Category Archives: covid

Five Things to Consider This Christmas

Dear Pastors and Church Leaders,

How are you doing…really?

If you are like most pastors and church leaders these days, the longevity of this season of change, division, lack of volunteers, decrease in giving, etc. has depleted your limited reserves and you are past empty.

Covid has taken its overpriced toll and you are not alone.  According to Barna Research, 38% of US pastors (it is probably the same in Canada) have seriously thought about quitting (an increase from earlier in 2021). https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being

As we enter our second Covid Christmas, I want to offer five things to consider as encouragement and advice for both your soul and your ministry:


Take Time to Disentangle Your Life from Your Ministry

The pandemic has been an accelerator and amplifier.  It has accelerated change and amplified challenges.  One of the challenges for pastors that has been amplified is ministry entanglement.  It is understandably hard for pastors to separate their ministry from their marriage, friends, family, personal life, etc.  They are by nature interconnected and intertwined.  Thus, when there are stresses and challenges in ministry, it can suffocate the other areas of their lives.  In fact, the very challenges Covid has amplified (feeling disconnected, incompetent, and beat up from division and hurting people) may be strangling the life and joy out of you and making you feel increasingly isolated and alone.

When you are being suffocated by ministry entanglement, it is not a simple task to disentangle yourself and begin to breathe again.  It is a complicated web, formed over time and tied in knots by lies regarding your identity.  It is possible to untangle yourself, but it is not easy.  Like all knots, the first thing to do when you look to untangle them is to find the ends.  One way to do this is by creating an identity statement that states who you are separate from what you do and your role as a pastor.  Write a paragraph statement that you can read daily as a reminder of what your life is supposed to look like when untangled from what you do.  Second, create a relationship inventory to see gaps in your relationships and discover how many of them are personal over professional (ministry-related).  It is vital to have relationships that exist outside of what do you and feed into who you are apart from your ministry role.  Thirdly, you will need help.  These kinds of knots can’t be undone alone, and you need the help of a trusted friend and/or counsellor to guide you.  Finally, begin to rediscover joy in life by intentionally doing things you enjoy (or if it has been a while, things you once enjoyed) with people you enjoy, seeking to laugh each day (with the goal to laugh so much it hurts once a week) and embrace God’s gift of fun.

Embrace Neo-nostalgia this Christmas

As you lead your church this Christmas, embrace the new and creative but do it with a sense of traditional nostalgia this Christmas.  Embrace the traditions of your church, sing classic Christmas songs, light lots of candles, and embrace the familiar.  There is comfort in familiarity and this Christmas I sense people need the grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soap-on-a-rainy-day-Christmas over the hyper-creative-gourmet-meal that sees familiarity as the enemy.  Take a new spin on traditional (the neo of the neo-nostalgia) but embrace the familiar rather than shy away from it.

Personalize Care this Christmas

If it has been a while since you have checked in with your congregation, now is the time to personalize care again.  Make phone calls, do creative deliveries, mail personalized notes, etc.  Every church context is different, but regardless of your context or church size find a way to personally care this Christmas.  In a season of disconnection, these connection points (although taxing for you, your staff, and your congregational care team) are the lifeline for your church family. 

Be Flexible and Have Backup Plans

This should be second nature by now, but whatever you do, don’t put all your eggs in one regather basket.  Every jurisdiction is different, but it is key to have backup plans for your backup plans.  Covid can change in an instant and having a way to move online or that allows for more people to gather in person is key to adjusting in this season.  Having alternative plans is a little more work upfront but it can reduce stress and anxiety for you and your team, allowing for quick and effective pivots if needed.

Keep Going!

In every pastoral coaching call I do, every pastoral ministry class I teach, and pastor group I speak to, I end with an encouragement to “Keep going!”  Covid has been a leadership marathon, and, like all marathons, the runners don’t need cheers at the beginning of the race.  Rather, the runners need it most as they approach the “runner’s wall” when the impulse to quit and give up is at its peak.  It is exactly at this point that they need to be reminded that a breakthrough is coming and that things are better than they appear.  I sense we are approaching the wall and as we do, we are also at our most vulnerable to despair and hopelessness.

Maybe this Christmas is the pastoral ministry wall for you.  If so, I want you to hear me, and many others who are cheering you on.

You can do it!

Don’t give up!

Keep going!

It is worth it!

Jesus is worth it!

PLOD: Encouragement and Advice for Pastors in the Fourth Wave

As we enter the fourth wave of Covid and press into the fall ministry season, I want to offer some words of encouragement and some practical advice.  To do so, let me share a very old hymn by AB Simpson, Plod.

This hymn embodies great advice in our current ministry climate.  In a season where you are trying to figure out what ministry looks like in constantly changing restrictions, hybrid (in-person and online) formats, digital fatigue, divided churches (over Covid and vaccines), and empty seats (most churches I know are running at a fraction of pre-Covid in-person attendance), it can be hard to know what to do and one can easily become disoriented and discouraged.

