Every so often during this pandemic, I have used this space to offer some reflections on what it has been like to serve as a pastor in this unique time. I have shared about my initial reactions to this season and, as well, guiding a transition prior to arrive at my current church.
I want to continue in that line of thinking, this week, and reflect upon what it has been like, for me, to guide a relaunch process within the recognition that things have taken longer to get back to normal than any of us expected. I do not believe I am being overcome with hyperbole to suggest that this has been the most challenging ministry activity that I have undertaken as a pastor.
To relaunch or resume any in-person activity, regardless if it is the church or a sport, there are various things you have to consider. What are the best practices for health and safety for the congregation? What are the current statistics and projections for your area related to the virus? What can you realistically handle with the people you have to work with?
Those are just some of the conversations I wrestle with on a regular basis. On top of that, there are conversations about determining the best way forward in conversation with our denominational and conference guidelines.
Plus, you have the constant array of advice you receive from every corner of the spectrum. You hear from pastors who believe they have found the magic formula and are willing to sell their plan to you for a low, low cost. You hear from colleagues about what they have encountered or what they are doing. You also see the angry posts that suggests being out of in-person worship shows we are not being faithful to God. I disagree, but that is for another time and another place.
None of that even takes into consideration how we are learning new things every day.
None of that even takes into consideration how often you hear how people will not come back, wished you had come back sooner, or have checked out the church across the area that is letting people in without masks, because, you know, they are really living by faith. (I disagree, again.)
None of that even takes into consideration how I am attempting to lead, as a pastor, while being worried for my own family. Will my oldest son receive the care he needs at school? Am I willing to take risks with my health to lead the church through this time? Can my baby get the care he needs? Will my wife still have a job when this year is over?
Let’s be honest, this isn’t just the most challenging time to be a pastor. It is also the most stressful, most exhausting, and most intimidating. A little hyperbole never hurt anyone. I have found this, though, to be true for myself.
It is not that I feel unprepared for this moment. I have never felt overwhelmed by the challenges before us. In many ways what we are doing is asking a question I have always felt important to ask. That is what does it mean to be the church now in this time and place? We have worked through that question, in a powerful way, since March.
What I have felt, as well, is that every day you are dealing with gut punches that, in normal times, you prepare yourself to receive maybe two or three times a year. As a result, there have been moments that I have questioned my sanity and, even, abilities. I have found myself looking past people, out of exhaustion, than fully engaging. You can only take so much, and this year has given me about what I can handle.
Yet, we keep going as pastors, and I keep going. Why? Because we know that it is important to provide quality leadership in this time. Because we know that it is important to be a witness of hope in times of fear and anxiety. Because we know that it is important not just for our community, but also for our own faith.
I know we have a long ways to go before things will get better or back to some idea of normal. It is going to take time. Do I wish normal was already here? Yes, I do. That doesn’t mean we can’t be the church in this in-between time. That is my hope for us all, as we find our way forward in these troubling and challenging times.