Dear Churchgoers

photo by Engin Akyurt,

by Laura Stephens-Reed, Clergy and Congregational Coach,

Reprinted with the permission of the author

I recently posted the thoughts below on my Facebook page. They seemed to strike a chord, so I’m offering them here as well. Lay leaders, judicatory and denominational leaders, and ministers working outside the congregational context, I urge you to share these reflections on behalf of those local church pastors who cannot.

Churchgoers, I know you are tired of this pandemic. I know you want to hug your friends and see their full, unmasked faces on Sunday mornings. I know you are frustrated when your fellow church members start attending services and programs in congregations that are taking fewer precautions. I know you are heartbroken that Advent and Christmas observances won’t look the same this year.

Your pastors are feeling all these same things. AND, their personal faith and their call to pastoral leadership are the reasons they are holding the line with – and doing all the additional labor that comes with maintaining – safeguards. You can’t see it, but your ministers are working harder than ever. Worship, pastoral care, spiritual formation, and coordination with lay leaders all require many more steps and much more intentionality than in normal times, and pastors are taking these steps because they love you and take their jobs seriously. They have been getting extra creative (and exerting a lot of effort) to help you celebrate the coming season in new, meaningful ways.

Many ministers are feeling like people hired to do the bidding of their church members rather than leaders freed up to fulfill the call of God lately, though. When they get pressure to do things they don’t feel are safe, or when they hear that the very people they’re trying to protect are complaining that the pastor isn’t doing enough, here’s what happens. Their anxiety ratchets up. They overfunction or don’t know what to do first. They can’t sleep. Their health suffers. They question whether serving a congregation is worth all the angst. Any ticket out begins to look really good, and I’m not just talking about another job.

Please, please, please, pray for your ministers. Ask what help they need. Notice to them and to others what they are doing to help your congregation stay connected and encouraged. Join them in innovating. Above all, though, refrain from offering any feedback right now that is not constructive, because I guarantee it will be much more destructive than you intend, to the detriment of your pastor, your church, and the Church.

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