8 Questions Worth Asking as the End (of the Pandemic) is in Sight

On Wednesday I wrote about the possibility that pastors and other Christian leaders/organizations have been scratching where few people are itching. It was not my intent to be critical, but I do feel it would be sad for pastors to emerge from this time being physically and emotionally spent because of unwise choices stemming from unwise expectations they placed on themselves. Every church situation is different. So if the shoe fit, fine. If not, that’s ok too.

One of the opportunities the pandemic has provided is time to think. With that in mind here are some questions that would be worth pastors taking time to ponder:

  1. What have I been doing differently during this period that needs to be continued when life returns to normal?
  2. Will there be events beyond my normal schedule that I need to prepare for how? (For example, it is possible that you may have several funerals or memorial services.)
  3. While this pandemic continues, are there ways I can better utilize the other leaders in my church to shepherd the flock? How might this continue after the pandemic is over?
  4. Are they’re activities or programs that this period of time has shown to be superfluous? Would it be worthwhile to streamline our ministries and the number of meetings we have for leaders so that busy people are not out at church activities quite so often?
  5. What have I learned during these weeks when life was so different that will help me pastor more effectively in the days ahead?
  6. Has this period brought to light any deficiencies in the content of what our people have been taught? Were they prepared to carry on with their own spiritual growth?
  7. Has this pandemic revealed that our people are equipped to minister to each other? How might we encourage forging relationships outside of public meetings so that people are better able to minister through the numerous “one another” commands in Scripture. (Here’s a list: https://globalchristiancenter.com/1126-english/devotionals/daily-devotions/60-seconds/33801-60-seconds-reciprocal-living
  8. Were any specific groups of people (older, younger, single, students, etc.) overlooked in our efforts to care for our church during this time?

Answering these questions may be helpful not only in assessing your own ministry, but planning what your church needs as you look to the future.

Have a great weekend!

Did Some of Us Miss the Sign?

Unless you’re on a desert island, you’re well aware of the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic. Depending on where you live and whether you’re working from home, you may be spending a whole lot of time inside your home with little to do.

Obviously we need to take this seriously. In the US, over forty thousand people have died. People are out of work, many others have had their hours scaled back. Several states are in stay-at-home mode (and in some of them the natives are getting restless). The impact on our day-to-day lives is enormous, and some of the “mitigations” may go on way past the return to whatever becomes normal.

When it comes to this pandemic, our seniors are the most vulnerable segment of society. I’m quite familiar with that group. Whether I like it or not (and I don’t), my having lived 66 years puts me in that category. And four days each week I work in senior citizens community. Our facilities are home to three kinds of seniors – people who live independently in their own apartments, people who need a bit of help with their daily lives, and people who are in skilled nursing. I interact with those who go out for doctor appointments, and often stop to talk with those who are out walking for exercise. While they’re concerned and cautious, I haven’t heard any of them express panic or fear. I’m sure there are some who are genuinely afraid, but from what I can tell they are in the minority.

In my email this morning I found a promotional for yet another resource on coping with anxiety due to this pandemic. And to be honest, I’m wondering why pastors, publishers, and various ministries are still beating that drum? No doubt there are people in our churches who are having a hard time. But to be honest, I’m not sure that there are many believers acting like the sky is falling. But you’d almost get that impression from the number of “How to Deal With It” resources out there.

Here’s a text between me and a fellow pastor from earlier this week:

Me: “I am reading a lot of bloggers who are writing from the perspective of trying to bring assurance to people who are afraid because of the coronavirus. I know people are concerned, cautious, aggravated, but I haven’t encountered anyone who feels afraid. Have you?”

Him: “No and at times I grow weary of pastors who keep stressing not to get stressed.“

Bingo. My sentiments exactly.

So what gives? Why are so many of us caught up in trying to put out a fire that might actually not be burning – at least to the degree we think?

Is it possible that our people are stronger than we think they are? Is it possible that the Holy Spirit has actually used the preaching and teaching they’ve heard to help them think through this in a biblical way? Is it possible that pastors, meaning nothing but the best, are ministering under the mistaken notion that their people are frightened and require lots of comfort at this time?

