Follow me on Facebook for encouragement!

After writing Covid-19-related blog posts daily the week of March 16, I have shifted my focus to making brief videos and mini-posts to share on Facebook. I hope that these efforts will encourage you and offer reflection points to help you stay grounded as the Coronavirus crisis continues. If there are other ways that I can support you as a pastor and as a person during this trying season, please contact me.

I am in awe of the ministry you are providing, and I urge you not to burn yourself out. We’ll need your creativity and compassion over the long haul.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

Politics, polarization, and the Coronavirus

In his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt covers a range of themes about which liberals and conservatives disagree. One is the care/harm theme in which the two polarities differently attribute definitions and causes of hurt and assign the responsibilities of society toward those who are vulnerable. In another, the polarities take varying stances toward people with power.

Our relationships toward these two themes are running beneath the surface of many COVID-19 conversations. Who is to blame for the spread of the virus? Who is supposed to do what about it? How well are our leaders serving us in this crisis? Who is the boss of me and my comings and goings as recommendations for ever more stringent social distancing guidelines are urged?

Right now these questions are only helpful insofar as they reduce the spread of disease. Beyond that, they are ingredients for introducing even more anxiety into a system that is already highly reactive. Still, the questions aren’t going away.

For leaders, then, the need to self-differentiate is more important (and difficult) than ever. If we can be with our people rather than react to to them, we’ll model ways to manage self and begin to infuse the system with more stability.

What does self-differentiating in a pandemic mean? Here are some thoughts:

Listen deeply to others. When people feel heard, seen, and valued, the tension in a conversation drops.

Stay curious. Seek to understand, whether or not you agree.

Don’t try to change minds. Be clear about what you believe, but prioritize the relationship over the position.

Neither under- nor overfunction. This helps distribute responsibility throughout the system, evening out the emotions.

Balance thinking and feeling. You need both, but too much of one or the other will make it hard to keep connected with people.

Stay present with people. If you can be grounded where you are, there is always the potential for care and respect.

Take care of yourself. Self-differentiation is hard work. Shore up your support system as needed.

Your leadership matters. While others panic, blame, or scoff, your self-management is helping make it possible for those in your care not just to cope, but to assign meaning to this unprecedented experience.

Photo by cloudvisual.co.uk on Unsplash.

Gen X clergywomen and the Coronavirus crisis

I recently finished reading Ada Calhoun’s book Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. It was pretty on-the-nose about how I feel these days – stretched thin, anxious, and simmering with low-grade rage most of the time. Calhoun points out the myriad reasons why many women of my generation feel this way. Among them are having so many more career possibilities (expectations, even) without much additional support for parenting and managing a household, coming of age professionally during financial crises that ultimately let to fewer and lower-paying job opportunities, being dismissed by much of the medical community around peri/menopause symptoms, and caring for young kids and aging parents simultaneously.

And yet, as many memes have been reminding me lately, Gen Xers are uniquely qualified to manage in a pandemic. Our expectations are low, partly because we’re used to being invisible to others. We’re able to entertain and take care of ourselves. We’ve partaken of our fair share of dystopian films and novels, so not much surprises us.

I think that Gen X clergywomen in particular are suited to this moment in time. No, the pressures common to our generation have not lifted. But we have the Gen X survival skills paired with the grit, wisdom, faithfulness, and creativity that come from having to make our own way in the church world. (Yes, we owe much to the clergywomen who came before for blazing the path. We have the benefit/challenge, though, of figuring out how to lead and be valued in ways authentic to us, not just imitating the guys like our forebears had to do.)

And so I would remind you that you are likely crushing it, even when you don’t feel like it, and urge you to tend to the three steps Ada Calhoun recommends:

Get support. Don’t go it alone. Lean on your laypeople to share the congregational care load and seek out clergy with whom you can vent and share best practices.

Reframe the situation. What’s another narrative you can lift out of the current crisis, for yourself and others? What expectations do you need to lower since we’re all feeling our way along?

Wait. The pandemic won’t last forever, just like middle age won’t. Life will be different on the other side.

If I can support, resource, or encourage you in this time – of pandemic, of season of life – please drop me a line.

Photo by Andrej LiĊĦakov on Unsplash.

Church in the time of Coronavirus

Let’s not mince words. This whole COVID-19 business sucks.

That suckage covers a big range, too. At one extreme, there’s the physical danger to immunosuppressed people and to those living in poverty, who might have difficulty feeding themselves as schools close and shelves empty at food banks and at stores that take government benefits. At the other extreme, people lament the (hopefully very short-term) loss of all that makes life enjoyable, such as birthday parties and trips and worship services and the NCAA basketball tournament. And these are only the immediate impacts.

So we’re all feeling the pinch in some way. The mortal danger is, of course, the exponentially greater concern. That’s why institutions of all kids are taking precautions and recommending safety guidelines to leaders and individuals – including pastors and church members. Talk about the things they didn’t teach you in seminary: many a minister is struggling to tend both to concerns about vulnerable people and frustrations about closures in a context that is now changing hourly.

Fully acknowledging how much the situation stinks, there are a couple of opportunities to keep in mind.

First, the church is not the building where your congregation is used to meeting. The church I attended in seminary had (and probably still has) a sign that said, “Oakhurst Baptist meets here.” It was a way of separating the congregation from the physical location. Many a church struggles to do that. After all, how many conversations about sanctuary carpet or the color the youth want to paint the walls of their meeting space become seemingly all-consuming, to the detriment of actual ministry? With many churches canceling in-person gathering for at least the next few weeks, there can begin to be more daylight between the people and the place.

With that in mind, how can you help your congregation members see in new ways that church is about relationships, not a facility? How will you equip and encourage your people to tend to those connections in the absence of a physical gathering place?

Second, the church as it was has been dying for some time. Many pastors know that, yet it can be hard to imagine what a new iteration of church might look like. And even if we can visualize it, how in the world can we inspire our people to be courageous enough to attempt it? Well, this pandemic offers a laboratory for that. We can’t conduct business as usual. We thus have unprecedented permission to discern new ways of connecting to one another as we seek to grow in our relationships with God.

So what expressions of the scattered church have you wanted to play with but heretofore haven’t dared? If you’re not sure what you’d like to experiment with, how can those who are accustomed to relating to people who aren’t physically present (e.g. youth ministers, digital natives, tech professionals) show us the way?

I am praying for you, pastors, and I am confident in your faithfulness, compassion, and ability to innovate. Lean into those strengths – you might be surprised by what emerges. And as you attempt new things, give yourself permission not to have all the answers immediately. We’re all feeling our way along in this brave new world.

Photo by Sheldon Kennedy on Unsplash.