Sharing examples of biblical leaders who battled weariness, the Rev. Dr. Marcel Lamb reminds us that God is still with us, leading us onward through the pandemic.
Pastor, Imlay City UMC
Over the past two years, pastors have faced challenges that for all their uniqueness and complexity wear them down. Covid and its attendant issues present puzzles, perplexities, and problems that dishearten, divide, and diminish the morale and unity in churches; pastors experience this as a soul-deep weariness. It’s an existential sigh of longing. Longing for answers, for solutions, for unity, for strategic goal setting even though we don’t have the necessary data to assemble any of these.
It seems that regardless of the decision one makes, some in the church will receive it poorly. Those who’ve not abandoned worship altogether comprise a spectrum of views on many galvanizing positions. The frictions of these competitive factions operate under a plethora of labels: masked or unmasked, vaccinated or not, faith versus fear, safety versus getting on with life. Of course, all the other fractious issues at play in our churches and culture like politics, race, and societal decay each gnaw away at the fabric of the garment of praise. But if the church cowers, people will abandon it because, particularly in difficult times, people are looking for strength, leadership, and security.
Our churches probably have fewer people attending right now, and we know that some people are not likely to come back, while others make themselves practically unreachable. Pastors must do what they were never trained for with less cooperation in the church to do what we can, even though we feel that this is not enough. Battle lines have been drawn on all sides because people have been manipulated and induced into ever-deepening bulwarks of besieged fears.
Some have even weaponized poor theology to defend their irrational defenses. They say it's faith versus fear, failing to understand that faith offers a path through fear, but it does not abdicate the need for wisdom and sound behaviors. It’s not that one side is right, and the other is wrong, it’s that both sides are terrified. And in that endocrine-spiking nightmare, they’ve marked everyone who thinks or feels differently as hostile and inimical to them. They are lonely, but they push everyone away. They are hurting, but are so afraid of losing something, whether life and limb or control and freedom, that they keep on fighting when they should be seeking triage.
Pastors are left like medics in a minefield never knowing what or who will blow up right in front of them, not to mention unsure of what steps to take themselves. The wounded keep wounding and as the pain grows, so does the subconscious existential dread. Really, our time of testing is revealing the true quandary. Fear is dictating the rules of engagement, but, in truth, love should be leading the charge.
The Bible repeatedly shows leaders dealing with weariness. Moses had so many wearying challenges from the nation he led. He was so tired of their issues that he exploded in anger, striking a rock that God told him to speak to, thus he lost entry into the Promised Land. Samuel was aggrieved and wearied by Saul’s rebellion. David was worn down and discouraged by Saul’s relentless pursuit. But David found encouragement in the Lord. Many prophets were hurting as they conducted their ministries. Jeremiah recorded his woes most poignantly. Elijah laid down and wanted to die, only to be refreshed by the Lord and given a renewed purpose and strength. Jesus frequently asked how long he would have to be among the people of little faith. It is so frustrating when people not only reject truth but aren’t even really looking for it.
These and others in Scripture serve to remind us that ministry leadership has never been easy and even the greatest servants of God experience downturns in energy and enthusiasm. The way out was always onward, though it may have required a refocus away from what was wrong and forward into where God was leading. Surely, this is what we, who are weary of well-doing in a time of undoing, need. We need a refresh, a refocus, and a refusal to give up.
The love of Christ as it really is in its pure form, unappropriated for theological manipulations, political justifications, and pharisaical prescriptions, is what pastors leading from the trenches need to experience a revival of our first love, the joy of our salvation, renewed purpose, reinvigorated passion, and long-suffering fearlessness to press on toward the upward call in Christ Jesus. Pastors need people praying that this will occur. People need pastors believing and proclaiming that weariness and fear can be displaced when we each surrender our battlements to the all-encompassing love of God in Christ Jesus!
~ The Rev. Dr. Marcel Lamb is the pastor of Imlay City United Methodist Church, East Winds District.