We are all understandably eager to look ahead to the post-COVID world we have all been longing for. Oklahoma Baptist Convention, where I serve, met with small groups of pastors in March at about 10 locations around the state to hear how they are doing, as well as what they have learned in these last 12 months of pastoring through a pandemic.
Here are the top four takeaways from those conversations:
Pastors need to grieve.
Like most people, pastors have felt the pain of losing friends, family, and church members to COVID-19. Additionally, they have experienced deep grief over some uncomfortable church departures.
I’m not talking about the fringe members who seem to spend their entire lives migrating from church to church. I’m talking about those with whom we have invested our hearts and lives. This past year has either expedited these exits or made them even more painful than usual because of the vulnerability of our pastors and churches.
Pastoral ministry leaders like myself are safe havens for pastors to express their pain, which is a healthy emotional exercise. The unhealthy alternative is to internalize our grief, which only temporarily masks the pain.
My encouragement to each pastor and church leader is to find someone with whom you can safely process these emotions—someone who understands the unique challenges you have gone through this past year. Grieve, then move on before anger or sorrow gets a foothold in your life.
And take heart: Lifeway Research recently found that 91% of U.S. churchgoers surveyed said they plan to return to the level of in-person Pre-COVID church attendance once the threat of the pandemic has waned.
Pastors need to refocus.
The pandemic has forced pastors and churches to take stock of what is really important—as well as what’s not important. When we asked them to share what ministry or program COVID culled from their church, the most prevalent answer in each group was “Sunday night worship service.”
Dream again. Innovate, take risks, and have fun starting new ministries and stopping the inefficient ones.
Pastors need to celebrate.
Pastors and churches need to celebrate whatever wins they had from the last 12 months. Here are a few examples:
- Giving maybe the only reliable scorecard for 2020, and the core of the church has risen to the occasion!
- Member engagement was up this year, even though overall attendance was obviously down. Authentic connections were made between members, neighbors, and family which is something pastors can and should build on through new groups, widow-care, evangelism, etc.
- Online worship and giving is here to stay! I just got off the phone with a bi-vocational senior adult pastor who kept his hand to the plow during the pandemic. He has been connecting online with both sheep and goats for 12 months and has no intention of cutting them off when the COVID coast is clear.
- Streamlined decision making has resulted in leaders revisiting their policies and procedures.
Pastors need to rest.
Some may not yet realize that they just pastored through the hardest year of their ministry. With Easter coming soon and an inevitable increase in attendance ahead, I’m concerned that many pastors will try to power through the summer and have nothing left in the fall. In an attempt to make up for lost time, they should be careful not to overextend themselves or their ministries this summer.
My advice to pastors this spring is to plan now for a time of vacation to refresh before fall. We make mistakes when we’re tired. Fears and frustrations are exaggerated when we are exhausted.
I’m not suggesting that pastors coast through the summer. There will be plenty of opportunities for summer camps, VBS, outdoor events, and training for new teachers and ministry teams. Consider planning a simple deacon or staff retreat (or combo) and dream together about this next season of ministry. If you can, work in a couple of days of sermon planning at a borrowed cabin.
Pace yourself, pastor, because the next season of ministry may be your best one ever. Everyone in your life and ministry will benefit when you are refreshed and refocused for it.
(This post first appeared on LifeWay Research and Oklahoma Baptist Messenger. Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash)