I’ve pastored churches through four major disasters and a few smaller ones. This has not provided me with any sort of expertise, but it has offered some perspective. Whether it is a hurricane, a flood, an explosion, a pandemic, or even a tragic death in the congregation, there are some common experiences.
For the first two to three weeks after the crisis you are in rally mode. You’re working to make the best of the situation and respond to meet needs. This is often accompanied by the rush of accomplishment, having risen to meet a challenge. You’re physically drained but feeling confident. Then comes the long march to recovery.
You get weary from the work, from the disruption to routine, from projecting optimism, and from an undetermined finish line. On top of that, if you have a family, they feel your weariness in addition to their own. You will long for the rush of hopefulness and achievement those initial efforts yielded in the early weeks. You will think you have gone off the rails, failed, or lost your effectiveness. You will hear the battle victory stories and optimistic reflections from others and feel like a loser. It will make you want to press in unnatural ways, and you’ll be tempted to lead others through shame and guilt to compensate for your feeling of inadequacy.
If you’re not careful those who were encouraged and even inspired by your leadership at first will become irritated by you. They may even start avoiding you. Discouragement and depression may become unwelcomed bedfellows.
As the weeks drag on, some people or routines will “get back to normal” before others do, but pastor, you won’t feel “back to normal” until everyone and everything does. Here’s the good news: Christ rose from the dead. If Jesus can do THAT, He can and will deliver you through this. He can and will lead through your weaknesses. He can and will carry out His perfect will through your failures and fatigue. He can and will sanctify you through this pressure-cooker.
“Here’s the good news: Christ rose from the dead. If Jesus can do THAT, He can and will deliver you through this… but even if everything you do fails, the risen Christ will not fail in what He is doing in and through you. Jesus does not fail.”Tweet
You may or may not emerge from this as a better pastor or a more admired leader, but you will emerge from this as a more refined child of God… and brother, that’s what matters most. You are likely leading much better than you think but I know, we are our own worst critics. But… even if everything you do fails, the risen Christ will not fail in what He is doing in and through you. Jesus does not fail.
Here is more good news: Jesus is the perfect pastor – for your church and for you too. One of the lessons I’ve learned from pastoring in crisis is that the crisis forces me to get out of the way and let the One more qualified lead. Crisis forces humility, self-awareness to short-comings, and how fragile our bodies and minds really are. Crisis forces us to lead by faith, which is infinitely more joyful in the long run than leading by flesh. Crisis reminds us that we need to be pastored too and that Jesus loves being your pastor. Let me say that again brother – Jesus loves being your pastor. You may have little in the tank right now and you are pastoral energy and effectiveness is a four or five at best, but brother, every day you get Jesus’ best.
“Jesus is the perfect pastor – for your church and for you too.”Tweet
Pastoring in crisis – or anytime really – demands then that you spend time letting Jesus pastor you. If you want to endure this with joy, you need to take time to be pastored by Jesus. In fact, put it first on your list. Practically, as the weeks drag on, it becomes increasingly more important to devote time to prayer. Forget everything else on your to-do list for a while. Devote time to reading and reflecting on the track record of God’s love and faithfulness – the Bible. If you are reading just to prepare online devotionals or writing sermons you are ONLY using the Bible to pastor others and not recognizing the Bible as God’s means to pastor you too. Spend time letting Jesus pastor you and you’ll be overflowing with truths to pass on to your church.
Finally, take time every day reading out loud the last sentences of the Bible (Revelation 22:20-21): “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” [Full disclosure – I just had a full on, break down cry after typing those words.] Brother, today may be hard, but it isn’t the last word. Tomorrow may painful, but hope keeps rising. The crisis may yet drag on for weeks and your weaknesses may yet be more fully exposed, but Jesus still won’t be done with you. He loves you. He’s got you. He’ll get you through. He’ll keep you. He will soon be coming back for you. Amen and amen.