I woke up a couple of hours ago and I already wish I hadn’t!
That’s perhaps a bit extreme, but it has been a gloomy 120 minutes. I got a call from our oldest member that his wife had died and since I’m about to leave on vacation to see my newest grandson, my schedule is in a tizzy. I’m in talks with my Sunday Leader about whether to open up our Sunday School ministry at the start of the school year and again I am confronted with the fact that I just don’t have a clue! There are those who seem to know exactly what to do at every moment, self-assured to the core. I’m not blessed with such self-assurance (despite what some seem to think) and I constantly doubt my decisions. One of my leadership goals has been to see that SHBC does not become a news story (“COVID outbreak at Sioux CIty church”) and yet I am seeing that if we reopen too slowly, the damage to the church could be permanent. I should be one of those guys who pretends I know everything, I guess. We have the constant pressure of trying to figure out what to do with my mom and dad, who want to stay at home in their last days, but now require constant care. I’m an old guy and I’m tired.
Plus, the Yankees have been losing the last few days – almost as much as the Houston Astros.
I am thankful for a group of pastor-friends I have an ongoing private conversation with, guys I can trust and unburden my heart to. Some of them have it worse than I do. Some seem to be going okay. Here’s what I’ve been finding out as I minister in this pandemic and talk to other pastors who are doing the same.
It is hard.
I’ve been in ministry since 1980 and full-time since early 1982. I haven’t experienced anything like this because there hasn’t been anything like this. It wears on me. I am tired all the time and life feels like it is make-believe. I talk to enough other pastors to know that what I am feeling these days is not just my problem. A lot of pastors are feeling it – discouragement, perhaps even depression – a feeling of displacement, confusion.
I am not sure I want to give a lot of advice right now, because that would go against the gist of this – why would you take advice from someone who has ADMITTED that he is struggling and clueless? Permit me a few observations, at least.
1. We need each other. I’m speaking of other pastors. I know some guys who use social media to pump up their ego and tell everyone how great things are. Who do those guys go to when things aren’t going so well? I am thankful to have a circle of friends I can be grumpy with, unload on, and mutually encourage. It makes a difference. In Cedar Rapids, I had a local ministerial group. Here, it’s an online group of friends.
If you are a Lone Ranger, my pastor friend, the enemy will pick you off in the end.
2. As pastors, our job is minister to the saints. I don’t think I need to lead the fight against the “mask of the beast” or promoting the latest conspiracy theories. In my church, I have people who religiously wear masks and social distance, and I have people who regard this whole thing as a conspiracy against the president’s reelection. It is not my job as pastor to pick a side and fight that battle. I am ministering the gospel and preaching the word to everyone in this time. Our duty is to keep the main thing the main thing, isn’t it?
3. Our role as shepherds is even more important in a time of confusion, doubt, and fear. We can admit we don’t have all the answers, but we must lead in seeking God’s truth, God’s will, and God’s way in this time. We have to be more diligent and more faithful as shepherds and persevere. The ministry that wears me out is more essential than ever.
4. We need to recognize that the stress we are feeling is likely magnified in our people. Why are so many people latching on to conspiracies and silliness that makes us shake our heads? They are confused and angry and fearful. They don’t need know-it-all pastors but they do need to be reminded that God is in charge and that this pandemic is not threatening his throne. Hold up Jesus. Exalt the Sovereign God.
5. I sometimes need to remember the two treat truths of theology that pastors sometimes forget.
- There is a God.
- I am not him.
I may be essential personnel to the life and ministry of my church, but I am not omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent. I am not the foundation of my church. It will go on when I don’t. It is easy for us to develop messianic complexes as if the Kingdom rests on us. It does not. Christ is the foundation, the Rock who builds a church that hell cannot contend with, and it becomes unhealthy when we act as if we are the foundation, we hurt the churches we are meant to serve.
I think the key here, as it always has been, is just to be faithful. I’m tired and a lot of days I want to quit. I don’t. My feelings are just feelings, not my Lord. I’m gonna work through this one and keep going.
Thanks for letting me work through my issues here today. Let’s support and encourage one another.