I believe we learn more about ourselves in a crisis than we do at any other point in time. A crisis forces us to look at a situation and ask why something is wrong or not working. We tend to assume there are no issues when things are calm, even if we recognize that is not the case.
The ongoing crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to ask some hard questions that we might have never asked without a crisis point. We must always be willing to learn and grow. To do so, we have to ask questions of ourselves. We might not like the answers, but it is how we grow as humans and as followers of Christ.
I have not always liked the answers to my questions. I have realized how easy and beneficial it has been to play it safe as a pastor. It is easier to gain acceptance, respect, and adoration from a congregation and community if you do not take risks or go with the flow. In this, you only look like you are pushing a community out of their comfort zone when, in reality, you are just affirming the status quo for your benefit. It is one thing to preach a good sermon; it is another to lead a community forward.
Do not get me wrong, I believe preaching is vital for the worship of God in a community and discipleship. A good sermon must accompany holy actions into the community through bold and necessary responses.
Over the last few years of this pandemic, I have been willing to go out on a limb to protect our community. I have done this to advocate safe and appropriate health practices. It was easy, at first, because nearly every church was taking similar steps. The longer the pandemic goes, the more some communities have weakened their response strategies. Some of this is due to the availability of a vaccine or other remedies. That is not the only reason. It has also been leaders have received an increasing number of complaints and watched people leave the church because of their COVID response. It is easier to give in than to push forward.
I have grown to appreciate a willingness to do what is necessary even if I am the only one doing it. I will not say it is easy. It is not. I will admit it would be nice to have other churches doing what we are doing. I’ve recognized that I’m not on this limb alone. I am thankful for my congregation and their support for keeping people safe.
I’ve reconnected with my tendency to say what is on my mind. I have tried, throughout the pandemic, to share what it is like to lead. The reason is that I feel pastors too often paint the image to our congregations that everything is fine while we tell our peers how we are struggling. I don’t think this helps our communities understand the complexities of ministry. It also perpetuates the continued separation between the pastor and the laity that is not healthy for the congregation. I do not think we should allow our congregation to become our emotional crutch. That being said, I do believe it is important to share the struggles, pains, and difficulties of trying to navigate this time and leadership in general.
While I have been open about struggles, I’ve also have become more open about frustrations of what I see as not as things should be within the institutional church. Perhaps this comes with the territory of more experience and confidence in the pulpit, but I have found myself being more bold and blunt about assessments of situations. I do not do it to cause problems. I do it to say things that often go unsaid out of fear or embarrassment. I have never believed that being a team player as a pastor meant that I go along with everything at face value. Being a team player means working together towards perfecting what is before us so we might have a deeper church and community together.
These are just some parts of what I have learned or grown to appreciate about myself during this pandemic.
It has been a time of reflection and a lot of stress. I am thankful for what this time has provided. It has given me a chance to do some necessary re-evaluation of who I am and my leadership as a pastor, which might not have happened otherwise.