Please understand that I am not trying to start a fight. I have nothing but the highest regard for faithful pastors. But I’m going to probe just a touch because I’m also concerned about pastors. So here’s my $64,000 question1: Are we trying too hard to be good pastors during this pandemic? And if so why, and at what cost?

When we first went into shut-down mode, I wrote about the opportunity this pandemic presented for pastors to slow down. Some of the pastors I’ve talked to do have a lighter work load. But around the web I some who seem to be in overdrive. What about you? If you’ve been running your engine at full blast for the last month or so, how are you going to hold up when the normal demands of pastoral work resume?

The other day I came across this article which should be required reading while there’s still some time. Our work is important, brother pastor. There’s no question about that. People’s needs are great. There’s no disputing that either. But you have to put this period of time in the greater context of when life gets to the new normal.

I realize that each church situation is different, and I also realize that some people need extraordinary care in times of crisis. If you are not tending to your flock during this time, shame on you. If you’re tending it faithfully, great. But if you’re busier than you were before this time, please take a step back and ask yourself why.

This is going to end, and when it does you can’t afford to be running on empty.

Separating Who You Are from What You Do

It is commonly believed that men so closely identify with their vocation that if we ask them to tell something about themselves, they are likely to respond what a description of what they do. I’m not sure this is just a male characteristic, but I have noticed that this is characteristic of a lot of guys.

I think this is especially true of pastors. Ministry is not the only vocation that requires long hours, nor are we alone in being tuned in 24/7. But I do believe that pastoral work is unique and that pastors are especially prone to blur the line between who they are and what they do.

I suppose that, given the nature of ministry, such blurring of the lines is inevitable. But there are ways in which it can be unhealthy, especially when it comes to our relationship with God and our relationships with people.

Because we deal with spiritual things, it is easy to become “professional” in our relationship with God. We’re reading the Bible, we’re praying, we’re caring for other people. As a result, what we do can be a substitute for our own relationship with God. We can think that because we’re busy we’re doing well. Yet looking at our relationship with God through the lens of what we do ignores issues of the heart.

In the same way, we can be so professional in our relationships with people that we take on characteristics that are unhealthy. We can become distant because we are afraid of being hurt. We can avoid close friendships because we think that if people really know us they’ll be disappointed. We can be clinical with others because we view people as projects and work tasks rather than as, well, people.

There are some remedies for this, and younger pastors (and older pastors) need to be sure that they guard against this tendency to mix being and doing. A couple of things come to mind, now that I am on the other side of ministry. They are pretty much self-explanatory:

  1. Have friends with whom you can be honest, and be honest with them.
  2. Cultivate interest outside of ministry and ministry-related areas so that when you have down time (or when your ministry comes to temporary or permanent halt) you don’t feel that life has lost meaning.
  3. Make sure your relationship with God is personal. Don’t just study for what you can give to others. What are you learning from what you’re preaching or teaching? Don’t just pray for others, pray for yourself. Don’t merely urge others toward godliness, pursue it yourself. Keep learning and growing because you’re a Christian, not because you’re a pastor.

Blending who we are and what we do in the wrong way can lead to us being unauthentic, and we don’t want that. It will end up putting people off and coming back to bite us in the end.

Thank God for the privilege of ministry, but remember that you’re more than your ministry.

Have a great weekend!

Little Things That Make A Difference

When we think about effective pastoral ministry, we tend to gravitate toward the major functions of what we do. Giving attention to preaching, how we conduct our worship services, counseling, and church administration are obviously important, and failing in one of those areas can substantially impact one’s ministry. But there are little things that make a different too, and I thought I’d share some random lessons I learned through the years.

Be ignorant about your people’s giving.

I think it is best for pastors not to know who gives what to the church. The IRS does require that churches keep records, and our church photocopied checks each week as part of that record keeping. But I went out of my way to avoid looking. There’s a temptation to treat people differently if we know that they give a little, or if they give a lot, and we can’t do that.

Remind your leaders of the need for confidentiality.

Church leaders discuss many topics, most of which are not even remotely confidential. But confidential discussions do take place, and leaders need to be trustworthy in this area. Board minutes are not intended to be read by the wives of those in leadership. In some cases, people’s privacy and reputation are at stake. Remind your leaders that what happens in leadership meetings stays in leadership meetings, and that they need to make sure documents are not left laying around at home or at church.

