Uncertainty, anxiety, desperation, and depression seem to abound as each and every week I, and those walking with me in this vocation, try to lift spirits through preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and ministering through the Power of God’s Holy Spirit. Indeed, sometimes it seems as though we are Abraham staring down at Sodom and Gomorrah wondering if there are even 10 righteous men left; but most of the time we spend just as confused, concerned and stressed like most folks.
I am not writing this because what I have been called to do is special and worthy of special praise. It is not. I am writing because there is a good bit of confusion as to exactly what I, and those who walk in my shoes do as preachers of the Word and pastors of congregations. People like my friends: Mark, Dennis, Barbara, Logan, Dale, Joe and Dick – people who have spiritual boots on the ground, as it were, trying to stay faithful while navigating uncharted and treacherous waters. The first thing that I want to say is THANK YOU to those people, and to so many others, who have walked with me in support these past months. You know who you are. I am in your debt.
First, we must indeed explore this “cavalier” attitude toward death that has seemingly become the norm these days. We throw numbers around as though they did not represent people; and talk about fatality and mortality rates as though entire families do not mourn with every person who is counted among the dead. Lets be clear as well, it is the relatively few who hold political power and social influence who are cavalierly brokering in the fear of death - exploiting disease and tragedy for the purposes of promoting secular progressive social, political, economic, and yes, religious agendas. This reality is more than offensive, it is satanic. In turn, as Satan would have it, the human toll of these agendas, even as measured by a local, small town pastor, has been staggering.
Most of the pastors that are in my circle have been in the midst of this struggle from day one and have employed the greatest weapon that we have against the satanic lying, chaos and disorder – The Word of God. We lead each Sunday and nearly every conversation between Sundays with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Power of God’s Holy Spirit; for HE is the only power in heaven and on earth that can liberate the oppressed souls to whom we are ministering.
We would like to think (and many do) that it could be that simple – just preach the gospel – but it is not; for although we are called to lead with the gospel as we minister to individuals, families and congregations who are being crushed under the weight of darkness and doubt, we, as leaders, are also trying to make the best practical decisions for ourselves and our own families, as well as the people, the churches and the denominations that we serve.
Although I know from conversations that the things I am about to discuss I have in common with many, I certainly cannot speak for all of the pastors who are in my circle, or for any other pastor or leader; and the things I have to discuss have been extraordinary, to say the least. Over the past three months I and the church have: Ministered to young couples who went broke and had to turn to church and food banks to feed their baby; to many older couples as well, and a man who had been providing for his family more than 30 years yet found himself on welfare. Families who lost loved ones in the midst of this who were unable to grieve because funerals were not allowed, nor was there pastor allowed to minister to the dying until it was deemed that the person in question was indeed, beyond all hope of recovery; marital stress is everywhere with divorce always lurking; older and immune-compromised folks are living in anxiety and fear for their lives, believing that death is lurking so near as to be drawn in with any given breath, There are political folks who want to polarize the issue on their personal soap box; regular folks who just want to be left alone and are so angry about being anything but; and then there are the questions… Is spiritual health essential to a person’s overall health? Do we close the church doors? Do we leave them open? How do we “re-open” in the sanctuary? Masks? No masks? Reservations? Contact tracing? And what about our position on racial inequality and systemic racism within the church?
I have worked through those issues and questions and the accompanying anxiety, guilt, and self-doubt that comes with them – as I know many of you have – clergy or not. I have at least 4 conversations a week now with people who are in spiritual need but their churches, they feel, have abandoned them. “Are you open? Can we come? Will you make us do this, that, or the other thing?”
I have friends in the pulpit who wonder if they will EVER be able to reopen. We worry over money, postponements of weddings, funerals, bible studies, bible schools, and social events. There are staff to pay, who are not getting paid. The list goes on. Let’s not forget the national issues that are discussed on the “news” are manifest at the local level as well: general anxiety is at epidemic proportions and prescription drug sales to deal with it are skyrocketing – as are sales of alcohol and illegal drugs. Men who have lost their self- identity as workers and providers are turning to pornography and alcohol; family businesses are closing forever and the sense of loss and despair is enormous. All of this all leads to depression and a spiritual darkness that ripens into sordid behaviors including self-harm or the harming of others. The local church – YOUR LOCAL CHURCH – is not immune. It is evil and it is happening right before us. The Truth of scripture has never been more poignant, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against a spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12)
As a pastor, even of this small country church, I have been told that if I can not follow the edicts of government, how could I hope to follow the will of God and the Way of Christ? I have been reminded that if I complain about any of the “new normal,” it is because I am spiritually immature. I have felt guilt for staying open; (do I even care about the health of the congregation?) I have felt guilt for closing; (do I even care about the spiritual health of the congregation?) I feel trapped between our political ideologies and Spirituality in such a way that it is hard to even express. I am told that if we stay open and mandate CDC guidelines then we are just another arm of the government bureaucracy; conversely, if we open with no restrictions then we are unfeeling, short-sighted monsters, and possibly even breaking the law. Aren’t you a pastor? Well, stay in your lane. You evangelicals really are something else, having your little toes stepped on and whining about it like children who lost their ice cream. (part of an actual conversation I had)
And now pulpits are being pressed into service as voices of racial justice. “How will the church respond?” “What will you say to the black and brown person?” “Will you submit to the secular authority of social justice and join the “movement?” Support Black Lives Matter and we submit to secular progressive authority; do not support Black Lives Matter and be judged as a typical, privileged, white church. There are pressures from above, pressures from the pews, and pressures from the relentless media barrage that shapes so many minds.
Ideas and opinions are slamming into each other and into people like weaponized words fired on full auto. There is so much noise, conflict, and confusion – Like I said – It is not of God; it is of the Satan.
This is a weird job. I have said that many times; and I suppose that in a way I am sticking up for myself and for my fellow pastors through this writing. So be it. Like I said in the opening, folks need to know – and now you do. We are trying to do well – and to do good. Now more than ever we must rest in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, more than ever, we must submit to His will and His word and do what He is calling us to do – and trust that He will do what He promises to do.