This last Sunday was our last one in full lockdown mode. As of next week, we will be allowed to meet together again. Not properly, of course, just in the kind of way we were doing before this four week full-scale lockdown was imposed upon us.
No doubt some of us will be in a position to re-open, while others of us will need a bit longer to get ourselves sorted. Some of us have congregations able to meet whereas others will have particularly vulnerable congregations, most of whom still won’t be able to attend. As ever, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these things. Let each one be convinced in his own mind.
But whenever there is some change on the cards, questions of what we ought to be doing inevitably rear their head. Do we need to do X because another church in our network was doing it? Others aren’t doing Y, but it feels like that is something we should be doing. Questions abound.
But it seems to me that we don’t need to be doing stuff just because. Much of our response to the pandemic (from a church POV) seems to rest on the principle that we ought to do something. We *must* live stream because that seems to be what everyone else is doing. We *must* start increasing our online content because that’s what others have done. We *must* do, or not do, a whole host of things (apparently) and a lot of it seems driven by what everybody else is doing.
Many pastors reported growing stress levels during the pandemic. Much of this will be down to learning new tech and gaining new skills with minimal support. But some of it will also be driven (including some of the need for new tech and skills) by a general feeling that we ought to do this because everyone else is despite feeling entirely ill-equipped to do it or our context not being geared up for it.
Whilst there is a lot of stuff I have been able to pick up myself, I am sure there is lots of stuff we are doing – that we wouldn’t otherwise have done – simply because we have a second worker in a position to do it. But I am also sure there is lots more we could do – that we aren’t doing – if we had more (or different) personnel with the skills, aptitude and foresight to do them. But, of course, we don’t. And that’s fine. God has given us whom he has given us and we can do (or, not do, as the case may be) what we’re able as a result.
Even where we are in a position to do certain things, let’s be honest, the pressure to continue doing them post-lockdown is unlikely to go away. If there is one thing that churches specialise in, it is being most unhappy when anything that was running suddenly doesn’t anymore. I remember one pastor wryly saying, ‘the fastest way to increase support for any dying ministry is to threaten to close it down.’ Whilst we might have the capacity to take things on when our calendar got wiped, as things begin to kick back in, those additional things we managed in the midst of lockdown may suddenly become quite pressured as the regular fixtures begin in earnest.
In many ways, this is just a timely call to ensure that your ministry is sustainable. As things begin to ramp back up, we need to make sure that what we have taken on in lockdown doesn’t tip us over the edge when we get back to some level of normality. We perhaps need to ask ourselves whether what was happening in lockdown – or, the harder question still, what was happening prior to lockdown in our usual ministry – necessarily needs to continue once we’re out of it.
But I am not just talking about sustainability for the long-term, though that is an important thing to bear in mind. I am really talking about what we are doing now. Are we trying to keep up with the Joneses? Are we biting off more than we can chew because everybody else is doing it? The bottom line is, you don’t have to do all that stuff. You don’t have to get to grips with making fancy videos, creating virtual services and curating playlists. These might be good things to do, but nobody has to do them. The Lord Jesus did not send out the Apostles with iPhones and laptops. These did not constitute part of his teaching that was to be passed; teaching them to observe everything I have taught you about editing media files and lo, my YouTube instructional videos will be with you, even to the end of your internet connection. It’s just not there.
The Lord Jesus calls us to shepherd the flock under our care. Live streams and online content might be a good way to do some of that. But there can be no doubt it is not an essential way to do that. It is not a necessary means the Lord has given us. If it is beyond your capacity, if it is beyond your skill set, you don’t have to do it. Give yourself a break. What is more glorifying to God, you eventually burning out because you killed yourself learning how to make cool apologetic videos that were watched by half a dozen people and a cat; or, you not doing that, not stressing out to the point of illness, not neglecting any specific command of the Lord and your church still having a functioning pastor as a result? Given none of these things are demanded of us by the Lord, don’t flog yourself to the point of despair and burnout worrying about them.
The fact is, the Lord is far bigger than all that. He sovereignly placed you (and me) in the churches he did with the people he has given us and the specific limitations we all have. If we don’t have the skills to do it, the Lord has sovereignly ordained that. As he hasn’t demanded that we do any of them in his Word, he can’t be overly troubled about our not doing them.
If you’re able and you think it is useful in your context; great! Have at it. That is precisely what we have done. We reckon we had the skills and the personnel to make it happen and nobody is stressing about it. But if that’s not your situation, have a day off, take a break, don’t force yourself into doing what everybody else is doing because it feels like you should even though the Lord hasn’t asked you to do it. You are worth more to your church functioning as a pastor post-lockdown than you are as a video producer who learnt to edit some low-grade films on your mobile. Let’s get it all in perspective and give ourselves a break, eh?