I want to suggest a simple course of action from the old hymn, Plod.  Plodding may sound strange and even defeatist in a social media and success-driven culture that compulsively celebrates “amazing.”  We are used to hearing triumphant leadership advice that promised to skyrocket your success and effectiveness.   In contrast, perhaps God is calling us to unfettered faithfulness.  A faithfulness in our calling as pastors to pray diligently, preach the gospel in season and out of season, attentively care for people without expectation, and regularly offer the sacraments.  What if this faithful persistence to our calling is the main thing to focus on in a season like this, trusting that fruitfulness (whatever and whenever God determines that to be) will result? 

It may seem glib and defeatist to some, but God is calling us to plod.  Not in a defeated acceptance of seeming ineffectiveness but in faithful service to our King and our calling, regardless of immediate reward.

Now…the temptation in a post like this is to end with a triumphant declaration that victory will come, that the night always precedes the dawn, and that “success” is right around the corner.  Perhaps!  But…what if it isn’t?  Is Jesus still enough?  Is faithfulness to the King and His Kingdom worthy of my life regardless of accolades or perceived “success?”  The answer of course is “yes” and maybe the unexpected gift of this season is a sifted view of success that elevates faithfulness and fruitfulness over effectiveness and success in our lives and ministries.

As you endure the fourth wave, embrace faithfulness for, in the words of AB Simpson, “Plod will win the day.”

A Fourth Wave Prayer for Pastors

Loving Father,

As the Psalmist invites us, we enter your courts with thanksgiving. However, if we are honest, we also enter your courts exhausted and with a limp.  This season has been hard.  This fourth wave and its restrictions (including people’s reactions to them) will be the most challenging yet.  Although the previous waves were difficult, many of us felt like we got a glimpse of momentum over the last couple of weeks only to have it eclipsed by recent (needed) public health measures.  Although we may understand the importance of these measures as we partner with other sectors of society (loving our neighbours in the process), it doesn’t make it easy.

As shepherds and leaders of your flock, many of our people are tired, frustrated, anxious, and stressed.  We have healthcare workers who are exhausted, business owners who are devastated, parents who are stressed, and others who are extremely angry at the government and their decisions (some believing they didn’t do enough early enough and others believing that they are doing too much).  We need your wisdom, strength, and resolve to lead our hurting, diverse, and, at times, divided and disgruntled congregations. 

Therefore, as we lead through the fourth wave of Covid, may you grant us…

Persistence like Noah, who built an ark while enduring ridicule and abandonment of others. 

Faith like Abraham, who despite not seeing any sign of hope, trusted in you. 

Resolve like Moses, who led your people out of slavery only to have them grumble and complain the entire way. 

Ears like Elijah, who heard your voice not in the earthquake and wind, but in the still small voice. 

Heart like David, who, although deeply flawed and riddled with errors of judgement, sought after you. May we have the humility to regularly ask you to search our hearts and test our motives so we never confuse leadership resolve with prideful arrogance.

Peace like Silas, who was able to sleep in a prison cell while facing a very uncertain future. 

Trust like Paul, who led some of the most dysfunctional churches in history and did it with eyes firmly fixed on you.  May we have an abiding trust in you as we lead our churches in a way that decouples our identity from their “success.”

Jesus, you are the head of the Church and so we rest in your leadership, goodness, and grace.  If the last twenty months have taught us anything, you are good and you will see us through! Therefore, lead us into the future with persistence, faith, resolve, listening ears, soft hearts, supernatural peace, and abiding trust.

You have called us, you are faithful, and you will do it (1 Thess. 5:24)!

In your glorious name, Amen!

The Fog of Fall

The church has historically used a boat metaphor to help understand itself and its purpose (I use this image extensively in my book, Expedition: Following Jesus on a Mast-Raising, Sail-Setting, and Treasure-Seeking Journey to the Ends of the Earth).  As the church charts its way into the fall, it is heading into a fog.  There are so many unknowns and all the landmarks that we trusted to navigate have been obscured by the fog of the unknown.  This is disorientating but it can also be frightening.

Navigating a naval vessel in the fog is not for the faint of heart.  It demands unique skills and nautical practices.  One must use foghorns to announce one’s presence to other vessels and, conversely, carefully listen for others to sound off on their location.  One would also dispatch lookouts with sharp wits, focused eyes, and keen ears. 

This is what the fall will feel like for ministry leaders.  The fourth wave of Covid has created a fog and blinded us to many of the things we have relied on to navigate safely in ministry’s waters.  We once relied on casual foyer conversation to help us gauge how people were doing.  We once relied on in-person attendance to measure how the church was doing corporately and how people were doing individually.  These trusted symbols of success (as problematic as they were) have been overshadowed and made obsolete by the settling of Covid’s fog, obscuring our finely tuned leadership senses and making us feel vulnerable and confused.