Ensure that church finances are a group activity.

If they do not exist, you should lead your church to adopt policies that protect both the church and the financial team from mismanagement and breaches of integrity. There should always be at least two people counting the money, and it would be best to have teams that rotate. While you will likely have one person act as treasurer, that person should not have power to control the church finances. I could tell stories.

Don’t Assume Your People Know How to Read the Bible

Pastors want their people to know the Bible. But statistics show that many believers don’t read their Bible at all. We might blame the lack of Bible reading on laziness, and certainly that can be a factor. But I wonder if part of the reason our adults don’t read the Bible is that we haven’t ever taught them how to do it.

I’m not suggesting that every believer needs a college-level class in hermeneutics. What I am suggesting is that we need to describe what it means to read the Bible for personal profit, and we need to do it often. It can be done as an aside in a sermon, in a bulletin insert, or on your church website. You may be surprised at how many of your people struggle with Bible reading because they don’t know what they’re supposed to be looking for. Help them!

That’s a pretty random set of topics, isn’t it? But they came up in conversations or in my own thinking and might be of help to you. Have a great day!

What Other Pastors Are Doing During the Pandemic, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about my asking several pastor friends to answer questions relating to how the current coronavirus situation has affected their ministries. In that post I shared the responses of three pastors, and below you will find the responses of three others.

From the standpoint of demographics, all but one of the responses came from pastors in the general Southeastern Pennsylvania area. One comes from a more rural area of western Wisconsin. In terms of church size, one respondent is retired, two pastor churches of 150 or less, and the other three are in churches of 150 or more.

My friend from Wisconsin writes:

1) Ministry has changed drastically. Our state just issued the “safer at home” mandate or whatever (like many other states). Not only is the corporate body not able to gather for Sunday service, but now even our smaller groups or one-on-one meetings are permitted. Just the sheer reality of avoiding actual in-person interactions has a tremendous effect on ministry. We offered our first online-only worship service this past Sunday. It was weird and unfortunate, to say the least. Not ideal at all. Yet, we are certainly thankful for the unique opportunities our modern technological era can afford us. I suppose I’m glad the social distancing effort is happening now, and not say 15 years ago.

2) As of today we’re really ramping up our efforts to stay connected relationally through various digital avenues. The three of us pastors are putting out a daily “chat with a pastor” video, just a few minutes to share hope and encouragement with our church family. We’re utilizing services like Zoom and Marco Polo to stay in touch with various church members and each other. Our next elder meeting will be a Zoom video chat. We’re also trying to be consistent with calling our people to check in.

3) I suppose the creative ways we’re trying to minister could be our daily “pastor chats” and a twice-per-week podcast we’ve begun to publish. As are all of us I’m sure, we’re very open to ideas as we enter into this weird chapter.

My own pastor writes:

1) Two significant changes: A). We’ve suspended all in-person gatherings. All small groups, leadership meetings and worship services have moved to online or virtual spaces. B). Planning is more difficult. There is so much uncertainty and the situation changing so rapidly that almost all planning has become short-term. What are we gonna do Sunday? What are we doing next week to minister to people?

How wise is it to make summer plans (and investments) when we have no idea what the world is going to look like two months from now?

2) We invested in a Zoom Pro account. We’ve hosted an elders meeting, small groups, prayer meetings, and leadership team meetings. I’ve hosted Zoom meetings 6 out of the last 7 days, allowing me to connect with, encourage and communicate with dozens of our people face-to-face, virtually.

3) We’ve added two, weekly virtual prayer gatherings through Zoom to our church calendar: Wed evening and Fri mornings. I’ll take a passage of Scripture, we read it together and use the Word of God to fuel our time of worship-based prayer. Just another to interact with and encourage our people.

Broadcasting our worship services is no longer a luxury. Not being able to gather in-person has forced us to consider how to improve the recording and dissemination of our worship services. Do we emphasize intimacy and community among worshippers (via live streaming through Facebook), or lean towards production quality by pre-recording the service and posting on a more professional platform? We’re making some minor investments with gear and trying new techniques each week based on what’s working, or not.

