You have likely seen the headlines...
"Louisiana Pastor Defies Coronavirus Order, Draws Over 1,000 People to Services" (NBC News)
"Florida Pastor Arrested After Defying Virus Orders" (NY Times)
"Churches Hold Crowded Services In Defiance of Government Coronavirus Guidance (Fox News)
"'Demonic Spirit:' Miami Pastor Rejects Coronavirus Warning" (Miami Herald)
These are the stories that trend and make headlines. These are the pastors and religious leaders that pop up on Twitter feeds and trending news reports today. Yet, these are not the norm. These are not representative of the thousands of pastors seeking to glorify God, lead well, shepherd their flocks, and love their neighbors.
These are trying days, and pastors of local churches are not immune to the pressures of being isolated and social distancing.
The handful of attention-grabbing stories seem to be little more than attempts by some to elevate themselves and their particular churches or ministries while claiming the right to do so under the banner of religious freedom.
The challenges before churches and other religious groups today are very real. While some may view mandates as conspiratorial and little more than government leaders seeking ways to permanently close down churches (NYC Mayor di Blasio's recent press conference notwithstanding) the facts seem to show otherwise.
The Non-Trending Pastors
For the past few weeks, there have been hundreds of online meetings of pastors and Christian leaders held. Everyone's timeline has been flooded with screenshots of online meetings with pastors, staff, church leaders, and church members doing what they can to stay connected while social distancing. The jokes about everyone's meetings looking like "Hollywood Squares" or "The Brady Bunch" abound.
Offices have become laptops on desks in back bedrooms. Many pastors understand first-hand what the BBC reporter was facing when his report from South Korea a while back when viral. Do you remember this?
Certainly, things have changed.
Pastors have agonized with decisions related to weekly gatherings. Pressures to cancel have been weighed against pressures to continue meeting. For the most part, the churches in our community and the pastors I know personally have complied with the social distancing requests. By doing so, they don't make the news. And...that is good.
What is worth noting is that these local churches are not meeting in groups larger than ten. The vast majority have shifted to online preaching and connecting via telephone, emails, texts, and online meetings. Some pastors and churches have taken leaps forward to utilize technology they previously did not use. This has caused quite a bit of stress as well. Yet, it is so encouraging to hear how some who have fast-tracked their learning curve of such things, not to be trendy or cool, but to be effective in staying connected with their church members and community.
I'm hearing daily from my pastor friends about creative (and recommended guideline-compliant) things being done in their church to minister well during these days.
The church prevails and God's pastors ARE leading well. In fact, most of the pastors I know are working longer hours and doing more during this time of isolation than in prior weeks simply to minister best to their church members and community.
To the pastors out there who will never be a headline on the news, congratulations! You're doing this right.
Press on. Pastor well. Stay socially distanced, but not socially disconnected. God has placed you where he has and equipped you for the work he called you to do. Even in isolation, you know it's true, but you may need to be reminded - YOU ARE NOT ALONE.