I dialed into yet another Zoom call. Pastors’ faces filled the screen. The upper left corner said, “So, when are you guys gathering again?” Chatter erupted about state restrictions, social distancing, and size limitations. Then someone asked, “How are you guys doing?”—crickets.
It’s tempting to skip over pastoral questions to get on with ministry pragmatics. The particulars of post-pandemic church life must be thought through. However, God is asking pastors deeper questions. If we fail to answer them, we will not only squander our sufferings but stunt our pastoral care.
Who Are You?
In the absence of friends and presence of trials God asks us, “Who are you?” With usual comforts stripped away we have a choice: dive deeper into union with Christ or draw on new comforts. Perhaps you’ve found yourself standing in front of the fridge more often than usual, silver doors propped open, searching for a distraction? Maybe you’ve binged a few shows to push nagging restlessness away. Or perhaps you’ve taken the high road and thrown yourself into ministry?
A pastor recently confessed to me that he’s been more occupied with ministry than with family. With the boundaries of work and home blurred during Shelter in Place, work is within reach at all times. He’s found himself drawn to pop open the laptop and get to work in the evenings. Then one night his wife walked by and said, “You need to shut that down.” Thank God for wives who speak the truth in love!
We opened Psalm 146 and read, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (3). As pastors we know salvation comes from the Lord, but often we act like it comes from men. I asked my friend what “salvation” he thought he was seeking through work. He replied, “Worth. Pinned down in my home, it feels good to get something done. I feel like I have worth when I finish a project.”
My friend answered the question positively; he was looking for worth. But whenever we’re rescued, we are saved from something negative. When a person is drowning, the lifeguard jumps in the water to rescue the person from death. What was so threatening to my friend that he sought salvation?
I asked him, “Do you think it’s possible you’re seeking salvation from inadequacy?” Truth be told, we’re all in adequate for the pastoral challenges of COVID-19. The at-risk who need care, rampant anxiety and fear, genuine health threats, and the persistent void of in-the-flesh fellowship. Oh, and preaching to a cold, dark camera just isn’t the same.
Amidst these challenges, it’s tempting bury ourselves in our work instead of face our inadequacy. It’s easier to get something done, make another call, record another devotional, fend off inadequacy. But God wants us not merely our work. He wants us to kneel, confess our inadequacy, and ask him to work, beginning with us. Jesus wants to rescue us from drowning in sinful self-reliance. And to do that, we’ll need to mourn.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:8). Author and elder Dane Ortlund says our burdens and sins don’t disqualify us; they qualify us to come to Jesus. And there, in Christ, we find comfort for our sufferings and forgiveness for our sins. But we must name them and hand them to Jesus. If we to not release them, we will not be comforted. What do you need to release to Jesus?
Many people in our churches are also drowning. Burying their sorrows in overworking, overeating, and over-watching. How will we shepherd them toward the one who bears their burdens and forgives their sins, when we refuse to come to Jesus ourselves? On our knees, we discover who we truly are—comforted and adequate in Christ Jesus.
Jonathan Dodson is s the founding pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas, and founder of Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He is the author of several books with his most recent release entitled Our Good Crisis published by InterVarsity Press.