Finally, another local pastor shares the following:

The first way that ministry changed was that everything migrated online. We immediately went to an on-line only worship service. We had a staff member and an elder who put a lot of time into making that service happen. We’ve continued to work on the technology side since then to get a better livestream. The service wasn’t very different than usual, except for the congregation being in their homes instead of in the same room. As time went on, we helped our small groups begin meeting online as well. Our deacons and small group leaders have been asked to help us check on people who might otherwise receive visits.

We’ve also moved our meetings online. One of the biggest changes for me has been that I’m home more evenings than previously. In order to communicate, our team has put together a weekly schedule for releasing various types of information. We are communicating with the congregation now more than ever. And we are utilizing video now far more than previously. The new video includes a mid-week “Pastors Chat” where two of us sit (at a proper distance apart) and talk about what is going on in the church and in our lives.

Here’s what I am taking away from these six responses:

Pastors were caught off-guard by the pandemic but have acted quickly to provide ministry to their congregation. It may not be perfect, it may have required investing in new equipment, and it may be a bit trial and error, but ministry is taking place.

If you’re reading this, perhaps you’ve already done most of what these other men are doing. Good. But perhaps you can pick up an idea or two from these men and enhance your ministry.

Thanks again to those men who responded to my request and provided information about how their ministry has been affected. If you’d like to share some ideas, please use the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

If you did not read my own post from about two weeks ago, I wrote about Pastoral Work During A Pandemic. You may find some help there too.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Is that line from Monty Python? I don’t remember.

Yesterday was supposed to be the beginning of the 2020 baseball season. If you are, like me, a fan, you no doubt miss the game. Strat-O-Matic, a company that makes both dice-and-cards and computer simulations of the major sports, began “preplaying” the 2020 season based on projected player stats. They are posting the boxscores from their games after 2:00pm each day. So if you want a little baseball, here’s where you can go.

What Other Pastors Are Doing During the Pandemic

Over this past weekend I sent an email to some pastor friends. I asked them if they would be willing to answer the following questions:

  1. How has your ministry changed over the last few weeks because of the Covid-19 virus and any restrictions that your state has in place?
  2. How are you staying in touch with your congregation, youth group, etc.?
  3. Have you developed any creative ways to minister to your people during this time.

I appreciated the responses I received. Some responded to all three in a paragraph and others responded individually. With minor editing, here are their answers. Perhaps you will be encouraged by what they are doing, and you may pick up an idea along the way.

First, a retired pastor friend in New York State wrote this:

First I pray about all the smaller things I use to overlook when I was the lead pastor (my bad). Then I call several hurting people each week. I text several folks each day. I do daily blog to my kids at 8am by text. I do a short weekly blog to folks with the goal of giving encouragement.

I have 75+ people who read the blog, and some of them forward it to others. I also decide daily to go on purpose to meet people I do not know. I hope to do 5 a week. I use a unique approach, “Hi! I’m (name). I saw you doing…” What ever I thought may help. I start a short conversation and hope it works. In addition I try hard to give big tips at restaurants and friendly words. Several of those now get my weekly blog. That is my old guys ministry to all ages.

The following comes from a pastor serving a smaller church over the long haul:

Glad to share a few thoughts. Like other churches, we are not meeting physically, so I have posted my sermons on You Tube (a first for me), and the advantage is that more people are seeing them than would normally hear my sermon in church! Church people and others are sharing the sermon with friends, so my ministry of the Word has greatly increased!

We are using zoom to have prayer meetings and hopefully our small groups. (My wife and I will also be teaching ESL on Zoom)

We are doing a lot of calling of church people and others, and people are appreciating it. I send out 1-2 e-mails to the whole church each week, and invite them to share their joys, needs, and prayer requests. A number are doing that.

My challenge as the solo pastor of a small church is that most of the changes are falling on me, so I have had to learn a lot of new technology in a short time. I have been on my laptop and phone a lot, so much so that my wife has had to remind me to take some time off.

All in all I would say that so far this has been a good time of the church coming together, and of God giving new opportunities to spread the gospel!

This next section was written by a youth pastor who, along with the Senior Pastor, is also working to meet the needs of their church body.

