Tag Archives: pastors

An Open Letter of Encouragement to Pastors in a Pandemic

Dear Pastors in a Pandemic,

In my recent conversations with pastoral colleagues, I have sensed collective exhaustion and a shared discouragement.  As such, I wanted to write a note of encouragement to my fellow pastors as a reminder that you are not alone!

I know many of you are tired and lonely.  This has been an extremely difficult season.  Although few have seen it, you have worked long hours and carried a heavy burden.

If you are a staff pastor, there is a chance you have been temporarily or permanently laid off.  You have paid a higher price than most in this season.  I want you to know how grateful we are for your ministry even though you may not have a formal role at this time.

For other staff pastors, you may have received a salary roll back that meant real sacrifices and difficult financial decisions. You helped shoulder this season for your church.  In addition, your job description probably changed, and you now know more about Zoom and livestreaming than you could have imagined six months ago. Thank you for your perseverance, flexibility, sacrifice and faithful service to your church family.

For lead pastors, you, too, may have received a salary roll back that meant personal sacrifices. As part of all the pivots and changes, you have made difficult decisions and had hard staff conversations.  And then regathering started.  If you thought the tough part of leading in a pandemic was at the beginning and the fast ministry pivots, you are quickly learning the complicated and, sadly, contentious reality of regathering.  Sure, the PPE and requirements are difficult to understand and execute but that is not the hardest part.  Not even close.  The hardest part of regathering is leading a diverse group of people with very different options forward together.  Keeping unity in a polarized environment is not for the faint of heart.  I/we see you and say thank you for shouldering this weight of responsibility.

In addition, most pastors (even those who are introverts) have felt a profound sense of loneliness in this season.  It is hard to pastor people and lead a team when you can’t connect for the small talk that builds relational bridges and leads to community. For people whose role is dependent on relationship, this has been both professionally challenging and personally demanding.

As a result of all the above, you may be wondering: Why am I doing this?  Is it really worth it?  Why do I feel off, distant, lonely and, perhaps, unusually down and discouraged?  Why are old habits and sin patterns surfacing? What is going on?

Although there may be some temporary comfort in the fact that this difficult ministry season won’t last (a new normal will emerge), it is still real today.  Don’t ignore how you are feeling and what you are processing.  Reach out to a friend or colleague and share how you are feeling.  If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable talking with, feel free to reach out to me.  I’d be happy to just confidentially listen and pray.   I am also sure others would be more than happy to do the same.

I want you to know that we see you and are so grateful for you.  More importantly, I want you to know that Jesus sees you and is so very proud of you.  This may be an extremely hard season in your ministry career and although Jesus doesn’t promise to remove the trouble, He does say to you as He did to His disciples, “Take heart. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

May you take heart, Jesus has overcome.  May you know that you are not alone.  I am here for you, others are here for you and, most importantly, Jesus is here for you.

On mission together,

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo

It’s Time to Step Back

COVID 19 – Phase Two Continued

Part Two: Pastors, It’s Time to Step Back

In our current Covid-19 reality, the church made a fast and relatively effective transition to an exclusively online presence.  Bravo!  This is something to celebrate.

After the next several months of this new (temporary) normal, it is fair to say we will not be going back to the way things were but it also fair to say that we will not be staying where we are either.  In the wake of Covid-19, a new ministry paradigm is being conceived.  And, like all babies in the womb, the best picture that we can hope for, at this point, looks like a hazy ultrasound.

As we navigate the present with this hazy view of the future, I want to make three observations and exhortations for us in this season – all with the same refrain: “It’s time to step back!”

Step Back to Look Ahead

With all the changes, pivots, Zoom meetings, video recordings, tech manuals, etc., I think leaders are overwhelmed and exhausted.  Like all times I have been exhausted and overwhelmed, I’ve rarely made a good decision.  In these times, I know that I am prone to either keep the status quo (as ineffective as that might be) or compulsively make a bad decision (with inevitable regret). Therefore, I think it is wise for leaders to slow down, catch their breath, pray intently and purposely step back to discern the best way forward.

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

Step Back to Make Room

I want to make an observation of our collective experience in moving the church to an exclusively online presence: We did it relatively fast and efficiently, but we, largely, did it as clergy.  At Westlife, we made the assessment a couple of weeks ago that our services had become a bit of a clergy show and that is a problem. 

I get it, we needed to make a fast change, the medical risk was high and situation unknown.  I get that it was important to make the shift but now that we are settling in for a long haul of this reality, I encourage you to make an honest assessment.  How many laypeople are on your stage this Sunday and how many lay people are currently leading ministries in your church?

As we settle into this exclusive online presence, for the time being, I believe we need to embrace the mantra, “Step back and make room!”  It is time for clergy to equip the saints for works of ministry. (Ephesians 4:12) We need to graciously exit stage left and allow laypeople back to lead from the front stage. 

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

Step Back to Lead Together

As we settle into our Covid-19 world, many churches are making needed staff changes, layoffs, leadership restructuring, etc., I want to implore all leaders to step back and make room for different voices.  This is an all hands-on deck season and we need all generations to lead together.  Let’s make room at the table for each other and lead together.

