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FIRST-PERSON: Pastors need prayers, patience amid pandemic

EDITOR’S NOTE: Milton Hollifield is the executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

CARY, N.C. (BP) — Two recent articles related to the comfort levels of people returning to in-person worship highlight the ongoing challenges that pastors and churches continue to wrestle with amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

One survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute reported that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans were “somewhat” or “very” uncomfortable attending indoor worship services due to ongoing concerns over the coronavirus. The survey polled more than 3,000 Americans from late May to early June, and the results were reported by Baptist Press and other media outlets.

While acknowledging that COVID-19 continues to be a very legitimate concern, some pastors are fearful that the practice of worshiping online or via television may tempt members to be slow in returning to church attendance in a new normal. In an article published on Thom Rainer’s “Church Answers” website titled “What is keeping people away?” leadership consultant and former Southern Baptist pastor Ron Edmondson writes, “People have fallen into a nice routine of online and in-home worship.”

Based on personal conversations and anecdotes I’ve heard from pastors across our state, I believe that they have done a good job trying to weigh the health and safety of their members against the desire to gather together again for corporate worship even as they have attempted to keep everyone happy.

Some churches, after resuming indoor worship, have felt compelled to go back to meeting outdoors or only online because some attendees were testing positive for COVID-19 after participating in indoor worship.

Some long-tenured pastors feel this current situation has led to some of their most difficult days in ministry. Pastors need your prayers and your understanding as they try to make the best decisions for the church family.

Even if they don’t express it, many pastors feel they will be criticized no matter what — if they begin to hold in-person services or if they don’t, if they require face coverings in worship or if they don’t. They find themselves in a “no-win” situation.

Difficult decisions, dwindling attendance and other issues can weigh on a pastor and make their calling even more challenging. Now is the time to show them patience and grace as we lift them up in prayer.

Now would be a good time for you to express your personal appreciation to your pastor and let him know you are investing more time in intercessory prayer for him as he ministers during these daily challenges.

A short text or an email to him can offer more encouragement than you realize. Just a few words to let him know you realize his load is heavy and that you appreciate and respect him will be a special and welcomed blessing. Invite others to join you.

Live like who you really are — a child of the God who is love!

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 4:2).

“Do all things without murmurings and disputing” (Philippians 4:14).