COVID-19 has drastically impacted our ministry, in addition to all ministries within our local community, state, country, and globe. Initially, our private school closed for two weeks but, as COVID-19 is spreading, we have been issued an additional two-week closure. Our church ministries further followed suit as we suspended all services, programs, events, and activities. This decision is currently in place for a couple more weeks, yet we remain in waiting. The uncertainty can drive one to insanity or it can drive one to Jesus…the Author, not of confusion, but of love, joy, peace, contentment, and most certainly great gain.

We have gone completely virtual when it comes to ministering to our local body. Our Pastor has been preaching live on YouTube each Sunday morning. He and I have gone live on Facebook during the week, and I have recorded and posted brief devotionals.

Additionally, I have been gathering with my students via Zoom. At our last gathering we had fun catching up on the latest stay-home details, a devotional from James 1, trivia, and even an indoor scavenger hunt. These are definitely strange times but our Sovereign Lord rules and reigns over all.

Prior to the stay-home order from Pennsylvania’s Governor, we put together “Operation Fill-a-Basket”. This was an opportunity for us to drop off non-perishable food items to our facility (in a safe, healthy, and distant manner), followed by deliveries to those in need. This proved to be an effective way of ministering to many in need.

All-in-all, technology (YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram alike) has proven incredibly effective throughout this time and cell phones may not have ever been enjoyed as much as they are now. Phone calls, emails, and personal text messages remain as key avenues of ministry for us.

I have two other responses, but will put them out tomorrow in an EXCLUSIVE weekend edition. 🙂

I appreciate the contributions of each of these brothers. Maybe they affirm that you’re doing what you can, and maybe you get a new idea or two. God bless you as you serve the Lord and his people!

The New Normal?

We’re all getting used to a different way of life. One of the man topics of conversation around the dinner table and when I take people to doctor appointments (many of which have been cancelled) is how life is different. You hear stories on the news of people sharing, and then there are accounts of people doing really dumb things. But for the next several months this is going to be the way life is.

There are nearly 80 people regularly following this blog. Others may drop by from time to time. I appreciate everyone who stops in. Thank you.

On Monday, instead of providing the normal links to articles that I have found of value on other blogs, I wrote about the opportunity that pastors have to scale back a bit. While our work goes on, there are many things that we can’t do. I hope you are finding your way through what pastoral work looks like for these next weeks and months.

On Wednesday I shared some ideas about how pastors can continue to minister when we can’t be gathering. It occurred to me that Paul, who had a pastoral relationship with many churches, was able to continue to minister through his correspondence. I am sure he would have preferred to talk to his people in person, but his letters certainly had an impact. Don’t be afraid to adopt that style.

One additional thought that I should have included on Wednesday pertains to your missionaries. Be sure you are in communication with them during this time. Keep them informed about what’s happening where you live, but find out what life is like for them too and pass that on to your church.

This coming Monday I’ll share some links as usual. I’m not going to put up a normal column today. However, I would like to point I you to Ligonier Ministries’ website. I received an email yesterday that said that all of their teaching series are now available to stream for free. You can download the Ligonier app at the Apple App Store. I assume there is something similar available for Android phones. This is a great resource for you and your people, with over 2500 messages available.

Have a great weekend. I trust that God will continue his work through you as we go through this period of uncertainty.

Pastoral Work During a Pandemic

On Monday I wrote about how busy pastors can use this time of reduced activity to slow down and refresh. While it may be anywhere between a couple of weeks to several months before we can resume our normal patterns of life, and pastors will want to be sure that they continue ministering to their people. Let me suggest some ways this can happen:

Stay In Contact WithYour Seniors

Much of what I’ve read online about how Christians should respond to the coronavirus has been about not giving in to fear. People are concerned and uncertain. Obviously, this is new for all of us. But if there is one group that may be prone to fear, it is our older generation.

Let me suggest you set up a system whereby your seniors are contacted every couple of days. Depending on the size of your church and the number of seniors, you may want to call them personally once every week or two, find out how they are doing, see if they have needs, and pray with them. But it would also be good to involve others in leadership and younger members of the congregation.

One doctor who spoke at President Trump’s news conference on Monday said that Millennials have a network via social media, but most seniors don’t have that kind of online presence. They will appreciate being looked after.

