Recently, I watched a portly pony wade into the middle of the pond behind our house in Broken Arrow. With the top of her nose barely sticking out of the water, I became concerned that she was drowning, especially when she started blowing bubbles! I hopped over the fence and rushed to alert the owners! You can imagine how embarrassed I was when she waddled casually right out of the pond 20 minutes later.

That is a picture of pastoring in 2020!

Pastors have been accused of being too cautious by some, and not cautious enough by others. Our decisions are sometimes right, sometimes wrong and often second guessed.

So how are pastors really doing six months into this pandemic? I compiled research, polls and anecdotal evidence to create a short list of a pastor’s top five challenges, which I am calling COVID lemons. Then we will see how many have turned these into lemonade.

COVID Lemons

1. Isolation

Pastors’ first COVID challenge was the inevitable result of sheltering in place quickly and indefinitely. Some are still too isolated.

  • A third of adults are lonely at least some part of every day, and half at least one day a week.
  • While 80 percent of pastors work with a team of leaders, only a third of those experience frequent prayer together with that team (Barna, 5/20).

Don’t let the inconveniences of COVID completely isolate you from those who will help you stay spiritually and emotionally healthy.

2. Confusion

I asked pastors on Facebook what their top needs were. By an overwhelming margin they said 1. Wisdom 2. Rest/health.

Some pastors are experiencing a double-shot of pastoral and parental peer pressure, and thus need a triple shot of God’s wisdom.

3. Exhaustion

Most church members do not see how hard their pastors are working, and some presume they have actually dialed back, which is ridiculous. COVID has simultaneously disrupted their rhythms while accelerating their ministries.

“Emotional strain is crushing our pastors”—Harry Black, director of missions in Capital Association.

4. Frustration

Church members are not the only ones who are tired of pivoting and re-pivoting. These constant changes have depleted trust and eroded morale for everyone.

No one has experience pastoring through a pandemic. At the end of the day, we were never called to be proficient in every profession, so give yourself, and others, an extra measure of grace.

5. Discouragement

In 2017, 66 percent of U.S. pastors indicated that preaching was what they most enjoyed about ministry, yet currently, only about half of their people are there in person to hear the message which is discouraging our pastors.

Barna recently asked pastors, “How encouraged are you feeling today?” From those who responded, 56 percent were somewhat/very encouraged; 31 percent were somewhat/very discouraged; 13 percent neutral.

COVID Lemonade

I want to give a shout out to the pastors and church members who have together turned many of these COVID lemons into lemonade.

  • Faithful Givers. Tithers have rallied admirably during the pandemic! They are on the endangered list, so use this as opportunity to commend them. Also, 70 pecent of churches are making the shift to a hybrid model of giving to provide both in-person and online offerings—a 100 percent increase since March (Barna).
  • Disciplemaking Parents. Prudent pastors have equipped and mobilized the parents to disciple their own children. What a novel idea!
  • Lay Evangelists. Emboldened lay-people have reached out to literally love their neighbors during this crisis. Kudos to the pastors who are fanning member’s evangelistic flames by teaching them how to share the gospel!
  • Flexible Leadership Teams. What a blessing to see church leaders prayerfully prune their programs during this season. Hopefully they won’t ever want to go back to church as usual.

Thank you Oklahoma Baptist pastors and leaders for being COVID heroes! Instead of merely asking God to bail us out of this mess, let’s ask Him to hold up our pastors until the COVID coast is clear.