Faithful Pastors in Pandemics

I think faithful pastors are heroes right now.

I have nothing to take away from the hard work and suffering of those we consider to be first responders during the COVID pandemic. Nurses, doctors, police and fire, grocery workers, delivery drivers, a lot of teachers, and so many more, have all extended themselves in 2020 to make life work as much as possible.

But a strange thing happened to churches and pastors along the way. Post on social media that you are excited to be with your congregation, or that you see the kinds of benefits that come with corporate worship, or you make theological and scientifically informed decisions about how to meet, and the knives come out. People who have been successfully frightened have also accepted the cognitive dissonance that comes with their fears.

People who are focused on the One Thing – COVID infection – have mostly lost sight of everything else. And everything else is coming back with a vengeance.

The faithful pastor, however, has not been given the luxury of focusing on the One Thing. Even if a pastor is still not able to meet with their congregations the way they want to, they are still neck-deep in the “everything else” of the lives in their churches.

Pastors, and the pastorally minded in congregations, have to deal with the hopelessly isolated and the depression and death that comes with that. Zoom calls cannot fix that.

Pastors get to carry the weight of widows who die alone in care facilities. You have not been able to visit, pray, read Scripture, and walk with them through the last steps of life. But you are left to help others process the injustice.

Pastors get to watch single parents juggle the unsolvable puzzle of their work and their kid’s school schedules. Grades drop while technology is a poor substitute for education and community. Parents juggle social resources and strain themselves to keep their kids healthy and doing well. Most affluent lockdown supporters can simply ignore these folks. Pastors cannot.

Pastors don’t have powerful unions making demands of the State on their behalf, procuring hazard pay, getting plexiglass shields installed in front of every pew, and threatening strikes if our competition is shut down. Pastors have boards and staff members who are all trying to figure it out as we go along.

We are constantly being told that being around people is dangerous. Pastors know, theologically and instinctively that clinging to this behavior is dangerous. Long-term distancing is deleterious in ways we are beginning to see, and ways that will unfold for years to come. Pastors are actually looking for ways to minister to people, to be around people, to talk with people, to pray with people, to suffer with people, to show people a glimmer of the Light.

And, frankly, pastors are showing courage where others are showing selfishness. Instead of asking, “how can I keep myself safe?” faithful pastors are asking questions about the health and wellbeing of others.

Pastors are the guardians of solutions our culture has ruled out. Our culture makes public policy decisions as if materialism is true and science is one-dimensional. We concern ourselves with viruses but not isolation, loneliness, and their consequences, and Christians who have decided to focus on the One Thing have tacitly bought into a kind of public materialism. That is, many Christians end up acting like souls are not real things.

Pastors are the guardians of solutions our culture has ruled out.

In spite of whatever pressures there are to make public decisions as if God and souls do not exist, pastors know their theology has as much to say about how human beings are created and how they flourish. Pastors are able to pay respect to the physical health of their congregation while simultaneously being proactive about their soul care. Decisions to meet need not be political. They can be deeply theological, philosophical, scientific, and sociological.

Pastor, you are as much a public leader and thinker as anyone you watch on the news, read in articles, or who has the vaunted “blue check” next to their name on Twitter. None of them field the calls, emails, Facebook Messages or letters you do. All of them can ignore anyone they want; we cannot. None of them know your people. None of them face the same people week after week, needing to maintain personal and theological integrity. You are, in the end, a far more important leader in the lives of your congregation than they are. May we all remain faithful to Christ and to his church.

Pastor, you are as much a public leader and thinker as anyone you watch on the news, read in articles, or who has the vaunted “blue check” next to their name on Twitter.

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