While nearly every time is challenging to be a pastor, the current pandemic has made pastoring an even greater challenge. However, with challenges come opportunities. As old ways of pastoring are being eliminated or restricted, we need to be open to creating and embracing new ways of pastoring. Below are some suggestions for how to shepherd a congregation (including ourselves) during this dangerous and life-changing time in history.
Bishop Bickerton wrote in his most recent guidance on reopening our churches: “We must keep in mind that we have a theological mandate to care for one another holistically in body, mind, and spirit. We also serve a large population base that has either been disproportionately affected or is at a higher risk of infection than others.”
- Be a Non-Anxious Presence. Note that pandemic and panic have the same root word in Greek (pan = all). This is a time of heightened fear and uncertainty. Your job is to not panic and be a non-anxious presence to help calm the fears and anxieties your people are likely experiencing.
- Focus on Faith rather than Fear. This is a corollary to being non-anxious. During a time of crisis, a calm and steady faith in God and God’s love is what will get us through. Part of overcoming fears is to name them and be honest about them. Helping people give voice to their fears is a first step to dealing with them.
- Lead by Your Values. While there is a plethora of medical guidance and information everywhere, our values of love, hope, and faith are the motivation for why we do what we do. Remind yourself and your people of your “why” for living how we live. This is especially the time for living and preaching about self-giving love. We wear masks and socially distance because it is an act of self-giving love.
- Lead With Gratitude. This is a time to express gratitude for big and small things people are doing. Prayers should include thanksgiving for those who are risking their lives for us: first responders, health care workers and essential workers. Look for opportunities to thank persons in your congregation for anything they are doing that is helping.
- Keep Current With and Follow Health Guidance. As a leader, you can model those acts of love that keep us safe: wearing a mask when in a public place, social distancing, staying at home when feeling ill. Staying healthy yourself is very important.
- Follow Smart Guidelines As You Re-Open Your Church. This is not a time to take risks. This is a time for being safe and smart. While many will want to rush back to in-person worship, there are many crucial steps that must be taken before you church is ready to reopen.
- Be Creative. Due to stay-at-home orders, we need to be creative about doing pastoral care. In-person pastoral care is difficult, if not impossible, especially with persons in the vulnerable category (over 65 or having underlying health issues). This is a time for embracing 21st century technology: Zoom and Facetime are available for video calls. If the person needing pastoral care can’t use these, there is the old-fashioned phone call, text or email.
- Stay Connected with Your People. Even if we can’t visit our people in person, we still need to be there for them. This means lots of checking in by the new technologies mentioned above, or by phone or email. Persons who don’t normally need pastoral care will now need pastoral care. Pay attention to what you are hearing and seeing in your virtual visits with them. It’s really important to listen to the “music behind the words” to assess how they are really doing.
- Healthy Practices. Pay attention to your own health. Make sure you are getting regular exercise, eating healthy and getting good sleep. Again, you are modeling a healthy body, mind and spirit Be sure to take time off and, especially, take a weekly Sabbath day of rest and renewal.
- Intentionally schedule your pastoral respite on June 11-14, 2020 as a time for rest and renewal.
Small Group Ministry
- Try New Kinds of Groups. While traditional Bible studies and prayer groups can easily be moved online, why not try out something new? One church One church offers an online online meditation group that uses guided faith-based meditations. Another church is offering a “happy hour” of socializing. There are so many different possibilities for keeping small groups connected.
- Transform Church Meetings. While online church committee and church council meetings usually focus on church business, these meetings can matter more if some time is set aside for checking in and prayer. Give these meetings a spiritual purpose rather than a church business purpose.
- Modeling self care for your people is part of being a leader. While we usually associate exercise with physical effort, pay attention to how you “exercise” your mind and spirit. Take time to read things you wouldn’t normally read as a way of exercising your mind. Try out some new forms of spiritual practice as a way of keeping fresh and healthy (i.e. prayer walk, mindfulness hike).
- Give thanks for the small and large things in your life that are good. In any and every circumstance, express thanksgiving. Modeling a life of gratitude will inspire and motivate your people to do the same.
[undated, Spring 2020]