Continue Teaching Your People

Some pastors can live-stream their worship services. Others can record a sermon and put it on YouTube or on the church website. Don’t stop preaching just because you don’t have a worship service.

There are other approaches you can take to teaching and preaching. Choose a short NT letter or some Psalms and distribute suggested readings and reflective questions. You can do this for most of your people by a weekly email. For those without email access, postal mail works fine.

In addition, you can ask your people to email or phone in personal prayer requests that you can include with the above. You may want to ask them not to send in requests for people unrelated to the congregation. You know how easy it is for requests people to give requests like “A guy I used to work with has a neighbor who’s uncle’s cow . . . .” Well, maybe not that one, but you know what I mean. If people are faced with a bunch of requests about people they don’t know, they are likely to ignore those requests. 

Of course, you don’t want to overload your congregations’ inbox, but if they heard from you twice a week, you will minister to them with some regularity. Including links to helpful articles relating to how believers deal with trouble would be appropriate too.

Recommend Good Preachers

If you do not stream or post your sermons, encourage your people to set aside the normal worship hour on Sunday and listen to good preaching. But be sure you suggest some preachers that are doctrinally sound and remind them that not everyone who talks about Jesus will be spiritually helpful. 

Remind Them About the Ongoing Work of the Church

Remind them that the work of the church, including the normal expenses and ministry expenses (missions, salaries, etc.) continue and encourage them to mail in their offering. But be careful not to make every contact you have with them a financial appeal.

It is also good to remind your church that they can still minister to each other. Younger people may not need “checkup” phone calls. But you can encourage your small groups to set up some kind of buddy system so that each person has one or two others they talk to and pray for/with during the week. My friend Ron, who ministers in Milan, was telling me just recently that his church did that just before the virus broke out in Italy. Doing something similar will help your people maintain a sense of community during this time.

Make Yourself Available

There are probably people in your church who are worried, who are frightened, who face a loss of income. Let your church know that you’re available and that you can be contacted by email or by phone. Several churches have shut down their buildings and pastors have joined those who work from home. That might be a good idea for several reasons, not the least of which is reducing utility costs. Wherever you work, tell your people how you can be reached. Encourage them to call you or one of your other leaders if they need someone to pray with them.

Your sheep need to hear from their shepherd during this time. A pastor’s workload may be lighter, but the work goes on!

Slow Down

I work in a retirement community that includes people who live independently and people who need varying levels of nursing care. The facilities are on lockdown and those of us who work there are subject to having our temperature taken before we are allowed to clock in. As a driver, I have to take other precautions when transporting people to and from their doctor appointments. Like most retirement communities and care facilities, the coronavirus situation is being taken quite seriously.

Our government has suggested that “non-essential employees” be told not to come to work. How would you like that label? But clearly there are those whose jobs are more central to caregiving than others, and I’m wondering which category my job is in. One might argue that people have to go to the doctors. But I won’t be surprised if those of us who drive are told to either stay home or work reduced schedules. We’ll see.

How about you, Pastor? Are you “essential” or “non-essential?” 

If you take the long view, you are very essential. According to Ephesians 4:1, God has given you to your church and your work is very important. But during this time when so much has closed down, when churches have canceled their meetings, when we’re encouraged to maintain social distancing – well, let’s face it: you’re probably not going to be feeling all that essential.

I don’t pretend to know God’s mind. I do not understand why he has allowed this particular visitation. But if Romans 8:28 is true (and it is), perhaps there is something that pastors can gain from this crisis, and that is rest.

Pastors work long hours. Whether because of necessity or bad choices, pastors miss days off and don’t always take all their vacation time. There’s always more to do. But now, with church closed or running on a reduced schedule, you don’t have as much to do. 

Remember that your importance is not determined by how many hours you put in. “Oh I know that,” most pastors would say. Yeah. Most of us “know” that. Few of us act that way. We’ve got our to-do list, our plans, or vision, our whatever, and we keep running until, if we’re not careful, we’re running on empty. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Be wise, dear Pastor. Take this opportunity to refresh. Spend more time with your family. Read some books that have been waiting your attention. Work where you need to, try to minister to your congregation (more on that Wednesday) as best as you can, but slow down. In a big way, slow down! Sleep in. Work from home more. Take a nap. Yes, you can use this time to catch up, but be smart. It would be so unfortunate to look back a few months from now and wish that you had used the opportunity to rest and refresh. 

