An informal online survey suggests that three-quarters of people are finding this third lockdown harder than the previous ones. The novelty has worn off. The home-schooling is relentless. The weather is grim. And church… well, for most people church is neither one thing nor the other, with severely depleted physical gatherings, or severely limited digital ones.
All the church ministers I speak to have been working at double pace for the past ten months. They have gone through a crash course on all kinds of unfamiliar technology. They have been finding ways to maintain contact with the offline members of their congregations. They have been taking funerals. They have been organising practical help for those who are shielding, isolating, ill and bereaved. They have had to respond to continually changing laws and conflicting guidance from their bishops, assessing each new unpredictable situation to work out which is the least worst way forward.
And, of course, they have been doing this without the benefit of many of the usual support systems in place. Days off have to be spent at home, in the parish. Some will have managed a week or two away last summer, but many will have had holiday plans cancelled. Christmas breaks were forbidden at the last minute. Not only that, but the fellowship of time with other ministers at conferences throughout the year, or in normal meet-ups with prayer groups has been missed.
It’s okay, if like Elijah, you find yourself saying, “I have had enough.” (1 Kings 19:4)
Elijah’s situation was different, of course. He feared for his life after his great showdown with the prophets of Baal, and Queen Jezebel’s death threat. He had stood up for Yahweh, alone against the priests and leaders of Israel, and although he had been vindicated in that moment, afterwards he was left alone, exhausted and terrified.
Maybe there are aspects of that you identify with. Maybe you too have been fearing for your life during this pandemic, or fearful for family members or friends who are in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ category. Maybe you have felt alone, whether physically isolated during lockdowns, cut off from the fellowship of your church family, or lacking the support of like-minded ministers you would usually be in contact with.
Maybe you are exhausted.
Just holding everything together, and keeping everything going has been a massive challenge in the past ten months. Engaging with people online is incredibly draining, without the uplifting responses we get from people in person. Dealing with all the technology for Zooming or livestreaming might still be a weekly struggle without reward. Many of us have not been able to share the Lord’s Supper at all for months.
We are doing more and being fed less. And I think it’s okay to admit it, if you have had enough. You do not have to hold everything together. You do not have to keep everything going.
Here’s what Jesus said: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)
He will build his church.
And the gates of hell will not overcome it. Nothing will stop Christ from building his church. Not coronavirus. Not lockdown. Not your weakness and limitations. He will build his church.
Do you trust Christ to build his church?
Do you trust Christ to build his church in your place, among your people?
Do you trust Christ to build his church despite your exhaustion, fear or isolation?
Then take a deep sigh of relief, and let him do it.
When Elijah was alone, exhausted and terrified, what did the Lord do for him? He didn’t try to rally him, to boost him with stirring words, to show him how great the task and opportunity that lay before him. No, the Lord sent food and let him sleep.
I don’t know what you need. Maybe there are ministers out there who have been putting their feet up for the past ten months, who do need rallying into action.
But I don’t think there are many like that. I think there are many more who need food and sleep, and to let the Lord take care of his business of building the church. He will not let any of his precious children be snatched from his hand. You can trust your people to him.
Here’s a few practical suggestions to consider:
- Are you making your own walk with the Lord a priority? Are you letting him feed you and sustain you each day? Are you occasionally taking longer periods of time – half-days, or full days – to rest in him and be refreshed?
- Are you taking regular days off and finding ways to use them well, so that you end them feeling refreshed and reinvigorated? Do you need to take more time off than usual – adding a half-day before or after? Or even another full day?
- Are you prioritising prayer for your people over programmes? Have you spent more time praying for them over the past year than normal – or less? Now, more than ever, they need your prayers.
- Are you trying to replicate as much of your church’s normal programmes as you can? Why, when nothing else in life is normal now? Consider whether there are more things that need to be put on hold, more things that could be stopped. It’s okay to admit you can’t keep going, it’s okay to say you can’t do everything.
One practical way that Church Society has sought to help ministers has been the provision of video sermons over the summer and at Christmas. We will be sharing more sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and the two Sundays following. Please plan to take some time off, and use these if it helps you to do so!