Warren Lathem is a retired pastor and District Superintendent from North Georgia Annual Conference. This piece, which he posted on his Facebook page and gave me permission to share, gives insight into how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting pastors and how laity can come along side pastors/clergy families. I hope my sharing this doesn't come off as needy or self-indulgent. Everyone is impacted by this crisis. But I also know that many clergy I'm talking to are really struggling. I'm sharing this to encourage you to pray for pastors/church staff and their families along with all of the medical personnel, funeral directors, and first responders. Blessings and peace, Beth Ann Cook
By Warren Lathem
This Covid-19 Crisis has implications for everyone, especially healthcare workers. But there is also a significant impact on pastors. I don’t know anything about healthcare, but I do know a little about pastors. I know some nurses, but I know virtually nothing about their lives and the stress they feel. You may know a pastor, but the chances are you cannot know what they are experiencing. So I will just list some of the things your pastor is dealing with right now. 1. Preaching is the #1 reason most of us are pastors. We do everything else in order to get to preach. Preaching into a camera is good, but not great. We relish in the response from the listeners while we are preaching. We watch for signals. In some UM churches we have to be mind readers to judge response! But we do. The camera gives no response, making preaching much harder. When I was 19 I was preaching on the radio, standing in a sound booth preaching to a wall. That is what your preacher is facing today. Don’t underestimate the difficulty or the stress. 2. Pastoral care. We are wired to be caring people. Folks are struggling in the churches. There are the normal pastoral care issues such as sickness, hospitalization, death and grief, weddings, births, marital issues, addictions, etc. Add to those the Covid-19 issues and a pastor is forced into self isolation. No way to hold a hand and pray. Yes, technology is wonderful, but is a very poor substitute. 3. Finances. Many folks don’t give unless they attend worship. Further, a lot of folks have little or no income, therefore no giving. Most churches live on very little margin. They live on cash flow. Even if they have reserves, they are often designated and can’t be accessed for salaries, etc. When finances get bad in the church, church folks can turn really ugly and the easiest target to blame is the pastor, and every pastor understands this. If they have much experience, they have experienced this viciousness. 4. All plans are put in jeopardy. Often adding a staff member requires 6-18 months of planning, fund-raising, etc. This crisis puts any plans at risk, not just staffing plans. What will be possible after this crisis? No one knows and churches look to pastors to have answers. 5. Technology. A few larger churches have tech teams to do the background production work to get the pastor’s sermon on YouTube or Livestream. A few pastors of smaller churches have ventured into this arena already. However, most pastors had a few days notice and were expected to produce Hollywood quality virtual worship. Don’t think for a minute parishioners are not comparing the video of their pastor with that of Andy Stanley. Pastors know this. So they are scurrying to use an iPhone in an empty office to provide a quality experience. Add to this having to master Zoom (or another medium) meetings, Bible Studies, Prayer Meetings, Committee Meetings and the stress starts to climb into danger zones. 6. Judicatory or denominational issues. It is a crazy time in our UMC and in many other churches. There is a huge amount of uncertainty, even fear and conflict with those higher up the food chain. So many of the things that in the past were nailed down are coming loose or have already come loose. Agenda driven leaders using the power of the position create even more fear and anxiety. Trust is lower than I have ever seen in 48 years of ministry. Do not minimize this for your pastors. Their concern is for their churches, their denomination, their friendships, their own livelihood. You can spiritualize this and say pastors should not be concerned with these things. You may be right. But we pastors are people too. 7. Organizing network worship. House Church is the only way to have worship today. How can the pastor organize this and enhance it in his or her parish? Most have no experience in this and are now expected to be experts. And there are items 8, 9, 10 that others can write about. What can you do? Pray for your pastor. Make it a priority. 1.Pray for their strength, peace, growth in grace, provision. Send them a note or a text message. 2. Record a video of your family in worship praying for them. 3. Double your giving, if possible during this crisis. (Note from Beth Ann Cook. I assume Warren means this for those whose income is continuing as normal during this time. This would help make up for those who are furloughed/laid off. I don't want you to think I'm pressuring those who are unable to give or unable to give as much.) 4. Stop the gossip. When someone starts criticizing and complaining, stop it. Be brave. Have courage. Confront the naysayers. 5. Be the pastor to your family. Prioritize worship. We worship each night at 7 in concert with our churches in Venezuela. It is a priority. Make it so in your house. Share with your pastor what a blessing it is to you and your family. 6. Contact old, shut in, sick or lonely members. Do congregational care. Then inform your pastor what you have done. 7. Love your preacher. Watch the videos or live-streaming he or she creates. Encourage them. Share the videos. Comment. Engage. Finally, this is a tough time for everyone. You can ease the stress on your pastor. Do it. Oh, maybe take them a casserole. I’m a Methodist!
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