by Matthew C. Harrison
We can all agree that we live in very tumultuous and troubling days. I also think that you’ll agree with me when I state that the troubling political, economic and racial tensions in our society are reflected also in the church, like it or not. And we are all weary of the uncertainty and the unknowns, especially with respect to the virus. An extensive survey from the Secretary of Synod’s office, which included data from some 2,000 congregations, asked how the virus had affected our congregations and people through this past June. Although some expressed weariness and anxiety, especially among our smaller congregations, most were doing okay. Some 25% had experienced increased giving, for instance. Our congregations with schools were very concerned. We now know that in many places, grade school enrollments have actually increased due to uncertainty in the public schools over the virus.
But the weariness continues and for many has increased. As I’m in contact with pastors, congregations and district leaders, I note that as pastors are worn down by providing additional church services, online services, dealing with the different viewpoints of members, all within a shifting sea of local regulations, there is for very many only increasing uncertainty. Will young families come back to church? When can we restart Sunday school, if at all? Have our dear families opted not to come, or are they seeking what they want elsewhere? Is reception of the forgiveness of sins through the Word and the blessed Sacraments the main thing? Will our people live and die in the faith? Giving has slowed. All this worries a pastor’s heart. He knows full well the verse spoken at his installation and ordination: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
And how many times have I heard pastors lament that because of pandemic restrictions in situations of impending death, they were not allowed to minister to the dying, who were not only congregants, but the dearest of beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, and dear friends! This is the very thing a pastor is given to do for his people, and what pangs of conscience, what sorrow is suffered, when this kind of critical pastoral care cannot be carried out!
As president of the Synod, I have not the slightest ability or mandate to tell you what to do, much less make you do it. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But I implore you, by the mercy of Jesus Christ, to love your pastor. Christ has blessed you with the clear knowledge of the free Gospel of forgiveness in the cross and resurrection. He has given you a congregation of fellow believers. He has given you a pastor, perhaps a lifetime of pastors, to love you in Christ and care for you. Please care for your pastor. He’s called by God through your congregation to call you to repent of your sins daily and to proclaim that Christ’s forgiveness is yours. Now is the time, like no other, to be generous to your congregation. Now is the time to go to your pastor and tell him you are thankful for him, as you stand ready and willing to hold up the prophet’s arms (Ex. 17:12). Tell him, “I’m praying for you, pastor.” Ask him, “Is your family okay, pastor?” “Are you doin’ okay?” Elders, tell your pastor, “The Bible tells us that we are to care for each other, pastor. That means we’re here to care for you!”