How You Can Extend Grace to Your Pastor
I may or may not know your pastor. But I know one thing: your pastor is tired.
I have the blessing of being a part of a couple of local pastors’ groups and am friends with a number of pastors outside of those groups. While we come from a broad spectrum theologically and denominationally, we all share the same experience of leading a church through COVID-19. We are worn out.
I know you’re tired as well. This has been an exhausting stretch for all of us. My heart with this post isn’t to have you pull out your violin for pastors, nor is it to diminish the challenges of non-pastors during this time. My heart is to give you a peek behind the curtains so that we might grow in grace with one another.
I will first explain six reasons why this season has been so hard for your pastor, and then I will share six ways you can show your pastor grace.
Why has this season been particularly trying?
Pastoring the sick when you can’t visit a hospital is frustrating. Pastoring those who are at risk and are fearful has been a challenge, especially when you can’t meet with them face-to-face.
Whatever decision you make as a church about wearing masks will meet heavy criticism from some contingent. We’ve lost several people (we know of) from our congregation over our decisions around masks. It’s heartbreaking.
Everything seems to be viewed through the lens of politics: masks, race, decisions to open your church facility or not. Data tells us that Americans are consuming massive amounts of news coverage. Many view the world through red or blue-tinted glasses. One of my pastor friends recently texted me, “Polarization tells people to bundle every possible statement as part of some partisan agenda, which makes saying anything a losing position. The bind I wrestle with is how to simultaneously be a human (who has my convictions and thoughts on everything), a pastor, and non-polarizing.” Most pastors believe that the Bible speaks in contradistinction to both American political parties. Both are out of step in their own way with a biblical vision of governance and justice. But to speak as a follower of Jesus, not the Republican or Democratic party, sets your pastor at odds with both.
4. EVERYTHING IS NEW
How do you do check-in for children? How do you set up chairs in the worship center during COVID? How do you clean? How do you teach children’s classes in ways that comport with CDC guidelines? How do you do a COVID baptism? COVID dedications? COVID communion? How do you connect those online to the body in a meaningful way? So much of what we took years learning how to do we’ve had to unlearn.
5. LACK OF FEEDBACK
Online feedback is ruled by social media norms, which means it tends to be more critical and superficial. I’ve heard more feedback on our camera shots than I have on the substance of the preaching. Our experience has been that few guests are leaning in and connecting in online environments. They stay anonymous in ways that they don’t in person. This is a challenge as we try to know and care for those who are part of the body.
6. LACK OF KNOWING HOW YOUR FLOCK IS DOING
Within the last few weeks I learned of two families leaving the church. One family said that they have been drifting and felt the pull elsewhere for a while. I’m grateful that both of these families has the courtesy to inform us that they are leaving (many don’t), but I wonder if part of that sense of drifting was fueled by a lack of personal connection. As pastors we care for the body, but we’ve never known less about how those in our care are doing.
How, then, can you extend grace to your pastor?
1. BEAR WITH YOUR CHURCH’S DECISION ON MASKS
Your church has had to make a tough call on whether to gather in person and what their policy on masks will be. It’s likely it’s not the decision you wouldn’t have made. Whatever your church has done, please recognize that this isn’t a gospel decision. It’s not a reason to leave your church.
2. TAKE OFF THE POLITICAL GLASSES
Our partisan world has trained us to view every statement as a political statement. Try to hear what your pastor is saying in this season through the lens of the Bible, not politics.
I’ve said dumb things. I’ve said things that were phrased poorly. I’ve dropped balls. Please forgive your pastor. If you are offended, please approach your pastor in person, don’t harbor bitterness.
With many of our people unable to participate in face-to-face ministries, every church has massive ministry holes. If you’re not in-person yet, raise your hand to help with online ministry. If you are joining in person, step forward and make a difference in the life of your church.
5. WRITE A NOTE
Your pastor has probably received more criticism since COVID than he did in the past five years combined. Let your pastor know how much you appreciate him, how much a message impacted you, or just that you are praying for him.
Speaking of which: pray for your pastor. Pray for peace, pray for spiritual life, pray for his family, and pray for the unity of your church.
Pastor or not, we are all tired. Let’s grow in empathy and grace toward one another. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” And similarly in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
May grace flow freely to one another in Christ’s family.