Dear MCECR Pastors and Leaders,
Let me begin by thanking all of you for seeking out God’s desire for your local church family in this challenging time and then working diligently to implement His plan in your local context. In the past month, I’ve understood that all of our churches have returned to some sort of on-site public worship service gathering, while many continue to offer on-line opportunities for those who are unable or not comfortable with returning to public worship gatherings. Again, I appreciate all the effort and energy you have invested in adjusting to the virus disruptions. Now, I encourage you to continue to “think forward” in preparation for the possibilities to come in the next several months.
1. Be sure as leaders to acknowledge and monitor your stress! The dramatic changes of the past several months have proven to be a major stress challenge for some church pastors and leaders. As I share with denominational and other regional leaders and read information shared by other national church sources, it is clear that the pressure of abruptly shutting down public services, developing digital options, wrestling with how and when to restart public services, continued conflict between congregation members about the “right” way to do that, financial concerns, pastoral care connection difficulties, and the like are taxing our personal, emotional, and spiritual resources as leaders. I have written a newsletter article to inform our congregations to be aware of the fact that pastors and leaders are increasingly using words like “depleted,” “fatigued,” and “stressed” to describe themselves, and local congregants need to pray for and encourage their leaders during this time. For you as leaders, I ask that you monitor carefully your personal health and energy levels and take time as needed to recharge, and I ask church lay leaders to make sure they are assisting the pastor in making that time available. Here is a quick link to an article that offers some quick practical steps: http://chucklawless.com/2020/06/8-suggestions-for-weary-pastors-and-church-leaders/?fbclid=IwAR0vWe6FqpBEZcS1FJuput8XaZsiA86jyMYX8-o0TqV8hKvLRMJW-3qlbx0. Further, the denomination is offering free “Pastor Well” memberships to all senior pastors. This national organization focuses on pastoral emotional and spiritual health, and even offers free confidential professional counseling services—I urge you to check out the denominational website for details on how to sign up for that free year of support.
2. Keep planning ahead. As the COVID-19 landscape continues to change and develop, I recommend you sit down together with your church leadership teams to discuss contingency plans in the event state authorities choose to return to a more strict lock down stance. I realize Godly people continue to hold strong and sometimes conflicting convictions about best practices in the midst of this virus pandemic, and I am not seeking to legislate any particular approach. Rather, given the fact that so far experts have not been able to assert with confidence that we are “out of the woods” with this virus situation, wisdom suggests we as leaders “pre-think” together about steps we sense God would have us take in our local churches in the event Ohio chooses to recommend new restrictions in the future. It may prove to not be necessary, but discussing our potential response ahead of time might reduce the chance of being caught unprepared.
A suggestion I heard recently that ties into such a discussion is reframing the language we use in discussing our COVID-19 responses moving forward. In these past several months, we have heard much about “closing” our churches, then “reopening” our churches. While I understand how that language came to be, I’m not sure it’s Biblically accurate. After all, the “church” is the people of God, and “people” can’t be opened or closed. An alternative would be to focus more on how God has provided new venues for the expression of our church identity. The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed many of us to develop a multi-site approach—our congregations are presently gathering together in worship services in our buildings, but they have also now have opportunity to gather together in worship digitally via livestreaming and internet access. I believe it is an accurate and valuable distinction to suggest that in the event state restrictions were imposed again at a more strict level, we would not be “re-closing the church” should our local leadership team feel led to limit public gatherings. Instead, we would be emphasizing our other multi-site option for gathering, the digital one, while our public worship gathering venue is limited in some way. Just “food for thought” as you seek God’s direction moving forward.
I continue to pray for God to give you leaders great wisdom on how to best care for your congregation and continue to advance God’s Kingdom priorities in this unprecedented situation. Let us know how we might assist, and blessings as you seek and serve Jesus.
Jeff Kephart, MCECR Director