By Thom S. Rainer
In a recent article, I wrote that churches will never be the same after the pandemic. An important corollary to that thesis is that pastors will never be the same. Though the biblical standards of pastoral ministry remain constant, how pastors carry out that ministry will change dramatically. In many ways, the changes are already taking place.
- Pastors will either thrive with an attitude of abundance or retreat with an attitude of scarcity. Some pastors are already adapting incredibly well during the pandemic. They are functioning more with an attitude of God’s abundant provisions than one of scarcity. These pastors are becoming amazingly creative and positive about the future. Unfortunately, others can’t wait to return to a church world that no longer exists. Those leaders will not do well. Some are looking to denominations and donors to rescue their churches even though they have all the resources they need right now.
- More pastors will see the building as a means, not an end. I spoke with a pastor who shared his amazement at how well his church is doing without a physical facility during the pandemic. For sure, he will be glad to be able to return to the building. But his views on church facilities have changed dramatically. If you want to see how churches have defined themselves by buildings, go to the “About” section on a church website. A number of churches narrate their successes in ministry by the different buildings the church has constructed. That world is changing.
- More pastors will see the digital world as an opportunity for the gospel rather than an evil to be cursed. Nope, I am not seeing many rants about the evils of the internet as a plethora of pastors are using Facebook live for digital services. What a difference a pandemic makes! Sure, the digital world has evil in it. The whole world has evil in it. Some pastors right now are re-thinking how their churches can engage the digital world. Others are just waiting for the pandemic to pass where they can do ministry as usual. Those leaders will not do well.
- More pastors are re-discovering and re-engaging their communities. For too long, some church leaders have devised strategies to get guests to “come to church.” The pandemic has forced them to see that the church building is only a gathering point, not an ultimate destination. These leaders are leading their churches right now to find ways to be a positive ministry and influence in the community. So, the church is going to the community rather than pushing the community to go to the church.
- A number of pastors are looking at metrics differently. For example, what are the implications when a church of 125 in attendance has a digital service with 500 views? Who are those people? How many of them are local? How can we connect with them? How can we serve them? Most church metrics are focused on how many people show up in a facility or give funds to the organization. The pandemic has opened the eyes of pastors to countless new possibilities.
The pandemic is changing the way we do church. The pandemic is changing the way pastors will shepherd and lead in the future.
Look at God’s possibilities rather than the artificial limitations imposed by COVID-19.
Posted on April 6, 2020
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Really good points, Thom. I’m so grateful our church had already begun to embrace these changes. Also, I realized that you could easily replace the word “pastors” with “church members”. We need to go the same direction as our leaders!
The Apostles saw their function as “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” If we fail to take advantage of every means to minister the Word to every person we can, we have failed indeed.
Things are not going to be the same a month or in six months; but we need to continue adapting and moving forward, however God leads.
I’m another dinosaur; but moving on with technology. Looking to expand the footprint of the church God has given us to lead.
Love that last sentence, Bill.
The one that has caught me completely off guard is the last one. The metrics question is hard to answer because I have more hits on my online sermons than I do people on Sunday morning. We run between 80-90 people on Sunday morning and last weeks sermon had over 200 hits on it. An aspect that I am dealing with is not being able to see my people especially those in the nursing home. I was trained by older ministers who believed in “the ministry of presence.” Not being able to see those people who are home bound or in nursing homes is frustrating. Yes, I have called those who can receive a phone call. Yes, things will be different when this virus finally dies off. Hopefully, this will make us all better ministers of the gospel.
Such is my prayer, William.
One thing I’ve noticed while streaming worship is the folks who watch and interact aren’t just local. I have friends who live a continent away who are regular in worship on Sunday. I think a positive consequence to the isolation and the effort to broadcast more is people are able to see and hear remotely, and those who we have connections to from long passed times (high school and college) are reconnecting to the message.
The other benefit for us is the ability for newcomers to the area to internet search and then watch and listen before coming to join us. That way they have a good idea of worship style and message before getting there. Fewer surprises.
The National Cathedral on Palm Sunday only had 13k feeds viewing the service live on YouTube. When people commented during the service, many said they were not local, but because many little parish churches were closed, people watched the cathedral service. Some were not Episcopalians or did not realize that the woman preaching was Bishop Budde, the bishop of Washington.
My wife and I have felt called to plant a church for five years now. After many closed doors and several years of waiting/wandering in the wilderness, we feel as though God has called us to plant in the small town where we currently live. Our plan was to launch on Easter Sunday. We obviously can’t launch in a physical location but we still feel the Holy Spirit nudging us on. We will be launching our church virtually which is completely unheard of to me. This is just one more way ministry is different during this pandemic. We covet your prayers. To God Be The Glory!
Thank you Dr. Rainer, this is a great article that touches home in my life and ministry. I am a dinosaur but God has given me some “tech-y” staff members that have helped me see the great opportunities that we have in reaching folks with the Gospel. I am excited about the possibilities!
Love your heart, Barry!
Thanks as always for a great article. Appreciate you tackling a hard timely subject.
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As to #3, the digital world is becoming quite useful for outreach. A daily video post that lasts 10 minutes is great outreach. Read a Psalm of hope and then talk about it. You do not know how many people will view it that day or listen to it a month later. You will not know who they are. Also, there is no rule that the pastor must do it. Let some of your congregants do it. Video posts today can be made by multiple people all stuck at home in different places. Offer hope to all. Let one of your musicians sing a song at the end perhaps while playing a piano or guitar.
Well said, Mark.
Great perspective- Try this- substitute ” the church” in place of pastors.
You are so right Pastors AND congregants should develop a new sense of mission and priorities.
So true, Lee.
I like the message, thanks very much
And – hopefully – we will all be better preachers/communicators. Knowing that our messages will be seen by many outside our usual circle and – ideally – distributed widely forces us to carefully prepare, weigh all our words, and to speak as plainly, clearly as possible. I know my prep time has gone up knowing that the message is circulating out there.
Great point, Paul.
Amen! That so much more relevant than ever before!
I love your positive attitude. This should be read by every pastor and leader. Let’s see the wonderful opportunities that God is giving us right now… today
You got it, Mike! Let’s see what God can do instead of what we think we can’t do.
This article is extremely accurate and very motivating.
6. Church pastors are responsible for preaching, leading, and providing pastoral care. Pastoral care always has been “the wild card” for them—the one thing with potential to upset a week’s ministry plans completely. After the pandemic, that reality will be even more clear, though shelter-in-place/self-quarantining will have made it more difficult to do well.