All of us have watched as the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc—physically, financially, emotionally—on many people. In some ways, all of us have felt its effects. But certain people have felt it more deeply. Of course no one has felt the sting more intensely than those who have lost loved ones—and to a lesser extent, those who have lost businesses and livelihoods. But there’s probably another person in your circle of friends and acquaintances who has borne a deeper burden through this season: your pastor.
I’ve been to seminary, and I can tell you with certainty no classes are offered on how to pastor during a pandemic. I’ve never been to a pastor training meeting that had conferences with these titles: “When to Shut Down Your Church and When to Reopen,” “How to be a TV Preacher When You Really Don’t Want to Be,” or “Healing the Divide between the All-Masks and the No-Masks Groups.”
Just like you, your pastor has never been in this place before. He can’t gather the staff and talk about how they did worship, ministries, and small groups in the last pandemic. So during this season, what can you do to help? How can you hold up your pastor’s arms so that ministry remains a joy to him and his family? Here are a few suggestions.
Be patient. As previously stated, your pastor has not led your church, or any church, through a pandemic before. He and your paid staff and/or volunteer leaders are trying to figure out the best way to lead your church in this new normal. They are trying to make sure the church remains focused on her mission and purpose while still trying to keep everyone as healthy and safe as possible. So now, he’s not only dealing with sermon preparation, he’s dealing with safety protocols. He’s trying to figure out how to care for the congregation without being able to go to the hospital, or the nursing home, or to visit the flock. He’s weighing the answers to questions like: When is it safe to start in-person small group Bible studies? When should we start children’s programming again? How will we function with a reduced amount of funds? Should we be singing in our services? What do we do if an outbreak occurs? Should we require everyone to wear masks? As you can tell, it’s a lot. So during this time, just remember the weight he’s bearing and be patient. To hijack a verse from James, be slow to anger, slow to criticize, and quick to encourage.
Be present. One of the best things you can do to support your pastor is continue to be faithful to your church. A study that Barna Research conducted in the spring of 2020 showed that just over one-third of churchgoers were faithfully attending the church they were going to before the pandemic hit. Fourteen percent switched churches, and thirty-two percent stopped attending completely. Eighteen percent view worship services from multiple churches.1 So if your church is meeting in person, and you feel comfortable about attending, be there. Your presence every Sunday speaks volumes. And if you’re still not comfortable going in person, be present online. Whether your church is recording services or livestreaming, tune in. And not only show up but be faithful in your responsibilities as a church member. Continue to give faithfully. Continue to serve in the areas you’re responsible for. Don’t let the enemy use this time to lull you into spiritual apathy or lead you to foster an attitude that says your presence and contribution really don’t matter. Your church and your pastor need you to be present.
Be personally encouraging. Your pastor is hearing lots of voices and getting lots of information during this time. And, to be honest, probably a lot of it is confusing, unclear, or discouraging. How about letting your voice be one of joy to him? Send him a brief email with an encouraging word of how much you appreciate him and his leadership during this time. Include a promise or uplifting passage of Scripture. Better yet, take the time to write him a note. As a former pastor, I can’t tell you how meaningful those handwritten notes of encouragement were to me, especially in the trying days of pastoring. They always seemed to come at just the time I needed a good word to get me through. The church members who did that for me certainly refreshed the heart of this saint (Philemon 7). Not long after I went to serve on staff of a church in Arkansas, I spent some time just getting to know people and finding out what they did in our church. I’ll never forget how one older woman answered when I asked what her role was. With a huge smile she said, “I just want to be a blessing to my pastor.” And she was. I encourage you to have the same kind of heart toward the man God has called to lead your church.
Finally, be praying. Be a prayer warrior for your pastor. Make it a part of your daily quiet time to intercede for him. Be specific in your praying. Pray for his physical health. Pastors are not immune to COVID-19. He’s trying to do servant ministry while weighing the risks to his own health. Pray he would have godly wisdom. In normal times, pastors face lots of decisions, many of them difficult. The pandemic has made that load heavier. Pray for his family. As he bears more weight, it affects his wife and children. Pray he would have a clear vision for your church. Keep in mind he’s not only seeking God’s purpose for the church in the middle of the pandemic, but he’s also seeking to know how the church needs to refresh or change to be effective after the pandemic. Pray he would have adequate time to study and prepare to preach. Pray his walk with Christ remains fresh. Pray for his spiritual protection. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Remember, your pastor is not Super Christian. He’s just a guy, a fellow brother in Christ, with a high calling to lead the church. He’s not going to be perfect, and he’s prone to grow weary, just like you. That’s why he always needs your love, support, encouragement, and prayers. But especially during this season.
Mike Wakefield has spent the last seventeen-plus years serving in different editorial roles at LifeWay Christian Resources. He currently serves as content editor on the LifeWay Women Bible Studies team. Before coming to LifeWay, Mike served as student pastor and pastor of churches in Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Mike and his wife Tricia love and are proud of their two adult children, their daughter-in-law, and their beautiful new granddaughter.
1. “One in Three Practicing Christians Has Stopped Attending Church During COVID-19,” Barna Research, July 8, 2020, accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.barna.com/research/new-sunday-morning-part-2/.