Another Round

By Bob Bickford

Leading and shepherding the local church during the COVID-19 crisis is more than challenging — it is exhausting! My pastor colleagues are tired, burdened by many concerns, and often criticized for actions they are taking or avoiding. The cultural concerns and chaos we’re enduring as a nation only add to the weight of pastoring.

And that doesn’t even mention the challenges faced by pastors’ families, job loss, health concerns, and financial hardships!

Every day it seems like we wake up to something new to be shocked by, outraged over, or concerned with. In many ways, it feels like we’re trapped in an endless boxing match with a champion whose every punch is a devastating blow.

At times, I can fall into the mindset that everything is broken, and nothing is good. While I know that’s not true it certainly feels like it and, if I dare to find something positive to speak about, I worry I’ll be labeled as out of touch or possibly called things I can’t put in writing here.

How can pastors respond?

Adjust Expectations

Most of our disappointment in life comes from things not working out as we believed or hoped or wanted. It’s natural to grieve and feel loss when what we deeply desire isn’t realized. I’m reminded that Christ came to give us abundant life, yet that abundance isn’t defined as a hassle-free life. Abundance also is not to be misunderstood to mean material surplus. The abundance comes from knowing and being sustained by Jesus in the middle of struggles, not the absence of them. Jesus promised we would suffer: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

Focus on the Gospel

There is a simple truth that whatever captures my mind and heart — what I give energy, passion, and thought to — are, at least in some ways, what I declare as worthwhile. What I give worth is what I may eventually worship. I can ascribe more value to problems and worries than to the gospel — the greatest news ever proclaimed. The greatest problem I’ve ever had is my sin problem. The greatest news is that God sent Jesus to bear my sin and redeem and restore me to my heavenly Father. When I view all the problems around me in light of the gospel and God’s love, I am reminded of the gospel’s primacy. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” (1 Cor. 15:1-3)

Remember, God is With You

One of the greatest hardships the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust upon us is the necessity to be separated for our own safety. This has created an intense loneliness, especially among pastors. We can’t be with the flock we’re called to shepherd (at least, not in the ways to which we are accustomed). The decisions we find ourselves facing are heavy, and we may not regularly be around others who helped us process choices in the past. We may be bombarded by our thoughts and could even be afraid to give voice to them. Please remember brother pastor, we are not alone. God is with us. “He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

Pursue Unity

One of the insidious schemes of our enemy, Satan, is to sow division and conflict in the community of Christians. He seeks to do this at every turn. Whether it be in our convention, our association, our church, or even our own home, we’re not immune to elevating our convictions, beliefs, and preferences on non-essential matters to the place where they drive wedges and divide Christ followers. It is imperative that we be unified in Christ, in fulfilling the Great Commission, and in our love for one another. It is imperative that we give grace and receive it, when we disagree on matters related to this pandemic. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)

Remember Your Identity

Our world is a mess. It has been that way since the fall. I can never forget that this world is a temporary stop for me. It is passing away. I should neither neglect my responsibility to seek justice, mercy, and the welfare of my fellow citizens and the city, but I must not exhaust myself protecting and preserving something that has been subjected to frustration and is bound for eventual destruction. This world is not my eternal home. I am to abstain from the pull to make it more than it is or less than God says. “Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul.” (1 Pet. 2:11)

The battle we face as pastors is real. The Scripture shows us how to respond. I’m praying we’ll continue to fight and struggle well for the glory of God.

Published July 21, 2020

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick