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No Pastor, Everything Hasn’t Changed

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Not only does the average person feel like the world today has turned upside down, so do many pastors.

In fact, pastors have been so deeply impacted by the global pandemic, civil unrest, and other changes happening in our society that a multitude of them are thinking about quitting vocational ministry altogether (check out this post by Thom Rainer on this subject). Scott Free Clinic is seeing the need for Pastor Care services reach record levels. Church leaders are confused, frightened, stressed, anxious, and battling depression at record numbers.

While for pastors it might feel like “everything has changed,” it’s critically important for church leaders to grasp that what is important for leading the church today hasn’t changed. Circumstances have changed — some of them enormously so! — but “circumstances” are always changing!

What matters most for leading and serving in a church hasn’t changed in any way. Those things are:

    • Jesus Christ, who is unchanging, remains the one foundation for the church. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have — Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 3:11“Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself,” Ephesians 2:20“Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything,” Colossians 1:18“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” Hebrews 13:8.
    • Our primary tool for leading in the church – the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — hasn’t changed. “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation,” 2 Corinthians 5:18-19“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work,” 2 Timothy 3:16-17“As the Scriptures say, ‘People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever,’” 1 Peter 1:24-25.
    • The power of prayer, and our ability to come before God in prayer at any time, hasn’t changed. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results,” James 5:16“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most,” Hebrews 4:14-16“Never stop praying,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
    • We can still seek and receive wisdom from God. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking,” James 1:5.
    • Remember and rely on the faithfulness of God. “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one,” 2 Thessalonians 3:3.
    • The indwelling presence, power, and direction of the Holy Spirit. “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you,” John 14:15-17“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit,” Romans 15:13.

So remember, pastor, that while circumstances have changed (and still are!), what is essential for leading and serving in the church has not changed. What is needed is wisdom for knowing how to minister in changing times. Here are a few things you might find helpful:

    • Be aware of how changing circumstances are impacting your congregation and the community. They’re being impacted spiritually. With the onset of the pandemic, many believers as well as people who usually don’t attend church flocked to watch the livestreaming of church services online. But that skyrocketing viewership has been declining. New surveys report as many as one-third of previous church attenders have tuned out of watching church online altogether, and another survey reports a decline in Bible reading among church attenders. How, then, are Christians dealing with the pandemic? A new study says the most popular way is by watching TV and streaming movies online. The pandemic has also significantly exacerbated a pre-existing mental health crisis; there has been a steep increase in the number of people reporting mental health issues such as severe stress, chronic anxiety, clinical depression, disturbed sleep patterns, and more. Relationships have also been impacted as seen in an increase martial and family conflict and abuse. Not everyone is reeling from the changes; some people have experienced little change from the pandemic other than perhaps working from home and having more time together as couples and families and are doing well with that. Pastors need to assess the overall impact of change in the lives of their church members and in their communities.
    • Don’t be afraid to explore with new and different tools and technologies for ministry. Prior to the pandemic, some churches still did not have websites. Many pastors only trifled sloppily with social media, and only some were doing anything with technology like live streaming services or producing podcasts. Now, these and other things are increasingly important tools and technologies for ministering both to congregations and to unbelievers. The need for new tools and technologies won’t disappear once the pandemic is over; church leaders need to make time to explore the tools and technologies available for ministry and adopt those that can be useful and effective.
    • Learn new skills. Adopting new tools and technologies for effective ministry now and the immediate future may require pastors to learn new skills. If so, make learning what you need to learn a priority! As a pastor, you’ve likely already known that being a lifelong student is essential for a pastor; you need to keep learning to be an effective leader and teacher. But staying on top of developing new skills as needed as circumstances change is also critically important to keep you equipped to serve in the most effective way possible.
    • Adjust staffing as needed. Depending on the size of your congregation, you may need to reassess how you are staffing your church. New positions and/or greater financial commitment to staffing for communication, website, video, pastoral care, and other areas may be needed to adjust to changing ministry needs.
    • Learn to delegate. Too many pastors are poor at delegating. One lesson from the pandemic being driven home harshly for some church leaders is that you NEED to rely on help from others. Leading and serving a congregation was never supposed to be a one-man job! If you haven’t already, now is the time to learn to delegate and further develop in your congregation the “ministry of all believers.”

It can be reassuring for pastors to know not everything has changed. What is essential for ministry remains the same, and that can be an anchor of peace for pastors. But circumstances have changed, are changing, and will continue to change. Understand their impact, explore what tools and technologies are available to help you make needed changes, develop any new skills needed, adjust staffing to meet changing needs, and learn to delegate and serve with others than trying to do too much by yourself.

This article originally appeared here.

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Dr. James Scott, Jr., is a minister, former church planter, Christian clinical therapist, certified Personal Trainer, and author. He currently serves as Founder and President of Scott Free Clinic, an international parachurch ministry. Follow him at ScottFreeClinic.org.