriving: 

  • In his newest book, Tempered Resilience, Tod Bolsinger uses the image of iron on an anvil to describe how leaders are being impacted in a time of constant change. He encourages leaders to set up supports around them so they do not become brittle and break as they are hammered by change and challenges.

  • Pastor Church Resources has created a Spiritual Vitality Toolkit to help ministry leaders be mindful of their spiritual and emotional health. It provides helpful assessments, practices for creating healthy life rhythms, and encouragement to form connections to “spiritual companions” who can support pastors during stretching times.

2. Be ready to help put oxygen masks on others 

This season has been overwhelming for us all. Isolation, loneliness, and lack of embodied communal support, combined with fighting for our very lives, has eroded our sense of corporate trust and hope. We grieve the loss of in-person support from both our faith communities and from the social circles that would normally get us through times when our hope is being stretched thin. 

Furthermore, people everywhere have been experiencing other traumas within this larger trauma. For some, these traumas may include challenging conversations about racial reconciliation and the Human Sexuality Report that create anxiety about the future of their congregations and the denomination. Others have lost jobs and struggled to feed their families.

But we must also recognize something that Rick Warren points out in that same podcast: 

Grief will (also) be a huge door to evangelism. Many people have lost many things—loved ones, the prom, their graduation, the birth of their first grandchild and many even missed important funerals. There’s so many things that people have lost that, when it finally catches up and they realize what they’ve lost, there will be a lot of grief. This grief is going to be a front door for evangelism in the next few years, because so many people are dealing with this. As a pastor, you need to find a way to prepare your church to reach the grieving people around them.

How will your ministry leaders and your congregation as a whole be ready to be agents of grief care and spiritual healing? Here are two resources that might be helpful:

3. Be intentionally aware of those in the space around you

If there ever was a time to be aware of one’s surroundings, to think how our congregations can be a blessing to our neighbourhoods, now is that time. Many organizations that have served your neighborhood in the past may now be without space because donations have dried up. Many neighbors find themselves living with more economic and relational scarcity. Now may be just the right time to reassess the reason God has called you to occupy this particular space and time.

Why has God placed your congregation in your particular neighborhood, and how can your church be a place of hope and stability post-pandemic? Here are two resources that might be helpful:

  • Consider attending the Glocal Mission Summit offered by Resonate Global Mission to explore ways your congregation can support your neighborhood as it emerges from the pandemic.

  • For congregations who want to explore innovation and community impact, 2020s Foresight by Tom Sine and Dwight J. Friesen suggests three vital practices—anticipation, reflection, and innovation—to help congregations become a blessing to their neighbors in the midst of change.

If you have questions about any of these resources or want to learn more about coaching opportunities available to you and other ministry leaders, please contact me at [email protected]

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Thank you for writing this essay! I especially appreciate the emphasis on reaching out to our communities after the pandemic. I would like to encourage our churches to consider running Alpha courses, as it creates intimate community and effectively proclaims the gospel.