I hope that you stay free from illness. Probably the vast majority of people will avoid the coronavirus. I hope so anyway. But don’t avoid the opportunity to recalibrate that God is giving you during this time. 

Maybe someday you’ll say that one of the good things that came from the coronavirus crisis (not to mention the Great Toilet Paper Chase of 2020) was that God made you lie down in green pastures, that he led you beside still water, and that he restored your soul (Psalm 23).

God’s Boot Camp

I’ve been listening to an audiobook about the battle for Okinawa that took place in the Pacific theater near the end of World War II. A large percentage of our men were between 18-21, some having come right out of high school. It is incredible to read about what the soldiers and marines were up against and what they went through.

Boot camp certainly prepared these men for some of what they would encounter. But it took getting into combat to find out what it was really like. Boot camp was essential. But it was incomplete.

Like members of our military, pastors go through training. Our formal eduction in Bible College or seminary is an important part of our training. Like boot camp, it is essential, but it is also incomplete. For example, you may have had a course on preaching, but you don’t really know how to preach until you’ve done it several times. There’s much that our schooling can give us, but there’s also much that it can’t. Which is why you’ll probably find yourself occasionally saying, “They didn’t teach us this in school.”

So how does a young man in his 20’s or early 30’s (or even older) effectively shepherd people who are older and more experienced? The Bible is a faithful and inerrant guide, and younger pastors are able to share its counsel. But ministry involves more than giving information. It’s helpful to be able to relate in some way to what people experience. But how can you understand what your people are going through when you haven’t lived all that long?

It occurred to me recently that the majority of the pastors that I know have had incidents in their lives early on that have helped prepare them for dealing with those who hurt. We may not know it at the time, but I wonder if God takes us through times of trouble when we are younger so that we can minister more effectively inspire of our youth?

For example, some guys have gone through a relationship breakup. You had plans and those plans fell through. And now you’re sitting with a man whose wife just walked out on him. You can’t relate fully, but you can in part. Younger pastors and their wives sometimes have experienced the tragedy of miscarriage. And now you have to talk to the couple who have lost a child. It’s similar, to be sure, but it’s might not be quite the same thing. But your experience allows you to relate to them. Your first ministry experience may have been a disaster. You may have served in a really tough church, or worked under a heavy-handed and demanding senior pastor. Or you may have experienced failure in some way that has made you question your calling. But you got back in the saddle and God provided another opportunity. Can you see how that experience may have prepared you to talk to those who have gone through struggles and disappointments?

I want to encourage you in two ways.

First, as you look at your life, what experiences have you gone through that may have prepared you to help others with more life experience than you? How did you feel when you went through times of trouble? How can you better connect with others because of what you went through? How did God minister to you? Answering those questions will help you have some connection in many situations, even if your experience and theirs does not parallel.

Second, be careful that you don’t convey the idea that you know what other people are going through or that your experience was worse than theirs. We often say, “I know what you’re feeling.” But we don’t. At least not always.

When I was in college I worked in a machine shop. I was the epitome of the term “unskilled labor.” But I was working for my girlfriend’s father and was being paid over twice what I would have made in most jobs. One of the guys I worked with was in his early 60’s. He was a fellow-believer and we got along really well. John was a great guy, but he had one annoying habit that was known to most of the other guys in the shop: If something happened to you, he could top it.

One day I reached behind a high-speed drill press and got my sleeve caught in the drill bit. Within seconds my shirt was twisted so tight that it actually cut into my arm. One of the other guys ran over and turned off the press, and I was taken to the emergency clinic. As I was walking out, John walked with me saying, “Kid (he always said that), I remember the time when . . .” He was telling me about an injury that he had that was worse than mine.

You don’t want to inadvertently become what comedian Brian Regan calls a “Me Monster.” That doesn’t play well with others, especially when they are hurting.

You may have thought that your education was the equivalent of boot camp. But often the first couple of years of ministry provides training that you need, not just in experience, but in living life. What is preparing you for the battles that may lie ahead?