Pastoring in a Pandemic: Old Reminders are the Best Lessons
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Sometimes the best lessons are old reminders, and often adversity is the best teacher. This is especially true in the Christian life, where the Lord teaches and matures us in dark, difficult, even tragic situations (see James 1:2-4). As God’s people, we can experience joy amid trials and tribulations because the Lord is working to accomplish His will. We know this, but so often our pain pushes joy to the periphery of our hearts and minds—worry, anxiety, doubt, and fear rise in us like a tidal wave. I have been there, and you probably have, too.
It is no secret the Coronavirus has altered our lives; and, depending on which news outlet you read, it is likely we will experience a new “normal” in the months and years ahead. As a pastor and counselor, I have grown accustomed to navigating tough situations—some tricky, some tragic, and others heartbreaking. In most cases, I am a third-party participant, an outsider looking-in extending care and compassion. But this new season of life, where the Coronavirus is at center stage, affects all of us. Social distancing may help keep the virus at bay, but make no mistake, it will leave its mark on all of us.
Our last in-person worship service was Sunday, March 15—44 days ago as of this writing. If I knew then what I know now, I likely would have approached that Sunday very differently. To be sure, conversations would last longer, hugs would be tighter, and stresses kept to a minimum. When I think about our current situation, it makes me sad—I miss worshipping alongside my church family. I miss singing and praying together. I miss participating in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I miss the smiles, warm hugs, and kind words.
I am sad; but I am also hopeful. Regardless of what goes on around us, the Lord is still working. Regardless of what goes on inside us, the Lord is still working—transforming us little-by-little, day-by-day into the image of Christ. The Lord is still teaching—from His Word and by His Spirit. Here are a few lessons I am (re)learning:
I need the truth of God’s Word, now more than ever. This season has been mentally, emotionally, and spiritually difficult, both pastorally and personally. My heart is burdened, and my head is spinning trying to make sense of things and how best to respond. I have questions but few answers, and concerns with no resolution. And, if I am not careful, I look for peace in the news or the latest report from the Governor’s office—both woefully inadequate and insufficient to provide what I need. Maybe you can relate.
Truth is, meditating on God’s Word realigns my perspective, offers clarity, and calms my heart. Why? Because in God’s Word I can see the Lord clearly—who He is and how He works. In the Word I come face-to-face with the Lord—the One who knows my sin and intervenes to save me. Meditating on the Word prepares my heart and mind for the Spirit to work—much like a gardener tilling the soil. The Scriptures remind me, over-and-over, to walk by faith not by sight—to follow the Lord no matter where He leads, knowing these trials are temporary and there is much to look forward to in eternity.
The Scriptures remind me that the Lord is an anchor for my soul. When the world around me is chaotic, and when the flesh inside me wants to rise in rebellion, His constant presence is a much-needed refuge. In His Word, I see how the Lord’s work aligns perfectly with His character—I experience His goodness because He is good, His love because He is loving, His grace because He is gracious, and His discipline because He is just. And, no matter the questions that burn in my heart, I can trust Him to do the right thing every time (see 1 Peter 4). Even more than that, when I see Jesus, I see the Lord most clearly. He is the exact representation of God—on full display for all to see and know (see Colossians 1:13-20).
As a pastor, I cannot say this strongly enough: you need the truth of God’s Word, now more than ever. We live in a culture where we sacrifice the meat of God’s Word for the milk of cheap substitutes. Please hear me: Bible studies, sermons, books, etc. are, in most cases, incredibly helpful; but they are a supplement not a substitute for God’s Word (see 2 Timothy 3:15-16). Think of it this way: we would never use vitamins as a meal replacement because we know meals provide greater health benefits. When we rely primarily on supplemental resources, we risk becoming unhealthy and malnourished—this is true physically and spiritually. My favorite preacher is H.B. Charles, and I love his exposition of the Scriptures; but his sermons are not God’s Word. For many of us, it is time to reposition the Word as the centerpiece of our lives. Friends, commit to the Word and watch the Lord go to work!
I need the fellowship of God’s people, now more than ever. I genuinely believe Christian fellowship is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He saved me, reconciled me to God, and united me to other believers. If you have confessed and turned from your sin and placed your faith in Christ as the Son of God, then this is true for you as well. More than having things in common, Christian fellowship runs deep—and is often taken for granted. They say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”; and, its true. Unfortunately, we are experiencing this first-hand.
I am an extrovert who loves spending time with people (I am a pastor and counselor, after all), and this season of social distancing has been tough. I am thankful for technology that allows us to connect even while we are apart, and I am convinced the Lord is using it for His glory and our good. But, so many of our connections feel hollow, as if something is missing. I miss our small group—the discussion, prayer requests, toddlers running around wreaking havoc! I miss our Sunday morning group—the edifying relationships, thoughtful interactions, and friendships. I miss worshiping alongside brothers and sisters in Christ—praying, giving, serving, baptism, the Lord’s Supper. I miss all of it.
Truth is, technology is helpful to a certain point. There is no substitute for the gathering of God’s people—one million live-stream services do not compare to a single Sunday morning where we worship, pray, and learn as a corporate body. My heart aches for that first Sunday when we can be together again—I will probably be a blubbering mess.
As a pastor, I cannot say this strongly enough: you need the fellowship of God’s people, now more than ever. We live in a culture where you can pick and choose when and where to attend worship; and, if you so choose, you can do all of this from the comfort of your home. Current social distancing practices aside, the Scriptures assume the physical gathering of God’s people to be the norm (see Hebrews 10:19-25). In fact, the almost 5 dozen “One Another” passages all but require a believer to have a close connection to a local church. We cannot do this alone—and in His grace, the Lord has gifted us with brothers and sisters to walk alongside!
We do not know when this pandemic will end, and we don’t know what things will look like in the weeks and months ahead. But we know the One who does—and He calls us to trust Him in faith and follow Him in obedience. Stay anchored to the Word and let Him show you who He is; and, stay connected to one another and minister as the body of Christ!