By Aaron Earls
As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, church leaders face new difficulties and lingering problems.
In the latest survey, Lifeway Research identified the areas in which Protestant pastors are most likely to say they could use some support.
More than 1 in 10 pastors pointed to each of these problems as at least one of their biggest pressure points at this moment.
Pastors are facing conflicting perspectives on how best to respond to the pandemic, and many are struggling to keep their dispersed church united.
More than a quarter of pastors (27%) say they’re struggling with maintaining unity and dealing with conflict or complaints.
“My people are in very different places regarding the virus. Some are losing patience and want to get on with normal life with little regard for the potential consequences,” said one pastor.
“Others are still practicing extreme social distancing and are having a tough time understanding others who are not taking this as seriously as they are.”
Another said, “I’m aware that people are growing weary of the entire pandemic. Some are scared to death, while others are convinced it’s a hoax. Trying to minister to both ends of the spectrum is exhausting.”
Pastoral care from a distance
As social distancing measures continue, pastors are still working through how to care for their members when they cannot be with them physically.
For 17%, this is a pressure point in their ministry right now.
“Connecting with people is still a struggle. It’s tough to reach out to folks at the time they want, especially with hospitals still limiting visitors,” one pastor said.
“Phone and Zoom ministry is soul-sucking in a way that in-person ministry is not.”
Several pastors mentioned difficulties surrounding special services like weddings and funerals or reaching out to members in hospitals and nursing homes.
Safety and well-being of members
Despite not being able to see them as often or in a normal way, pastors are still concerned for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of their congregants.
This is a top of mind concern for 13% of pastors.
One pastor spoke of the draining nature of “precautions taken to make sure everyone is safe being added to an already full schedule.”
Another pastor just summed it up with: “I pray that no one gets this horrible virus.”
Like almost everyone else, COVID-19 has been draining for pastors. But unlike most everyone else, pastors are trying to continue to care for others in addition to themselves and their families.
With that, 12% of pastors admitted they could use some support as they’re personally exhausted, stressed, and isolated.
“I desperately need time off,” said one pastor, “but with having to organize live-streams, worship services, and Sunday School, I have no time to get away. I’m a one person staff, and it’s difficult to find someone willing to fill in for me. I’ve had two days off since Christmas.”
Another pastor spoke of the stress of leading his church as well as the birth of his third child in March amid restrictions.
One pastor said he felt discouraged and was tired of everything being virtual instead of in-person. “Maybe,” he exclaimed, “I just need a hug!”
Wisdom and direction
Pastors say they’re struggling with the uncertainty of the pandemic and how to plan and lead their congregations.
For 12%, needing support for strategy and wisdom to make the right decisions is an obvious pressure point.
One pastor said they’re wrestling with a “lack of things to look forward to given constantly shifting local numbers and no way to plan more than a couple weeks at a time.”
Another pastor said they were trying to decide which ministries would continue and which would be cut.
“This seems to be an ideal time to let some ministry things go that needed to a long time ago,” they said, “so wisdom in how to communicate why we might not bring back a certain ministry.”
The uncertainty of it all caused one pastor to have five different plans to continue ministry depending on what happens next.
Have you found any solutions that help you address any of these issues? Are there any ways we can pray for you as you minister?
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.