Senior leaders, as we innovate and align the church for this new season, it is vital to step back and make sure you allow younger voices on the stage as you make decisions.  I am not suggesting that you are irrelevant or that you should step aside.  We need you!  I am just asking you to step back and recruit in.  Make sure you have young leaders around you who are decision-makers in influential positions.  If you are an older leader, as you restructure your team, keep and promote younger leaders and listen to them.  Do things they are suggesting that you may even question (assume your biases may be wrong).  Give them the creative license and freedom to innovate.

Younger leaders, speak up and lead.  We need you!  We don’t just need younger voices; we need younger leaders.  As you are given opportunities, press into them, give your opinions (respectfully of course) and lead up!  The church needs you and your time is now!  As you do, I would also encourage you to step back in humility, make room for and listen to the older voices who can give perspective, wisdom and seasoned advice for times like these.

Mid-season leaders, you are the bridge that is desperately needed in this season.  We need the Gen Xers now more than ever (although everyone forgets you exist – you are like the middle child of generations, often forgotten but key and important in keeping the leadership continuum alive and healthy in this season).  This is also your time to step up, bridge the gap and move the church forward.  We need you to simultaneously honour older leaders and elevate younger leaders, helping to transition the church in this challenging season for a fruitful future.  As you step up, you also need to step back and make room for both younger and older voices in the conversation, silencing the middle-child’s tendency to be overly skeptical and cynical.  The church needs you to lead and mid-season leaders play a vital role as we move into the future together.

The opportunity for the church is vast and we need all leaders to step back, providing space to lead together into the future.

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

A Hopeful Humility on the Sea of Uncertainty

Dear fellow pastors,

The ancient church used the metaphor of a boat to understand themselves and the mission of God (this metaphor is the inspiration of the free book I wrote for new believers, “Expedition: Following Jesus on a Mast-Raising, Sail-Setting and Treasure-Seeking Journey to the Ends of the Earth”).  I want to use this metaphor as an encouragement to you as we navigate these uncertain waters together.

Covid-19 has come over the horizon like a sudden storm.  We were not expecting it and we were, understandably, not prepared.  The winds of the storm have brought the rain of illness and the hail of death, but it has also brought the disorienting fog of social distancing and its implications for the life and practice of the ministries and churches we serve and lead.

This is the fog, in the sea of uncertainty, that every pastor and church leader must now navigate.  These waters are unknown and disconcerting.  We knew the water we were on before.  We had countless charts and instruments to guide us.  We understood our local boats with all of their limitations and advantages.  We were able to see and interact with our crews face-to-face regularly.  Then, suddenly, with the arrival of this storm, we have been disorientated and are now adrift on the sea of uncertainty in the fog of online ministry.

As we adjust together, I want to acknowledge our reality and shout from my boat through the dense fog, “You are not alone!” Like a giant armada of boats playing Marco Polo, I want to encourage us to call out to each other with encouragement, to actively share resources and ideas, and to collectively listen to the voice of Jesus together.

As I survey the horizon, the fog is dense.  We used to be able to see and interact with the people we serve regularly and now we have to rely on phone calls, text messages and ZOOM.  These are great tools, but it is ok to grieve the reality that these not the same as face-to-face interactions and ministry and that not everyone can use them equally.  For those whose boats (churches) are in small centers where ministry was physical and local in the community, social distance has robbed you of your ministry presence.  For those who boats (churches) are in larger centers with larger crews, your entire systems have had to be altered, reworked and resources reallocated, which is a much larger job than most realize.

As we voyage these foggy waters together, I want to remind us of a few things.  First, in times like these, no one really knows what they are doing.  Those that might blow the loudest horns, are still in the same fog that you are, they just have a bigger horn.  This is new uncharted territory.  Second, it is okay to grieve.  In the sudden leap for change, especially change that is thrust upon you, it is ok to grieve what was.  Like all grief, it takes time, and everyone processes it differently; don’t ignore grief’s process (you are probably in it).  Third, we need to “Marco Polo” our way forward together.  Find a band of fellow sailors and cheer each other on in this season.  In humility, navigate this sea together.  In humility and community, there is hope as we listen to Jesus together.  Fourth, share resources and ideas with others.  When emergencies strike, those who hoard in isolation don’t fare as well as those who network and share with others.  This principle transfers to pastors and churches in this season.  Fifth, survival is sometimes success.  Let’s not be like the rescue boat that, after months of searching, finally picks up the marooned sailor and asks him why he has repainted his damaged ship and isn’t wearing his full uniform.  Everyone’s situation is different, and these are challenging times.

Fellow pastors, let’s embrace humility together, join forces on mission and encourage each other forward.  Whether you are in a small vessel in a rural lagoon or a large aircraft carrier in an urban ocean, this season has put us all in the same fog and we need each other to navigate through it while continuing to passionately pursue our rescue mission of seeking and saving the lost (rescue boats are most needed in the storm).  Let is remind each other of what we can so easily forget in the storm, that our primary goal is not the survival of the boat but the pursuit of the mission.

Therefore, be of good courage, celebrate the good around you, show yourself (and others) lots of grace, spend more time with Jesus, love your family well, passionately pursue God’s mission and lead with boldness.  In the fog, Jesus is still calling and leading, even if we can’t clearly see Him.

May we remember and remind each other of the truth that Jesus has not abandoned ship, He will lead us and He will not fail!

Your fellow sailor and friend,

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo