When COVID-19 intruded into our lives back in March, who would have dreamed it would have dragged on this long. Alas, there seems to be no end in sight in the foreseeable future of a return to normalcy. While there is no question the pandemic has taken a physical and economic toll in people’s lives , it has without question taken a psychological toll. Christians have not been exempted from the negative effects of COVID-19, as it has taken a spiritual toll on the life of many Christians. During this pandemic Christians have been subjected to the same emotions as that of non-Christians: fear, isolation, helplessness, hopelessness, irritability, frustration, anger, stress, panic and grief. Anxiety has gripped the hearts of many Christians as the result of their routine being interrupted, fear of being exposed to the virus, cut off from family and friends, economic woes, and a sense of helplessness of the inability to do anything about the situation.
As churches have grappled with decisions as how to best gradually reopen the church doors, these negative emotions have in more than a few instances affected the way some members interact with church leadership. As this process of regathering has unfolded, this writer, who is currently serving as a Baptist Associational Director of Missions, has observed that on the part of some professing Christians the negative emotions that have been bottled up inside since March, have boiled over into directed attacks on church leadership. Complaints vary from “the pastor is not making good decisions in reopening the doors,” “the pastor has not made consistent connection with the members over the last few months,” “the pastor has no vision to get us back to normal,” “the pastor is not dealing with the pandemic like Slippery Rock Baptist Church down the road,” “church is just not the same,” and the list goes on and on. All the hostility and irritability that has been kept inside, is spilling over onto church leadership. The pandemic has forced people, and the church, to adapt to a “new normal” and this has caused many church members to feel helpless and frustrated. The pastor/church leadership becoming the ones where people dump their frustration. The loss of one’s normal activities and a sense of losing control of ones life, has caused some Christian’s to lash out at the pastor in exasperation.
There are many reasons for this expressed frustration toward church leadership. For many the pastor “represents” God, and while their anger and confusion is directed at the pastor, their anger in reality is directed toward God who the Christian feels is able to fix the problem but has not. The pastor just happens to be the easy target for such anger to be directed. But regardless of the reasons, such directed anger is unfair to the pastor, who himself is frustrated and is searching for answers as how-to best wade through the mire of the pandemic. Such unfair treatment of pastors is causing many to struggle with increased stress, battles with bouts of depression, and even considering leaving the pastorate.
As Christians we must realize that while we are subject to negative emotions like anyone else, we must not let those emotions take a foothold in our lives. We have the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us that allows us to have victory….even in the midst of a pandemic. Whether life will ever go back to “normal” or not, as Christians we must realize greater is He that lives within us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). There are some Biblical ways to have victory and not be a pot of boiling water spilling over with negative and destructive emotions. Life is often about adjusting positively to the circumstance, and through this pandemic this is even more important.
First, social distancing doesn’t mean total isolation. With the technology of today we can still stay socially engaged with one another, we can still hear the voices of those we love and care about, we can still see the faces of friends and loved ones. We must mutually encourage and support one another through the technological means available. While this may not be ideal, there is something about hearing another person’s voice and seeing their face that puts a spark of hope in our spirit.
Second, we must not neglect the reading of the Bible. Read the Psalms. Found in the Psalms are all the raw emotions that we encounter. The Psalmist was never timid about carrying his negative emotions and questions to the Lord, but he always discovered the answer was not found within himself but outside of himself in the Lord. One who meditates on the Plasms will find their attitude and emotions being readjusted.
Third, don’t neglect prayer and praise. We should daily count our blessings. It is hard to count one’s blessings and gripe at the same time. A mind focused on what one has instead of what one doesn’t have is a mind that becomes content and thankful.
Fourth, don’t forget that even through this pandemic God has a glorious plan that goes beyond our comprehension, which He is unfolding in the world, in our nation, in our church life, and our individual lives. In this time of COVID-19, the glory of God will be revealed in HIS time!
Fifth, don’t forget private and cooperate worship. If one is uncertain about returning to church at this time don’t forget to privately worship the Lord and join in through live streaming. While things are not back to “normal,” if one does feel comfortable attending services with other Christians, it has a strengthening effect on the spirit. While cooperate worship at this point may not be where one would like it, be patient with the pastor and church leadership. One may not be happy where it is at the present, but one can be assured the leadership is not either. We are all in uncharted waters together.
These days have no doubt been full of challenges, and there will be challenges yet to come, but we need not let negative emotions destroy our inner peace and spill over into attacks on church leadership who are struggling, as well. Instead of preying on church leadership, let us be sure to pray for them.