The vast majority of us have no experience of living in these new and challenging circumstances, and as church leaders we have to figure out how to feed, lead, care and protect our flocks on the job. To begin with there is a novelty element, and also the sense of focus that a crisis generates in us. But there will be temptations and we would be wise to anticipate them for ourselves, as well as for others:
1. Despair – For many of us, words like, “give us this day our daily bread” have always been somewhat theoretical. Suddenly our vulnerability as humans is vividly real. For some the virus itself is a fear, for all of us the impact on society and life is challenging. It is probably not good to develop an obsession with news updates and constantly refreshing the global death count. Be informed, but be far more hungry to fill your heart with hope from God’s Word – you need that, and so do those around you.
2. Depression – Don’t let the initial social media enthusiasm for “time to do odd jobs” fool you. Life on lockdown will quickly become very challenging. Even with the blessings of video calls, the reduction in face-to-face human interaction is not something we are created to enjoy. As Christians we may not realise how much meeting together each week matters until we can’t (and churches that plan to meet against government advice need to seriously consider the damage this will do to our shared witness!) Carrying the weight of a crisis for yourself, your family, and others, will be more than you can bear and depression in its various forms will be a very real and present danger. We need to learn to find strength, hope, rest and wisdom in God. And remember: technically depression is not a temptation because it is not a sin – be sure to seek help from other people too, God often works best through others.
3. Blame – When the personal comfort of humans is challenged, blame tends to spill out. We can see it already on social media. Remember that Churchill was widely criticised early on, but lauded for his leadership with hindsight. I don’t know if this generation will fully unite under crisis – the early signals are both yes and no. But let’s be sure that we don’t join in and make this about politics. Let’s set a different tone and show how good is the God who sits on the ultimate throne (and humbles himself to suffer life, with, and for us).
4. Distraction – For decades our western culture has increasingly found sophisticated ways of distracting itself and numbing the routine of a dull reality. This crisis will initially flag the insignificance of much of that distraction. There may be a sense of relief at the sudden lack of appetite for unimportant things that felt too important a month ago. But our human nature will crave distraction … binge watching TV series and sports highlights, numbing fear and loss through alcohol and substance abuse, and the temptations that we struggled with before all this are not yet gone for good. Don’t run from the situation before us, run to the throne of grace to find help, and be sure to be open with your sympathetic high priest about your own struggle with distraction – whatever form it may take under pressure.
5. Compromise – The added pressure of isolation, or of extra time with your family (which can also be really difficult), or of grief, fear, uncertainty, loss of income, etc., will potentially cause us to consider compromises that we would not have considered when life was the old normal. Typically civil people have become aggressive in supermarkets. Typically honest people are out there trying to make dishonest gain by selling their vast stocks of toilet rolls online at a high mark-up. Typically kind people are and will be tempted to steal, to lie, to cheat and to look out for their own interests as their top priority. And before we simply condemn sin in others, let’s be sure to recognize that we may feel a pressure to compromise that we have never felt before. Again, read the Bible with open eyes and an open heart – seek the Lord before the pressures ramp up higher.
6. Burnout – Most of us are used to a certain level of stress from family and ministry life. But doing family and ministry in an ongoing crisis situation is a whole new level of pressure. You will be tempted to burnout by giving, giving, giving and not letting God refill your tanks, not looking after yourself with rest, sensible food, etc. Our inner Martha will rear its head in this time. That putting others first mentality that is so needed for the church to exist and for ministry to happen. But when our attitude starts to reveal an empty tank, then it is clear that we have not heeded the Mary example: be sure to sit at Jesus’ feet and let him minister to you before you then pour out to others. Martha service will prove to be important, but lest we let that Martha tension undo the good, let’s be sure to keep the Mary style devotion as a first priority.
7. Retreat – When everyone is socially withdrawing, it will be tempting to retreat into our own homes and look out for family and church family. Remember the rest of the world needs Jesus, and many of them have never been this close to realising it!
What else would you add to this list? What other suggestions would you offer?
Youtube – I have decided to use Youtube for no-frills video versions of some blog posts. I don’t read the post, but follow the same structure and offer it in spoken form. To take a look at the video, please click here (and thank you for engaging with either the blog post here or the video there … and I appreciate any sharing of either format to help others find the content.)