It used to be that no one knew what pastor John did during the week. He’d been teased like most pastors about working only one day a week. Prior to the pandemic he would show up at the church office three or more days a week during the day. He’d visit with the folks who were there to prepare for the activity going on that weekend. He’d talk on the telephone. He’d prepare some of his sermons and Bible classes. He’d show up for meetings in the evening. If he wasn’t at the church he would be making home visits or going to the hospital visiting whoever was there. But at other times he was at home studying or preparing. Sometimes he would tune in to ESPN. Now, the pandemic has changed everything.
The last 9 months he’s usually at church an additional day a week recording the service ahead of time. His message is done a day or two earlier. Then he goes in for the recording, sound, light, worship robes or vestments on and runs through it for the camera. Sometimes three times. Often he was there to record music as well. But the work isn’t done. Since no one knows how to do it, he takes the recording home and has learned to edit the audio and video and uploads it to YouTube and the other places online so people can view it. No one else seems to know how to do it or want to learn. It’s a long day or sometimes two that he would never have to do before. Not to mention the prep time.
Curious church leaders would ask what he really does now that he can’t visit people in their homes or in the hospital. The latest “tease” is that they guess he really doesn’t have to work that hard anymore! Then there are the frugal financial overseers who look at the now in person attendance that is half what it used to be and the offerings that are less as well. There is beginning to be a whisper that the pastor isn’t earning his keep.
Meanwhile the pastor is exhausted. This has been going on since February and it’s been week after week of the same thing. Now Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas are coming. What’s that going to look like? He doesn’t have the energy nor the creativity to begin to want to tackle that one. Tired. Weary. A little depressed. Exhausted. Something has got to give.
The hero pastor would persist. The superhuman pastor would keep up the charade of saying all is under control. “I’m fine” they would say. But the wise leader would see this as an opening for healthy change. But that is going to take some courage and grit.
Which person are you?
Maybe you’re too tired to even think of using this as an opportunity for healthy change. Maybe you are too bruised by your members. Perhaps you are a little stuck or even a bit hung over from some attempts to calm your nerves. It is a tough time. But the fact remains that with such a tectonic shift in how you do church, there is a huge opening for reorienting things in a more healthy direction. Both for now and for the future, because things aren’t likely to go back to the way they were.
But how in the world do you make that shift? It begins with a mental shift. Instead of assuming you are primarily the doer, it is time to think more intentionally that you are the equipper. Instead of thinking you are a servant who does much of the ministry, it is time to think you are going to serve others so they can learn how to do ministry. Instead of limiting ministry to yourself or only a handful of people, it is time to multiply ministry and be a faithful steward of more of the body of Christ and their gifts for ministry.
In the past this might have been an unrealistic dream. But now with so much disruption, it is not only possible, it is a necessity! It is the disruption that provides an opportunity to do things differently.
But wait! No one wants to do anything more! Everyone is saying “no.” True. Past ways of operating may have created a dependency. It may have cemented people into a way of doing things that will mean resistance to change. That may mean some repentance from you, the leader. But it also indicate the necessity to shift your attention elsewhere. The “old dogs” may not be willing to learn “new tricks.”
So where do you go? Someplace other than your “go-to” people. Look to the quiet person, the younger person. Look to the non-member spouse, the friend of the ministry and that person of peace. No, they might not even be members. But that’s the beauty of it. These are people in your orbit who you know on a first name basis. They are also people who can do mission critical work like camera, editing, uploading, feeding, and many other kinds of significant contributions. Or they know who can! That involvement and participation may lead to conversations about Jesus and Christian care from members when inevitably some of these people go through a rough patch in their lives. It may also lead to baptisms. But it begins with valuing them.
For other kinds of telephone care or other kinds of virtual ministry that used to be done by the pastor alone, there are plenty of ways members can participate. First, share the challenge. Be transparent about the rhythm of your week and the demands. Inform their expectations (and yours). Resist the temptation to be superman. Then, enlist and walk beside the elder, the Stephen minister, the mature member who is willing to be faithful in phone calls and letters. Do it with them. Talk about listening skills, pastoral care, reading scripture, praying, as they make the phone calls. It’s not about a class. It is about you making a call, then them making a call, then plenty of time to debrief. It is even a ministry of voice messages. Plan it together. Do it together. Then, when ready, each of you look for someone else to mentor and repeat the process.
It is like Jesus’ words about the seed and the sower. It takes time to plant and water and pull weeds and allow the seed to grow. It is not a quick fix. You won’t likely give away an assignment and expect perfection. Be a gardener not an assignment giver. Start small. Be an encourager. Don’t dump the whole thing. Small steps. You will find them not only serving but being more faithful in worship and Bible class.
So, what small thing can you give away and nurture? Who is willing to step up and do a little bit more? Look at the circle of members but also the widening circle of friends of the ministry. Get to know them. Get to know their interests and willingness. Ask if they would be interested - or know someone who may be interested! This is an opening to engage people who may not normally hear the gospel. That is worth the effort in and of itself!
Give yourself some forgiveness and grace. It will take time to break patterns of thinking and behaving. Yet make a plan. It is very hard to see your own blind spots and identify different action steps. So that’s where a coach can come in… reach out to me. I’d be honored to support this shift for you.
Scott specializes in leadership coaching, consulting, coach and leadership training. He is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church and others as an independent contractor. Listen to The Coaching Leader podcast and contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com. Check out his YouTube channel and new online Church Leadership Training at scottgress.teachable.com
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