The past year has been the most difficult of the 16 I’ve spent in vocational ministry. The challenges have been overwhelming and exhausting. In some ways it’s been a perfect storm of catastrophes and conflicts as we’ve faced a pandemic, protests, and political division.

No seminary class could’ve prepared me to navigate a 12-week order that forced our church to move our worship gatherings online. Like many other pastors, I felt significant stress not knowing when we’d reopen or what that would look like, whether people would stay connected, or whether we’d survive the financial hit.

Just weeks later, the pressure of all this deepened as the brutal death of George Floyd ignited protests and riots across the country. Not many weeks after that, the presidential election brought a new set of challenges, only surpassed by the political division in the weeks after the election as conspiracy theories multiplied and an insurrectionist mob attacked the Capitol. Navigating these waters as a pastor focused on a local church has been challenging.

There’s really not an adequate word to describe all of the complexities these events have presented for pastors.

It’s been difficult. Decision fatigue, criticism, exhaustion—I’ve experienced it all. As I talk with pastor friends around the country, I find many of them hanging on by a thread.

Some Churches Thrive

It’s not all bad. Some churches seem to have overcome the challenges of COVID in astounding ways. I love seeing reports about the amazing things happening in churches around the country despite the crisis.

As I talk with pastor friends around the country, I find many of them hanging on by a thread.

I’ve seen some churches report 90 percent of normal attendance. Others are experiencing hundreds of baptisms during this season, and thousands of people indicating a decision for Christ through an online service. In all of this, I rejoice.

But at the moment, these things are not happening in my church. Our giving has been good, and the people have been patient, understanding, and fairly unified throughout the year. I’ve certainly experienced criticism in this crisis like everyone else, but the majority of our church members have been supportive. We’ve even seen several people come to faith in Christ.

But our community and church have been hard hit by COVID. We average about 35 percent of our normal worship attendance. Many who haven’t returned are concerned about the virus. Others, I’m afraid, have totally disconnected from the life of the church, despite our best efforts to sustain ministry in this time.

Beyond that (and more troubling), our evangelistic efforts have struggled more this year than at any point in my ministry. It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve invited people to Christ every week. We’ve had some creative outreach strategies. But because of the pandemic’s social dynamics and the cancelation of evangelistic events, we aren’t reaching people for Christ like I wish.

I probably feel less confident about my leadership abilities now than ever before. I simply do not have what it takes.

This is frustrating. It’s also terrifying. I often wonder, When will everyone come back? Will they come back at all? I wonder with increasing frequency, Have I failed in some aspect of my leadership that we aren’t showing the outward success others are?

I probably feel less confident about my leadership abilities now than ever before. I simply do not have what it takes.

God Has Everything I Need

I can’t change my church. I can’t make people come back. I can’t snap my fingers and see baptisms increase. But God can. I don’t have adequate wisdom or skill to lead through all this. But in every realization of what I can’t do and what I don’t have, I find deep encouragement in knowing that God has everything I need. Jesus is the chief shepherd of the church. Ultimately, what the church is or becomes is up to him. He’s in charge.

My responsibility is to be faithful, endure, keep shepherding, and trust him with what’s going to happen with the church. My job isn’t to grow the church. It’s not to fix the church. My job is to care for the sheep that belong to Jesus and guide them to him, however challenging the road might be right now.

It’s not by accident that the author of Hebrews repeatedly stresses the importance of endurance when he tells us to keep running the race (Heb. 12:1–3). Pastoral ministry isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.

Jesus is the chief shepherd of the church. Ultimately, what the church is or becomes is up to him.

If you’re experiencing feelings of helplessness or even hopelessness, if you’re frustrated or fearful, know this: you aren’t alone. Pastors across the country are in the same shape. Jesus knows, cares, and is with you. However discouraged you might be, however weary your soul, however much the feelings of inadequacy might affect you, Jesus sees you, loves you, and won’t forsake you.

Keep your hand to the plow. Don’t give up. In due season, we shall reap.

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