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Pastoring Through the Pandemic: A Call for Collaborative Leadership

Posted: 3/28/20 at 10:30am. Written by Christy Foldenauer.

Have you seen the new shirts being sold that say, “The church has left the building?”

While my hat is off to the marketer who thought up that phrase, I think they are off by a couple thousand years. You and I know, theologically, that since Jesus came, the church hasn’t been a building; rather, it is and has been the Church of Jesus Christ, and those who follow him faithfully don’t go to church, we are the church.

Christy Foldenauer

If anything is a gift of a season of pastoring through a pandemic, I think it is this: we are quickly reframing the comfortable corners of what it looks like to follow Jesus and help others find him. Our methods are changing rapidly, and we didn’t choose this change. We’re adopting our practices to new paradigms and parameters, and this work isn’t easy!

We used to think together at conferences and meetings about going “beyond the walls” of our church, but overnight the walls became irrelevant and we entered the world of WiFi, live streams, and digital connection. Our congregants grew from those who could find us in their cars to include anyone who clicks onto our feed, or connects to our live broadcast, or finds us through a friend who shares.

What does this reframing mean for us as pastors? The world is thinking differently about where they can look for God, and where they’d expect to find him, and I don’t expect the thought patterns will return to what they were. For instance, our church buildings are empty now, and while we look forward to the return of gathering, we must recognize that gathering will look different as we move forward and—as unthinkable as it is for most of us—some people will prefer the digital diet of connection to our older, face-to-face model. Meanwhile, our neighborhoods are full of the hope of Christ—through the people of his Kingdom—if we will think about how to lean into incarnational presence in new and uncharted ways.

As pastors, let’s use the coronavirus pandemic as a catalyst to think differently about how it is that we accomplish what we’re called to do. We’re called to a co-mission with Jesus: to make disciples and to baptize them!

So, here’s an encouragement and exhortation for you, pastors: Each of us is wired differently, with different giftings and abilities. Consider Ephesians 4:11-13:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)

Some of us are Apostles, and some are Prophets. Some are Evangelists, some Shepherds and some Teachers.  We all need each other to chart a course for the Church through the pandemic, and to figure out what our steps are on the other side of this unnerving time when we find ourselves in a new normal. With that in mind:

Apostles, help us start new things and lead us in pioneering novel ways of connection.

Prophets, keep us true, and help us reveal the heart of God for the world right now.

Evangelists, excite us to tell God’s story in new and compelling ways that invite others in.

Shepherds, guard the flock and guide us through the soul work of a pandemic.

Teachers, interpret for us, that we might bring the life-giving power of scripture in new ways.

And then, while we are each leaning into our giftedness, we must consider that the pandemic also yields the possibility of newfound collaboration for Kingdom work. We would probably all be more focused on our own flock right now if we weren’t in the midst of navigating a horrible disease that is altering our very lives and ministries. Let’s not forget that we are so much more together than any one of us is apart.

None of us finds the work of pastoring through a pandemic to be easy, though some of us find rapid change to be more natural than others. So, if you are on the leading edge of this time of sweeping change, look back and extend a hand to a pastor that is feeling stuck. If you aren’t sure of your next step, call on the pastor of the church next door to see how they are doing—regardless of their denomination. Share your thoughts, your work, your sermons, your successes, and your struggles. As brothers and sisters in Christ, and as those called and set apart to lead congregations in these uncertain and unprecedented times, we are all better together.

Christy Foldenauer is Senior Pastor of Tomahawk Baptist Church in Midlothian, VA.