Dear Pastors, Deacons, Elders and Other Church Leaders:
Since March, you have had a hand in leading your congregation through one of the most challenging seasons in its history. We thank God for the ways you sensed his presence in your life and among your people during various stages of quarantine. Now, as regions across the US and Canada begin reopening (and possibly re-closing and re-opening again), your steady and faithful leadership remains just as important as ever.
Here are some areas that may require special attention as you move into a season of being partially gathered.
1. Leaders are Tired
Your fellow leaders, volunteers and pastor, like you, may be tired. Those who were involved in the creative explosion, logistical nightmare, and communication work required in the past three months expended a huge amount of energy. Their routines of rest and sabbath were likely interrupted. Many of them are drained. And yet, this next season will demand no less creativity than the last one. This is a recipe for burnout. For instance, many pastors and volunteers are dreading the logistical challenges of maintaining a full virtual presence while also beginning the tricky work of socially-distanced in-person gatherings. Before you commit your teams to all these new projects, take the pulse of your people. Now’s a great time to check in with your staff and volunteers, to clarify expectations and encourage practices that sustain their souls.
Clarify Expectations of Staff and Volunteers
So much ministry happens behind the scenes, we may not have a good sense of just how much work folks have put in to serve the church. Check in with each other. Review job descriptions. Make adjustments as appropriate. Remember that some of your people won’t be good at taking care of themselves; they’ll need you to encourage or give permission for them to rest. In all these things, be honest and gracious.
A strong sense of duty can be a wonderful expression of God’s work in a person’s life. It can also push us toward thinking the most important thing is what I do for God, instead of who I am with God. As Pastor Pete Scazzero puts it in his helpful book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, it is possible to try to do more for God than our being with God can sustain. Leaders should be checking in with themselves and each other to ask how they are sustaining rhythms of abiding in Christ. What does Sabbath look like right now? What about quiet time? Retreat? Accountability? Many of our spiritual disciplines have had to be adjusted because of COVID-19.
Connect with your classis regional pastor.
Connect with peers intentionally with the help of a Peer Learning Grant
Continuing Education Grants, also available for spiritual direction or coaching.
2. Decision-Making Is Hard
If you thought decision-making was challenging during the quarantine stage, you’ve probably already realized the decisions you’re making now may actually be more complicated. Previously, we all just knew we had to stay home. Now the advice from our local governments varies widely and changes frequently. As always, the way you make a decision can have as much of an impact on your desired outcomes as the decision itself. Use decision-making times as opportunities to listen well, build trust and lean into the Spirit’s unifying presence.
3. Pay Attention to Loss and Grief
Every person in your community has lost something because of COVID-19. In fact, every person in your community has lost many things because of COVID-19. For some, the losses are concrete: someone they love has died or become very sick; someone they love has lost a job or a business. For many, the losses are ambiguous; a little harder to name, but still spiritually, emotionally, and mentally significant. Take time to tend to your own grief and loss. Encourage those around you to do the same.
Things are changing quickly. Communicating clearly and well is a tangible way to love your congregation. Even communicating “I don’t know” or “We’re still not sure” can help relieve anxious congregations and build trust. Let everyone know that you and your fellow leaders are committed to serving members as well as possible, that you are committed to learning what you need to learn, and that this is a new opportunity to offer grace to one another in a new ministry landscape.
5. Stay Connected
As your community begins to gather partially, it may become harder to keep track of everyone in your community. Some will be present at gatherings, which may suggest they are feeling connected. But it will likely be harder to tell if they are meaningfully connected since even when gathered together, we will be limited in how closely we can relate to each other. Complicating matters further, as you put in energy to connect with those who have gathered physically, it may be easy to neglect those who cannot or will not gather in groups. When the quarantine began, many churches became more intentional than ever in how they connected with their people. As things open up, wise churches will remain intentional in the ways they reach out to and connect with their communities.
6. Stay Creative and Gracious
The period of quarantine created an opportunity for some of the most creative and adaptive ministry many of us have ever seen. Churches learned capacities they never knew they had. Part of what made that possible is that we knew our usual ways were not an option. We had to be creative. But it is also true that many churches gave their leaders permission and encouragement to experiment. Many leaders reported that they had more permission to try and fail than ever before. That culture of grace is a key ingredient in creative ministry. As your church now may have the option to return to some of the former ways of doing things, perhaps it’s worth making sure that culture of grace and creativity remains for the long run.
7. Connect Your Stories to God’s Story
The Bible makes clear that God’s people are not strangers to times of upheaval and grief. In fact, God seems to do some of his most extraordinary work among his people during times of wandering, exile and displacement. Help people connect their experience to the God of hope and promise we find in scripture and in our life together.
In a recent talk hosted by Vibrant Congregations, Dr. Ed Stetzer suggested that when making decisions, don’t tell your congregation you are doing this merely to follow governmental guidelines. Instead, when you make a decision, clarify for people how that decision will bless the congregation, keep people safe and line up with what you see God doing in your midst.
8. Ask for Help
If your church is struggling with decision-making, conflict, understanding local health recommendations or almost anything out reach out to other churches in your area.
If your church is struggling with some of the extra financial burdens associated with COVID-19, consider applying to the CRCNA’s COVID-19 Church Engagement Fund. (Or, if your church is so fortunate to be emerging from this season with excess, consider contributing to the fund in order to support churches that are struggling.)
Pastor Church Resources supports congregations and their leaders in times of transition and discernment by providing consultations and resources that foster personal and communal health. Contact us at [email protected]