Notes from FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Leaders Under Pressure with Johnny Prime and John Stevens.
1. When thinking about the pressures that fall on church leaders, there are three truths to have in mind: 1) Times of pressure are normal for servants of our Lord Jesus; 2) Times of pressure are purposeful in God’s wise and loving providence; 3) In times of pressure we are helped by each other’s prayers.
2. God’s Word is sufficient for every circumstance we face, especially in times of pressure and suffering when we are aware of our frailty and weakness.
3. 2 Corinthians 1:8 reminds us that being informed about the pressures faced by others is an essential part of genuine Christian fellowship.
4. Times of pressure are part of our union with Christ. They cannot be avoided. They are natural not abnormal. But we can know God’s comfort in them.
5. The pressures we face are purposeful and fit for purpose. They are designed to wean us from our self-reliance and make us more Spirit-reliant (2 Corinthians 1:9).
6. Praying for those under pressure is a way for us to help them (2 Corinthians 1:10-11), which God uses for their good.
7. Anecdotally, the pressures being faced by gospel servants – male and female – at the moment during this COVID crisis can be categorised under three headings – Pastoral, Practical, and Personal.
8. Pastoral pressures include a) concern about how the flock are doing, when it is not possible to interact with them as we previously did; b) how to engage with complex pastoral problems; c) maintaining unity; d) areas of ministry we and the church are struggling to fulfil.
9. Testimonies of leaders regarding pastoral pressures:
– “As helpful as regular phone calls/brief face to face interactions (depending on what restrictions say) I’m missing ‘the ministry of shaking hands’ on the door on Sunday and the opportunity to catch up with everyone quickly, notice non-verbal cues that there might be something wrong, or for people to say can I have a word with you.”
– “…my biggest challenge… is not really knowing how people in the church are doing.”
– “I’ve realised how much pastoral work I do through 15-20 two-minute conversations on a Sunday, where you can get a quick sense for how most people are getting on.”
– “We can text and call, and write, but in these times, it is far easier for people to be evasive.”
– “Concern over who is still with us… I’m feeling really disconnected from the church. That has led to a feeling that everyone has left (they haven’t, although we have lost one family). “
– “In normal times I’d be spending time with them alongside time with others who are kicking on and growing which is a great encouragement – I think I’m seeing the encouraging people less and the needy people more.”
– “. It is harder to remain united and to go forward together because of the double whammy of people having a whole variety of ideas and it being impossible to get the whole church together to address issues and communicate a sense of direction.”
– “Ministry to teenagers has been the thing most impacted by not being able to meet.”
– “evangelistic efforts have been hampered and if there is any online fruit it is too early to see that.”
10. Practical pressures include a) keeping up with constantly changing guidelines; b) acquiring new skills to do online church; c) preaching to camera with no feedback; d) additional admin; e) managing people; f) finances of the church.
11. Testimonies of leaders regarding practical pressures:
– “Time and emotional energy taken to keep up with constantly changing guidelines.”
– “Steep learning curve with new technologies.”
– “Everything takes more time.”
– “Just tired of doing everything by camera.”
– “Because the rules keep changing and we are continually having to come up with new ways of doing things, I seem to be spending vast amounts of time in “organisation/leadership” … rather than keeping my priority as prayer and the ministry of the Word.”
– “Wisely and sensitively managing staff/volunteers amid increased fragility/reduced capacity.”
– “Finance is a concern, and COVID has made that worse. Some people have moved to electronic donations, but income that normally comes in cash has gone down.”
12. Personal pressures include a) weariness, worry and difficulties in resting and relaxing; b) getting it all done; c) pressure on family life; d) feelings of discouragement and doubt; e) loneliness.
13. Testimonies of leaders regarding personal pressures:
– “Just feeling tired.”
– “I’m pretty exhausted.”
– “Little issues take more time; sermon prep takes more time; pastoral conversations take more time.”
– “Boundaries are more fluid at home in the digital world.”
– “especially when hear of gospel success in other places. Thrilled as I am, it sometimes makes me wonder why not where I am.”
– “hard to know if I’m doing an ok job or not – feeling a bit insecure / guilty… Part of it is seeing other churches with higher capacity / output (wrong comparisons etc).”
– “The reality is that I am just spending a lot of time on my own in a way that feels vaguely unnatural and not quite as the Lord designed us. Now I’m grateful for technology… which has taken the edge off that, but it probably means I’m more emotionally fragile.”
14. Knowing about the pressures we face help us to know we are not unusual as we face them, to trust God has good purposes in them, and to help us to pray for each other.
15. Under pressure, we need to look away from ourselves to heaven and to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is our Father of compassion and God of all comfort for His comfort.
16. John Newton in Begone Unbelief: “His love in time past forbids me to think he’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink; and can He have taught me to trust in His name and this far have brought me to put me to shame.”
17. COVID Crisis Update – a perspective on where we are at can help us thinking about our planning going forward.
– Leaders, congregations, and society more widely are increasingly frustrated by the lockdown and its restrictions.
– There is division about how to respond to the crisis which is impacting the evangelical community.
– The situation is compounded by sense of uncertainty. Churches are desperate for clarity.
– The statistics about deaths and hospitalisations are moving towards those back in March.
– England is currently in a national lockdown until 2 December. Places of worship are closed for public worship. They can open for private prayer, for serving community (food banks etc), and for support groups. We are able to visit the vulnerable to provide assistance and meet with one other person for recreation.
– 99.9% of churches are obeying lockdown. London church prevented by police fro holding service but was able to split into two ‘support groups’.
– There is a judicial review of lockdown due to be heard, possibly as early as this Friday.
18. What will happen after 2nd December?
– No official confirmation or insider information.
– Likely that there will be an enhanced local tier system introduced with most areas in Tier 3 or new Tier 4.
– It is unlikely that church services will be able to resume without restrictions ahead of Christmas. Requirements for face-coverings, no congregation singing, household groups will remain in place.
– Government is concerned about saving ‘secular’ Christmas which is about family gatherings (as highlighted by the various supermarket Christmas adverts). If there are relaxation of restrictions over Christmas period, it is possible that tighter restrictions will follow after.
– Introduction of vaccines will have little impact on restrictions until late Spring. The extension of the furlough scheme until the end of March gives an indication of where government thinking is going.
19. What we are experiencing in the UK is similar to other European contexts with most European countries in lockdown or curfews with restrictions on churches meeting for public worship.