The pastor in Hebrews 13 writes this as he wraps up his letter to the church. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”
Leadership is hard. Leaders are out front and being out front often means making mistakes, trying things and failing, getting things wrong, being vulnerable. And being out front makes you a target, especially when we hear so much about the leadership of others – though most often the stories we hear are polished and about the successes not the failures, and even when we hear of the failures they are so often glossed or spun. In our magpie age we can quickly collect lots of stories of success and leadership and then compare them to our flesh and blood leaders, leaders who we see on their off, tired days as well as their good days. Leaders whose vulnerabilities and insecurities we can know only too well.
I’m not calling for leaders to be put on pedestals, we need to rip pedestals down not build more of them. But God speaks to call us to have confidence in our leaders and to submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you. That image of keeping watch is a shepherding image. The pastor is calling us to respect good shepherds not bad shepherds, those who follow their master and lay down their life for the sheep not those who fleece or abuse them.
We live in an unusual time. Leadership in an age of lockdown is doubly hard. Communication is hard – technology is great but it’s also limited, there are fewer visual cues to work from and less body language to read. So often it’s that and not what someone says that really tells us how one another is. And when communication is harder so is leadership. And those of us in church leadership know no more than anyone else about when things will ease or change or lockdown might be lifted. We may be wondering what our churches lockdown strategy will look like, we may have a range of action plans and neat colour coded diagrams (unliekly) or we may just be ready to fly by the seat of our pants again, but we don’t know.
And for many of us in small churches with limited resources we’re very aware that in the age of online communication there is lots of slick and beautifully crafted available and we just can’t meet that. When you zoom in or watch our Youtube offering you’re not getting a Netflix or mega-church level of presentation simply because it’s us pressing play on our phone’s video recorder with a cheap microphone we’ve bought from Amazon and uploading over hours to Youtube. We’re doing our best but in the comparison game we know that we fail.
Pastor friends let that be a lesson to you don’t play that game. God will not hold us accountable by number of hits, or how many technological excellent segues we manage. He will hold us accountable for shepherding the sheep, feeding them, pastoring them within the current restrictions we have.
Church members can I make a plea; make virtually leading you a joy. Why not begin to do that by emailing or phoning your pastor(s) and encouraging them with what you’ve appreciated (if it’s nothing don’t ring!!!) and ask what you can pray for them? What they’re finding especially challenging? What they’d like prayer for? And then pray for them. Even better pray with them right then and there.
Don’t hold them to an unreasonable standard. Don’t expect the impossible, don’t compare and contrast with others. Pastoring in lockdown is different. For example I find preaching to camera mentally and spiritually exhausting compared to preaching to a live congregation. There’s no feedback, no energy, no person getting it or not, nodding their head to encourage, nothing to feed off, to react to. I’m not only preaching, but working on maintaining eye contact with the camera lens so it engages you, but not for too long so you feel uncomfortable, and working to visualise those I’m preaching to. All of that makes it so much more draining. It’s the same with zoom bible studies and the like. And then there’s the time spent uploading everything, and the home schooling, and the phone calls, the people pastorally we’re concerned about and can’t visit. The unknown of who is tuning in and who is dropping out.
I’m not saying that because I want sympathy. But I do want to encourage us all to think how could we make leading a joy in lockdown? How can we encourage those who lead us? How could we ease some of those burdens? How can we pray, serve, and love our church in lockdown so that those who lead us find joy in their lockdown leadership?