It’s Pastoral Ministry Tuesday. Every week, or at least most weeks when life doesn’t interfere, I post a reflection on life in pastoral ministry. A little look behind the curtain to see the person pulling the levers and making the big head talk. Thanks for stopping by.
I have a lot of books on my shelves about ministry. How to do it. Why to do it. When to do it. Where to do it. Doing it in modernity. Doing it in postmodernity. Doing it with the patristics. Doing it with addicts. Doing it with the differently abled.
I don’t have a single book that tells me how to do it during a pandemic.
But I get emails. And I’ve gotten tons of emails suddenly from people offering me tips, solutions, advice, guidance – even simple steps to help your church increase in size during a pandemic. The number of emails I get promises a simple solution for getting my church to grow are running at about the same amount as the emails that promise simple solutions for getting and maintaining an erection. Not sure if there’s a correlation but I suspect there is.
The simple truth is that most of us have never been here before. But the good news is that God’s not surprised and he prepared us for a time like this by giving us the Holy Spirit to be our guide. (No charge.)
So I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to listen. Trying to stay in a place of peace and calm, the garden where revelation and wisdom grows. Because if everything I ever knew is suddenly changing and I’m being asked to help lead a group of Jesus followers through this change, I need some outside intervention that doesn’t come in an email.
So far, here are the things that are developing as I think about pastoral ministry and love in the time of Corona.
1) God is not surprised or scrambling to come up with a way to keep his Church going. I’m more worried about my paycheck from the church than God is about the ability of the Church to navigate these times by the Spirit. I can dial down. Everything that happens next does NOT depend on me. God is with us.
2) The Church is NOT the building. We’re the church whether we gather en masse or in groups of less than 10 in our homes. We need each other. That is certain. What a life as Jesus followers does NOT require is us all being in the same big room at the same big time risking the same big exposure to a virus that can take out our most vulnerable and precious saints. (they’re most precious precisely because they are the most vulnerable.)
3) We all need to dial down and show each other some mercy, grace and kindness. I have pastor friends calling those of us who have cancelled our services “faithless” and I have friends calling those who have not cancelled their services “heartless.” Jesus calls us to chill. We are misplacing our fear, anger and doubts onto one another in a time when we need each other more than ever. So before we hit the ‘farewell Rob Bell’ tweet, take a breath, use our imagination and put yourself in their shoes, call up some compassion and bear with them in their weakness (which frustrates you most because they think their weakness is really the strong position). Chill.
4) Who has NOT been washing their hands? Seriously? Are there really people who have not been practicing this essential life skill? Jesus wants you to wash your hands. The Father and the Spirit both cringe when you walk out of the bathroom without the 20 second sing-a-long sanitizing scrub. Remember when cleanliness was next to godliness? Well now cleanliness can help keep you from meeting God sooner than expected.
5) If you’re sick, stay home. Period. Don’t play the “how sick is too sick” game. If you have any symptoms of a cold or even athletes foot, stay home. Especially those of you who don’t think any of these guidelines or concerns apply to you, you are our most dangerous friends. Stay home!
6) If you need some help, ask someone for help. If you are not sick, offer your help to people from a safe distance. If you are in good health and fall into the “most likely to survive this” categories, offer to pick up groceries for friends at risk. Drop it off on their doorstep, don’t go in for a visit. If you’re in distress and need something, please let your church family know.
7) Hoarding is evil. Don’t store up for yourself things that others need. Share. Don’t charge more for something than it should actually cost when lives are at stake and a pandemic is raging. It just makes you a jerk and other words my wife does not want me to say on my blog. When the world’s on fire, it’s evil to charge someone for the buckets of water you stock piled in your garage.
8) Don’t be concerned only about your own needs but be concerned about the needs of others around you as well.
9) As a pastor, I want you to know how much we need your grace and support for how we’re doing what we’re doing in these days. We didn’t cover this in Bible college. We’re all doing the best we can do and picking our way along in this unusual season of our lives. We will get it wrong. More than once. Accept this as an advance apology and instead of taking shots from the cheap seats, help out wherever you see water is getting into the boat, air is leaking from the balloon, the fire is spreading to the strange room that always contained all the TNT and gunpowder in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. But please don’t yell at us or suggest we should have known a better way. We’re trying to follow the Spirit. We’re bound to get it wrong sometimes.
10) For my pastoral colleagues. Those of you trying to recruit church going people to your church service because others are closing their service – stop it. You’re being buttheads. Seriously, have you learned NOTHING from Jesus? Tend the flock of God of which you are a part, watch out for the wolves that will rise up from among you and keep your invites out of everyone else’s flock for now. COVID-19 is enough virus for us to worry about for now. So help me, if I see one more of you posting a boast that while others close you will not – I’m going to send you a strongly worded email.
11) For my other pastoral colleagues. Those of you who are hurting, worried, wondering where your paycheck is going to come from, I am praying for you and stand in solidarity with you. These are scary times. Let the church know. Modify what you’re doing with financial resources right now. Re-allocate as needed. My friends with rainy day funds – it’s raining, share with your friends who don’t have roofs.
12) Last of all, God is with us. He will not leave us or forsake us. All this may be shaken, the sky may fall, but this one thing will always be true – Jesus loves you, this we know. This is a time for sharing and not hoarding, building bridges and not walls, being conduits and not dams. Hang together so we don’t find ourselves hanging alone.
Love in the time of Corona is still love. Do what love does. Stay home. Go help. Be mindful. Protect the weak and the vulnerable. Pray. Share. Speak prophetically about the better days ahead and remind people that God is our storyteller and it is his story that matters most. God is our composer and it is his unstoppable song that calls us to move along with his rhythm of grace in a movement that no virus or evil free-will act of man can ever disrupt or abort.
Stay virus free my friends. God is with us.