One hour a week?

Since churches aren’t meeting on Sunday, pastors shouldn’t draw a salary.”

I’ve actually heard that (more than once) from people during this COVID19 pandemic. Do pastors really have less to do now? You tell me.  

Pastoral care needs have increased. People are in crises. Not just some people, but everyone. Health. Employment. Isolation. Fear. Grief. Loss. Uncertainty.

Before the pandemic people had various challenges at various times. Rarely did EVERYONE in a faith community face the same significant challenge at the same time. Now they do. That means pastors have exponentially more pastoral care needs in their community.

Strategic planning and decision making are more difficult. Why? Because the future is uncertain. Many churches are unable to do things the way they did. They are unsure when they will be able to “get back to normal.” If you have ears to hear, you are also questioning the inequalities present in “normal” and wonder if “normal” is compatible with God’s shalom – signaling a need for deeper discernment on the mission of the local church.

Anxiety puts stress on leaders. When anxiety goes up (in any system) people turn to those in authority to resolve their anxiety. Even in my low-church, priesthood of all believers, Mennonite Church, we have pastors set apart for particular roles and responsibilities. When anxiety goes up, people turn to the pastor – and sometimes they seek to shift their anxiety onto the pastor.

Some decisions have huge consequences. As a pastor in the mid-west, I spent many Sunday winter mornings discerning if we should cancel church because of snow. That pales in comparison to the decision of when and how to start in-person worship during a pandemic. Get that decision wrong, and it can literally cost people their lives. In the polarized and politicized American culture this isn’t as simple as listen to the public health officials. Which health officials?

In a world of “alternative facts” pastors face pressure to reopen that is rooted in something other than good, public health information.

It is one thing to have an opinion about this. It is another thing to be a key leader making the decision in a responsible and accountable way.

New skills are required. With congregational life moving online, pastors are expected to lead using a whole new skill set and a completely novel – for some – set of tools. Zoom. Livestreaming. Video editing and production. Uploading YouTube videos. Presenting on camera (televangelists make it look easy. It’s not). Some pastors already use these tools. Many do not. All are expected to now. AND people expect pastors to do this like they’ve done it their whole life.

People like going to church in their PJs. There are some early indicators that people will not give up their online experience lightly. While some people are ready to get back to in-person worship, others are enjoying online forms of ministry. If you have been around churches very long, you know it is easier to start something than to stop it. The pandemic may lead to more expectations on pastors, not less. (Leaving an online church is just a few clicks away if churches don’t continue online services.)

It’s clear to me that pastors have more to do now than ever before. They are also vulnerable to fuzzy expectations and more challenging leadership environments. Much of this outside of a pastor or church’s control. But there is one thing that every congregation can do:

  • Pause
    • Pastors and congregations moved swiftly in response to shelter-in-place orders. They rushed online. Created new communication channels. Adopted new ways of connecting.
    • Now is a good time to pause and reflect.
      • How is everyone doing?
      • What has been helpful? Unhelpful?
      • What has extended our mission? What has hindered our mission?
      • What should we continue? Discontinue? Change?
      • What new gifts have you discovered? How are limits become more clear?
  • Have a conversation about pastoral expectations
    • This conversation should occur between the pastor and the board/council/leadership team that has oversight of the pastors’ ministry
      • How is the pastor doing?
      • What does ministry look like now? How has it changed? What has been added? What has dropped off? How many hours is ministry taking?
      • What in the pastor’s current job description is still relevant? What has been added? Do you expect these changes to be permanent?
  • Agree on expectations
    • The pastor and oversight team should come to some agreements on pastoral expectations.
    • Based on our previous conversation, what are reasonable expectations for this time?
  • Write them down
    • This is KEY! If you don’t write them down, you have had interesting conversations, but not much else.
    • Be specific about what you expect all paid staff to do, what they can pause doing, what they can do differently, etc.  
    • Label this your “Pandemic Job Description(s)”, review it every three months during the pandemic.
  • Be responsible and accountable
    • Use these job descriptions to manage unrealistic expectations and help pastors engage a healthy balance between self-care and ministry.

With those foundations in place, you can move on to deeper questions about what it means to be a faith community, rooted in a place with a people, in the midst of a pandemic that is revealing deep inequities in our communities. This is the important work.

The purpose of clear expectations is to create space for important work to get done by managing the nonsense that can happen when expectations are unclear.

2 thoughts on “One hour a week?

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