On the one hand, the clergy have all these people they have pastoral responsibility for. Not only the sick, though the sick need their attention; but there are a lot of frightened people right now, a lot of people in need of spiritual counseling, and – of course – the need to preach the Word and offer the sacraments, which is their special responsibility. One could spend oneself down to nothing just doing that.
But then, the pastor is also the Chief Operating Officer of a congregation, which is a small non-profit business. Others may care for the fabric of the buildings directly, but the pastor still worries over the survival of the institution as an institution. Is money still coming in to pay the bills (including staff salaries and benefits)? Are we going to have a congregation when this is all over, or will people get so used to staying home they’ll just drop out? How much can we do on Zoom or Facebook as regards worship, Bible study, and business meetings, and how fast can I re-invent how to do my work? What does success look like when we try to evaluate our effectiveness as an organization? What is our mission – not just my mission, my ministry – what is most important for us to do, and how can we do it together? How do we make disciples when we’re all in hunker-down mode?
I see a lot of pastors, and hear of many more, who are just on overload. Discouraged. Burnt out. Wondering how much longer they can keep it up. They need our prayers. They also need to get some rest, and reconfigure what they’re doing. This virus thing isn’t going away. Even after we get a vaccine – hopefully, soon – there may be waves of this stuff from time to time just like we get waves of influenza seasonally. We can’t just live on caffeine and adrenalin until it’s all over. Everybody needs to start thinking long-term, and adjust to that.
I’ve seen a lot of creativity, especially with technology, to keep connecting with people. I’m amazed at what we have accomplished. But we can’t suspend our normal activities indefinitely. We need to find a way to do normal in abnormal situations. We need to shift gears and figure out what doing church means with the plague breaking out across the land. The church has done it before. The clergy have done it before. The leaders have to get enough sleep to step back and get out of crisis mode and quit trying to keep everything going by sheer, frantic effort.
And God is still with us. It’ll be okay.