Over the last couple of months, I’ve learned that several pastors I know and love have either left a congregation or retired from ministry far earlier than planned because they have no more to give. The pandemic and all the other cultural forces that make our society uncivil and adversarial have left them, as one colleague put it, unable to keep turning the other cheek.
This kind of thing is happening in other vocations as well. Health care workers and teachers are two prime examples. The world has become evermore crabby, impatient, demanding, and even hostile, as everyone comes to the end of our ropes over the changes that happen every day. I understand the frustration – feel it myself at times. Down deep however, I know that it is not something we can blame on the pandemic. The Covid-19 virus does not have “mean-spirited, crabby-pants” listed as a common symptom. This is an encounter with plain old-fashioned sin, heightened by the stress of the situation. Attacking people for doing jobs they were called and trained to do is not an act of love.
The most perplexing thing to me is that the pastors and church staffs that I know are making Herculean efforts to adapt and hold everyone together in the midst of this mess. I know the same is true of teachers and health care folks. Good things are happening everywhere, but we seem to be losing our ability to see the joys as we are consumed by the struggle.
Take, for instance, our own Learning Ministry Team. By mid-summer this year, we had no learning ministry staff at all. Nada. Zip. In addition, because of the pandemic, we had no idea who the students might be or the method of teaching that might happen. Then I watched as a faithful Call Committee worked tirelessly to find the best candidate in the state to lead the Learning Team, Ellen Rothweiler. Then I watched as they took on the job of finding a Children’s Ministry Director. Whitney Ceretti, whose passion for children and commitment to the faith are astounding, became our Children’s Ministry Director. Then, as if that was not enough, we found Kelsey Sissel to be the administrative anchor to the team. In the weeks (yes, weeks) they have worked here, Confirmation, Church School, Milestones and more have been evaluated, reinvigorated, improved, and launched. All of these are beginnings and the situation is fluid, but I give thanks and rejoice at what God has done in this.
What this amazing team of people need from us is prayer, patience, and participation. They need prayers for support and prayers that open our hearts to receive their efforts. They need your patience because you can’t restructure and re-envision a whole segment of ministry on a dime. We need to let them do what we asked them to do. They need your participation because church staffs do not exist to do everything, they exist to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). My friends – YOU are the saints!
This is what anybody doing the hard work of ministry, healthcare, education, or anything else trying to do the right thing in the middle of a global health crisis needs. Prayer. Patience. Participation. What no one needs are the things that drive caring, dedicated people to throw in the towel. They do not need the frustration you feel about everything dumped on them. They do not need endless kibbitzing about how they do their jobs when they are, in fact, doing their level best – and more! They do not need crabby-pants criticism – every.single.day. I grieve the loss the church has suffered with the departure of my good and faithful colleagues who could not go another day because they lacked the prayers, patience, and participation of the people they tried to serve.
What we all need is prayer – because it is harder to yell at someone once you have genuinely prayed for them. What we all need is patience (with a healthy side of humility) because miracles sometimes take time. Neither spiritual leadership, health care, or education are consumer products – like buying the Whopper “your way” at Burger King. What we all need is participation so that we are part of solutions, not just harpies getting in the way and eroding the strength of those carrying the load.
I have to say that I have been privileged throughout this pandemic to work with and watch the work done by amazing people. To name just a few things:
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor