4 Surprising Ways to Cheer Your Covid-stressed Pastor

Christopher Ash | September 29th 2020

Some while ago I wrote a short blog about how to put a spring in the step of your pastor. Here is a Covid update. How about this for four ways to cheer your pastor in these pandemic days? Each arises partly out of conversations I have had with pastor friends.

1. Belong – really belong! – to your church fellowship.

The command not to neglect to meet together was given to Christians suffering from pressure and persecution (Hebrews 10:24, 25). A pastor friend commented to me that there is some similarity with the Covid-19 difficulties. For different reasons we may feel reluctant to meet with our brothers and sisters in Christ. He commented that, in the church he serves, there are three groups. Quite a few are coming to church (which is wonderful – albeit odd with social distance, masks, and no singing). Then there’s a second group who have genuine medical reasons to stay at home and join online. So far, so good. But there’s a third group who could come to church but don’t. Those are the ones he is worried about. I think he is right.

The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read

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Caring for your pastor and the difference it makes.

Never has church shopping and church hopping been so easy. Where shall I tune in this Sunday? With one click I can “join” whatever church seems to me to offer the best “product” to meet my needs. Except that I am not joining, not in any substantial or relational sense. I am tuning in; but I am not committing to this particular fellowship of brothers and sisters, all of us struggling to go on believing in Jesus and to persevere in obedient faith. Not at all; I am shopping around for whatever takes my fancy, for whoever lays on the best show, with the music that suits my taste and the preaching I enjoy. It’s not so very different from browsing Netflix.

Pastors are sometimes a little encouraged to know how many “hits” their church livestream gets. But they are not very encouraged. Because they are savvy enough to know that a “hit” doesn’t necessarily mean commitment. Never has it been more important really to belong. I think that means that, when a church is able to begin again meeting in person, you and I should be really keen to be there, in person, if we possibly can. 

I’m so glad to belong to a church where people are so keen to meet in person that the building is oversubscribed and we have to sign up and hope to get a place. I’m glad to belong to a church where people – including some of my generation and older – genuinely believe that to die is to be with Christ, which is better by far.

"So let’s learn forbearance. When your church leadership have made a decision, abide by it even – especially – when you would have chosen differently."

2. Maintain the unity of the Spirit by forbearance with your fellow-believers, even when it doesn’t suit you.

It’s very interesting that James finds it necessary – when writing to Christians under pressure – to warn them, “Do not grumble against one another” (James 5:9). Pressure does that. It can divide a church. Covid pressures are not persecution; but many pastors struggle with the divisions they are experiencing.

Pastor after pastor says they are struggling to hold a church together in unity. Just as responses to the pandemic divide society deeply, so they divide churches, sometimes bitterly, with some really keen to be braver and more adventurous (within the government rules) and others desperately cautious. Ministers have to lead a church through all this, holding together different opinions as to how to do things, what “unlocking” might mean, which music to have and how, what to do in person, what by zoom, and what by livestream, and so on. Sometimes it feels as though there are as many opinions as there are church members. And it’s hard to feel that – as the pastor – you are the pressure point where all these opinions clash.

So let’s learn forbearance. When your church leadership have made a decision, abide by it even – especially – when you would have chosen differently. Abide gladly, loyally, cheerfully, willingly. The unity of the church fellowship is a lot more important than what suits me. In one of the great understatements of Scripture, Paul says, “Christ did not please himself” (Romans 15:3); we are called to walk in his footsteps.

3. Take more trouble than usual to tell your pastor when you need help.

Our pastors are called to keep watch over our souls (Hebrews 13:17). In normal days, they will watch us lovingly, on Sundays and at church meetings. They will likely notice your slumped body language, or some tell-tale signs that things are not right. You will feel a gentle tap on the shoulder and hear a quiet word of support as they seek to counsel you with the word of God, to pray for you, to encourage you in faith.

"Don’t hesitate to message them. It’s a mistake to feel that they will resent this. Not at all. They will be thankful you care enough about your walk with Jesus to ask for help"

In normal times. But these are not normal times. It’s really hard for them. A rectangle on zoom is very hard to read for those unspoken signals that something is wrong. You can help by reaching out to your pastors for help when you need it, before the crisis breaks. Talk to them. Don’t hesitate to message them. It’s a mistake to feel that they will resent this. Not at all. They will be thankful you care enough about your walk with Jesus to ask for help – with a troubled marriage, with redundancy, with troubled teenagers, with mental health challenges, with doubts, with sad falls into sinful habits. Whatever it is, talk to them. They will be so glad to be asked for help. They really will.

4. Be intentional about encouraging your pastor.

I guess that on a normal Sunday (for example) you are the kind of thankful Christian who takes the time to say an encouraging word to the pastor after church, a thank you for something you found helpful in a sermon, gratitude for how they led the meeting, a word of appreciations to the musicians, or whatever or whoever it might be. I assume that is you. I certainly hope so.

Now, however, you have fewer opportunities to say those brief words of encouragement. So take the trouble still to say them, even though it takes a little more time. To be honest, it doesn’t take a lot more time to send a three line message of thanks. Make it brief, keep it thankful, make sure they know it doesn’t need an answer. It will cheer them out of all proportion to the time it takes. 

Christopher Ash is the author of The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask) in which he encourages us to remember that pastors are people and to pray for them as they serve us. Between now and the end of October we’re offering this at a special discount price of £4, or get it for just £2 when you buy it as an add-on item with any other book or resource.

Christopher Ash

Christopher Ash has been a pastor, and is now an author and writer-in-residence at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He was Director of the Proclamation Trust’s Cornhill Training Course from 2004-2015. He is married to Carolyn and they have four children and seven grandchildren.

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