Has the Pandemic Made Churches and Pastors Soft?

Are we soft?

I hesitate to write this. I can envision the “you, insensitive goober” emails heading my way. So it is with fear and trembling, I simply ask the question: “Has the pandemic made the church and pastors soft?”

The pandemic has made a mess of everything. We will probably talk about “pre-pandemic” life and “post pandemic” life for the rest of our lives. It has caused interruptions to our once “normal” lifestyle. With the variants continuing on, it may continue to disrupt our lives. We’ve lost loved ones (and in no way, am I downplaying the life devastation caused to those who are grieving). We’ve been isolated. School and learning has been delayed. Church life derailed. Life unsettled. Add to the pandemic woes are divisive politics, social media, and other disrupting factors in the last year and a half to which we can only conclude, it’s been tough.

But compared to what other Christians have had to endure (or are enduring in other parts of the world), I am wondering if we are too soft in the USA. Are we crybabies?

This week I learned of two successful pastors who are leaving the ministry to enter secular employment. They’ve cited the rigors of the last year as one of the reasons for the vocational shift. I know others who have come to the same conclusion, and I want to ask these pastors: Has your call changed? Did Jesus call you to preach or not? (I know I’m treading on thin ice right now. I know you don’t have to be in a pulpit to preach.). Yes, it’s been a rough year. But has it been rougher than Paul sitting in the Roman prison? More difficult than Jeremiah tossed in a cistern? More challenging than countless millions martyred for their faith. Those people carried on and continued the fight. They battled even when the end was not pleasant and the rescue didn’t come. Why aren’t we?

Jesus didn’t say life would be easy. He said the harvest was ready and he was sending us out. Matthew in chapter 9 leaves it there, but Luke offers this warning with the challenge: Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. (Luke 10:3). In case you are unfamiliar with the workings of the animal world, being a lamb in the midst of wolves, is not particularly safe or healthy. My point: Jesus doesn’t promise safe and easy. He promised “harvest.” He promised victory. 

My conclusion: Maybe we aren’t seeing “harvest,” because we want “easy.” General Superintendent Dr. David Busic was speaking recently and (I’m paraphrasing) he said the difference between the USA/Canada church and the rest of the world is “desperation.” We aren’t desperate for God enough. Well, my contention (get the tomatoes ready to toss in my general direction) is that the pandemic has caused “desperation,” but through it, we haven’t desired God as much as we’ve desired ease. The resulting response has been “It’s hard. I quit.” (This is an over-simplification of what is happening in the hearts and minds of those leaving the ministry. Of course, there are many and in some cases necessary factors involved in making the painful decision to walk away from vocational ministry).

Still it’s harvest time! People need Jesus. But in order to reap the harvest, we must pray on, press on, carry on. Harvest is not easy. But if we aren’t in the fields (even with the lurking, social-media savvy wolves), it’s impossible to reap. Harvest happens when we are so desperate for God, so dependent upon his power at work in us, that all our efforts will fail without him. When harvest comes (and it will come) our efforts or work won’t be what provides it, it happens through God’s grace, mercy and power that is at work in us as we carry on and don’t quit. These times have been tough, but, we must not quit. If we want the harvest. We. Must. Not. Quit.

Commence tossing your rotten tomatoes.

2 thoughts on “Has the Pandemic Made Churches and Pastors Soft?

  1. Sharon Murry

    OK, I give up. My humorous, insightful comments re your terrific article (which really had a couple of good thoughts on there) have gone into thin air. I am praying so hard I can be well enough to tell you in person. (And if you are lucky, you will get three copies in various stages of this e-mail.

  2. John Poling

    I have been a fan of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, first because of the music they have given us, then because of Jim Cymbala’s books, and his message that prayer, not their doctrine or anything else made them what they are today. And one of the things he mentioned early on was a sense of desperation. The people needed jobs. They had family members who were addicted to drugs or alcohol. They weren’t embarrassed to be ‘desperate’ in their prayers. Cymbala made a commitment (as you well know) to make the prayer meeting the center of everything the church did. I am sure the church is not perfect, but I was taken by that. I consider my greatest failure as a pastor (now retired) that I never convinced my church to be fully, desperately committed to prayer. Someone said “The times are desperate, but we are not.” The great need in my own life might be for a real sense of desperation and my own spiritual poverty. Thanks for this post.


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