Pastoral care in the time of COVID

I’ve had conversations with pastors across the United States over the last few months. And while my friends do ministry in vastly different contexts, there is one thing they share in common: pastoring (and pastoral care) in 2020 is the most exhausting, frustrating, difficult season of their lives. The cross-pressures right now on leaders is immense. Some don’t understand why their churches can’t resume the full range of ministries they conducted before the pandemic. Others don’t think there should be ministry at all until there is a vaccine. And then the racial tension in the country has provided a whole different set of discussions with opinions pulling and tugging at a pastor’s leadership. Having to develop new sets of plans every few weeks has worn out so many pastors.

Grace and the common good

What we need in this moment is something Christians are often too late to dispense: grace toward fellow believers. For those of us who sit in the pews, we should give the benefit of the doubt to those in leadership. This doesn’t mean we always agree with hard decisions or always come down in the same spot on cultural discussions. Grace isn’t the same as a lack of accountability for leadership. But it seems that we are too quick to dismiss our fellow believers over disagreements on important but secondary issues. And pastors, trying to display the best wisdom possible, are often caught in the crossfire in their pursuit of the common good for their people.

These times in which we are living are unusual and strange. We are grappling with choices we  never thought we’d have to make. Social pressures bombard us every day as we scroll social media and hear what our friends and family are saying. Financial pressures hit us as the economic fallout of the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on communities and families.

Pastoral care (for those who are caring for us)

Pastors are not the only leaders feeling extraordinary pressure in these times. Business leaders feel the pinch as well. Some have had to make excruciating decisions about which employees to let go. Others have had to shut down their businesses for extended periods of time and/or invest heavily in cleaning equipment to meet protocols for re-opening. Not to mention having to deal, every day, with customers either angry about having to wear a mask or those who feel the restrictions aren’t tight enough. These leaders, too, need grace and forbearance.

School administrators and civic leaders carry similar weight. No matter what decisions they make, a significant group will consider them too lenient and another will consider them too stringent. As much as we are tempted to lash out at our political leaders on social media, we should commit to pray for wisdom and strength.

Flourishing communities require empathy

The body of Christ has what it takes to endure this moment. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and can be conduits of grace to our communities. We can be life-giving to each other, especially to the shepherds called to lead us. We can encourage our leaders instead of always lashing out online and in person. We can come alongside those business leaders and workers with care and concern and support. Can we commit to partnering with our local public schools to fill gaps from the pandemic.

Of course, grace and forbearance and the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean we don’t use our voices to speak up when policies are unfair or wrong. We have a role to play in shaping flourishing communities and shouldn’t shrink back. And yet we should steward our influence well, engaging in dialogue and seeing the best in leaders even as we might disagree or push back. Civility and courage are not enemies, but can be friends as we endeavor to speak and live in a distinctly Christian way.

The truth is that many of us are weary. Those who might walk into our church buildings or watch our online service are tired and weary. They need a fresh word of encouragement. And it’s not just the people in the pew who could stand to hear a fresh word of hope. The pastors called to shepherd us need to hear good news as well.

Topics: Church Leadership, Current Events, Mission & Outreach, Pastoral Care

About the Author

Daniel Darling is Senior VP at NRB. He is the author of several books, including The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, and his latest, A Way With Words: Using Our Online Communication for Good.