“Pastors are struggling with how to do their jobs of shepherding in this new environment. Their job is social, so face-to-face. This pandemic isn’t. They’re trying to figure out ways to connect with people and to connect them to God’s Word as much as they can in a meaningful way. Trying to make sure people don’t just fall into the habit of not worshiping because this is so different and easy to get to it later.”
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a shepherd. You are surrounded by your sheep morning and night, day in and day out. It’s an exhausting job that requires wisdom and diligence, but it’s worth it. You love your sheep. They have unique personalities, and it is a joy to interact with them and lead them.
Now imagine that you find yourself in a position where you are in one pasture, and your sheep are in another. You can see and hear them – they still need you. You are not allowed to cross over to that pasture, but you’re still expected to guide and protect your sheep. Your job, your calling, your responsibility, is those sheep.
How in the world do you lead a flock from afar?
Such is the quandary of ministry leaders in our current situation. They are called to guide and equip people in their faith…but all of the usual and logical methods have been banned. Churches are closed. Coffee or lunch dates are taboo. Sunday morning services and Bible studies cannot happen.
It would have been one thing, I imagine, to have several months’ notice to prepare for such an event, but that’s not the way this pandemic panned out. The result has left ministry leaders scrambling to reach their flocks in new and foreign ways. The following quotes relate experiences from friends in different areas of ministry, shared with their permission. (Please note that these conversations took place in mid-March. With the ever-changing pandemic scene, some details may not be accurate as of this posting.)
“The current situation here in France is that we are all quarantined to our own homes for a minimum of 15 days. We are allowed to be outside in our own yards only. There are only a few reasons that anyone can leave their property which includes shopping for grocery items, going to your work if work cannot be done from home, exercise (running only, we cannot go for a walk or a bike ride), or taking a pet out to use the “facilities.” Also, all of these things can only be done alone, not even with a spouse. On top of that, if we need to do one of these things we have to carry a piece of paper that is from the French government (that we have filled out ourselves) that explains what we are doing out. And we need a different one every day or for every activity. We are trying to continue to learn French despite the situation. Everything has to be done online so it’s a lot of worksheets and not much speaking.”
“In the Christian camping ministry, it is basically our business to bring people together for shared experiences. Currently, bringing people together is at the top of the world’s “do not do” list. We’ve had to cancel our spring retreat and field trip groups. If things are not under control by the summer, we will not be able to run summer camp.
The implications of this are huge. Bigger than the people who will be out of work (or at least not be receiving salaries) are all the lives that Jesus impacts while they are at camp. Jesus will still work in people’s lives even if they are not at camp, but knowing just what a powerful ministry happens here, it is hard to accept that it may not happen this summer.”
“It’s difficult finding a solution that checks all the boxes when it comes to meeting our people’s spiritual needs, helping protect community health and honoring the government. The daily change in government mandates presents planning and communication challenges. All that being said, I already see blessings as people realize again how important it is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith in all circumstances.”
How can we pray for our friends in ministry during this unprecedented world event? Below are some of their requests:
- Encouragement as they continue language studies to spread the Gospel
- Wisdom on how to prioritize days with new responsibilities
- Prayer that God’s purposes will prevail in their lives and those around them
- That regular supporters would continue to be involved and supportive of their ministry
- Wisdom in how to best minister to others while church and ministry doors are closed
- Prayer for the health and safety of ministry staff
- Strength and patience in our ever-changing world situation
- Pray that people will get into God’s Word and use the resources ministry leaders have provided to keep families and individuals connected to God and each other
Along with prayer, consider sending your friends in ministry an encouraging text, email or note right now. And to quote the wife of a pastor when I asked how we can encourage on a practical level:
“Milk and bananas on my doorstep! I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a pizza delivery, either.”