Everybody is understandably eager to look ahead to the post-COVID world we have all been longing for. Oklahoma Baptists’ regional ministry partners met with small groups of pastors at about 10 locations around the state to hear how they are doing, as well as what they have learned in these last 12 months of pastoring through a pandemic.

Here are the top four takeaways from those conversations:

Pastors need to GRIEVE

Like most people, pastors have felt the pain of losing friends, family and church members to COVID-19. Additionally, they have experienced deep grief over some uncomfortable church departures.

I am not talking about the fringe members who seem to spend their entire lives migrating from church to church. I am talking about those with whom we have invested our hearts and lives. This past year has either expedited these exits or made them even more painful than usual because of the vulnerability of our pastors and churches.

Pastoral ministry leaders, like myself, are safe havens for pastors to express their pain, which is a healthy emotional exercise. The unhealthy alternative is to internalize our grief, which only temporarily masks the pain.

My encouragement to each pastor and church leader is to find someone you can safely “kick tires” with. Someone who understands the unique challenges you have gone through this past year. Grieve, growl, forgive—then move on before anger or grief gets a foothold in your life.

Pastors need to REFOCUS

The pandemic has forced pastors and churches to take stock of what is really important, as well as what is not. When we asked them to share what ministry or program COVID culled from their church, the most prevalent answer in each group was “Sunday night worship service.”

Dream again. Innovate, take risks and have fun starting new ministries and stopping the inefficient ones.

Pastors need to CELEBRATE

Pastors and churches need to celebrate whatever wins they had from the last 12 months. Here are a few examples:

  • Giving may be the only reliable scorecard for 2020, and the core of the church has risen to the occasion.
  • Member engagement was up this year, even though overall attendance was obviously down. Authentic connections were made between members, neighbors and family which is something pastors can and should build on through new groups, widow-care, evangelism, etc.
  • Online worship and giving are here to stay! I recently spoke with a bivocational, senior adult pastor who established online services just as the Coronavirus hit. He has been connecting online with both sheep and goats for 12 months and has no intention of cutting them off when the COVID coast is clear.
  • Streamlined decision making has resulted in leaders revisiting their policies and procedures.

Pastors need to REST

Some may not yet realize that they just pastored through the hardest year of their ministry. With the recent Easter season behind and an inevitable increase in attendance ahead, I am concerned that you will try to power through the summer and have nothing left in the fall. In an attempt to make up for lost time, you should be careful not to overextend yourself or your ministries this summer.

My advice to pastors this spring is to plan now for an extended time of vacation to refresh before fall. We make mistakes when we are tired. Fears and frustrations are exaggerated when we are exhausted.

I am not suggesting that we coast through the summer. There will be plenty of opportunities for summer camps, VBS, outdoor events and training for new teachers and ministry teams. You may even plan a simple deacon or staff retreat (or combo) and dream together about this next season of ministry. If you can, work in a couple of days of sermon planning at a borrowed cabin.

Just pace yourself, pastor, because the next season of ministry may just be your best one ever. Everyone in your life and ministry will benefit when you are refreshed and refocused.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ben White on Unsplash