As you lead into the fog, I want to encourage you to not lose heart.  Because you can’t see people, it doesn’t mean they are not tracking with you.  Because the church can’t gather in person, it doesn’t mean people aren’t gathering with you online in some way.  Because you don’t hear constant feedback or engage in casual in-person conversations, doesn’t mean you are not being effective.  Because you don’t feel like you are being effective, it doesn’t mean you are failing and, more importantly, faithfulness always trumps effectiveness anyway!

As you lead into the fog, I also want to encourage you to deploy the crew and loudly blow the foghorn for your congregation.  This is a season to be calling and connecting with your people by checking in.  People are afraid, frustrated, and feeling disconnected.  Blow the foghorn frequently and often.  Also, blow your foghorn in your community.  Embrace this season as an opportunity to serve and care for the community/neighbourhood/region God has placed your church in.  If you struggled with ways of letting your community know you are there for them, this is the time to find new and creative ways of caring (care for long term care home residents, health care workers, teachers, single mothers trying to navigate a global pandemic alone, etc.) and serving your community.

As you lead into the fog, rely on your maps and instruments.  Get back to the basics in ministry.  If there was ever an opportunity to reset our churches on the fundamentals of what we are called to do, now is the time.  Whatever the method, the mission and ministry of the church have always included the markers of sacraments, proclamation, service, worship, and community.  Whether in-person or online, and however one approaches their programs and church structure, these are the historic markers of the church.  Get back to the basics and rest in God’s boundless goodness and exuberant grace.

When the fog sets in, so does fear.  We fear the unknown.  We fear not being able to see.  We fear vulnerability.  However, in the obscurity of the fog, we also begin to rely on our other senses; our other senses heighten in the shadow of the fog.  Thus, when you can’t see, listen.  When we can’t see the future with predictability, listen for Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is leading us (John 10:27).  Maybe one of the unforeseen gifts of this season is the tuning of our lives to the melodious voice of Jesus who, like all shepherds, leads with His voice.  Maybe we have become so accustomed to relying on our eyes in ministry that we have forgotten the call to listen and know the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him.

Although the fog has set in, it won’t last forever.  Press in, press on, and have hope.  Although the future may be obscured by the fog, our captain (King Jesus) knows the way and He will lead us through it. 

Keep going, keep leading, and, above all, be faithful.

As 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Keep Calm and Lead On

Dear Church Leader,

As we enter the final weeks of summer and prepare for the unknown of fall, there is an often-ignored leadership competency that is vital in this season.  It is the unappreciated ability to keep calm and lead on.”

We are about to approach the most volatile of ministry seasons.  Last year was difficult with lockdowns and restrictions but this year will be uniquely challenging with variants, increased restrictions, amplified polarization, unknown post-pandemic engagement/attendance patterns, and an overall fatigue in everyone, everywhere.

This bitter cocktail of uncertainly and weariness has created a reflux of anxiety and a tendency towards either willful ignorance or fear-filled reaction.  In seasons like this, a crucial leadership competency is the ability to lead humbly, calmly, and steadily with thoughtful deliberate action.

In every nautical adventure movie, there is a climactic scene where the ship is on a catastrophic trajectory (causing great anxiety and fear in the crew) and an abrupt maneuver is needed to avoid calamity (a torpedo is inbound, or a collision is imminent).  In these scenes, the crew is frantic and wanting to impulsively act but the captain knows it is not the right time.  Decisive action is needed but if the action happens too early or if the wrong action is taken, the ship will be in great peril. 

Calm, steady, and humble leadership is needed in times like this.  If you lead with anxiety and fear, you will react rather than respond.  If you lead with prideful arrogance, you will miss important information and make poor impulsive decisions.  Instead, keep calm and lead on.

As you desire to calmly lead in this season, here are three ways to do so from 1 Peter 5:1-11.

First, be humble and honest.  It is healthy to be appropriately transparent with your team about the uncertainty ahead.  Lead your team not from your uncertainty but from your humility, casting ALL your cares on God.  Lead with faith over fear.  Faith doesn’t blind us to the obstacles or challenges; rather, it changes the focal point.  Faith acknowledges the uncertainty while simultaneously focusing our attention on Jesus and His sovereignty.

Second, be alert and of sober mind.  As a church leader, you will be tempted to act based on how you feel and sense things to be.  Beware the danger of uncalibrated perceptions. In this season, all the feedback signals and effectiveness gauges that we grew accustomed to using and trusting have been disrupted.  As a result, you can’t fully trust your gauges.  How you sense things are may not be an accurate representation of reality.

Finally, be reminded that Jesus is on His eternal glorious throne.  Jesus is building His Church (even if we can’t see it, feel it, or quantify it), and He (the Chief Shepherd) will lead us through. The fall season ahead will be uniquely difficult, but we can have hope because Jesus is with us and leading us forward!

Keep calm and lead on.