Quarantine Pastoring in 2020
A co-laborer in the gospel and friend of Del Rey Church, Pastor Chad Vegas of Sovereign Grace Church in Bakersfield, recently posted a message to his church members about what it has been like pastoring in 2020 through COVID and the polarization of responses to it. With Pastor Chad’s permission, we are sharing his post here for the Del Rey Church saints and readers of our blog online, in hopes to foster a spirit of grace and patience in these trying times. For those of you who have been walking in unity with the church this year and coming to our worship services the last few months we—the pastors—have been deeply blessed by your presence and partnership in the ministry of the word and gospel. Blessings to you beloved in Christ. And now, consider the words of Pastor Chad below (and feel free to share with believers and pastors in other churches who might benefit from this short of read and call for prayerful patience in this season):
DEAREST CHRISTIANS AND CHURCH MEMBERS,
I want to provide you with 7 reasons to be patient and gracious toward your elders during this pandemic:
- None of your church pastors brought about this pandemic. They were not ready for it. They did not expect it.
- None of your church pastors have ever had to shepherd a congregation through a pandemic.
- None of your church pastors have ever had to shepherd a congregation through rapidly changing health guidelines, a parade of edicts from state and local officials, and a near endless litany of questions regarding the extent and abuse of state authority.
- No pastor can provide the definitive wisdom in a blog or sermon for every Christian church. Every pastor is addressing a different set of circumstances: a). Varied state regulations, b). Varied state constitutions, c). Varied local municipality regulations, d). Varied congregational populations regarding age, vulnerability etc, e). Varied cultural expectations in given contexts and working through issues related to Romans 14 and not unnecessarily offending the weaker brother, f). Varied church facilities and church sizes, which contribute to their ability to meet particular guidelines.
- No pastor is walking through this without hearing a cacophony of voices prescribing what is biblically wise and required. The application of doctrine to the litany of challenges that face the church in decision-making on these issues is no easy exercise in ethics.
- Every pastor is shepherding the flock Christ has entrusted to his care. He is not shepherding other flocks. He must know the sheep. He must make judgment calls regarding what is most wise for the church as a whole. He does not have responsibility for other local churches.
- No member can possibly know how many hours pastors spend weighing the needs hundreds of people and ever-changing ethical considerations. You don't know the people we sit with who beg to meet because they are mentally breaking down. You don't know the people we meet with who refuse to come if we require masks, or who refuse to come if we don't. You don't know the many decisions that are being wrestled through with regard to handling the physically vulnerable alongside concerns for those who are spiritually adrift.
How do we balance texts like Romans 13 with texts like Hebrews 10:24-25? How do we handle texts like Romans 14 in light of concerns regarding texts like Hebrews 4:12-14 cf. 10:26-31? How do we care for the strong and the weak sheep while also fulfilling our calling to shepherd the flock day in and day out? How much should we lean into technology? How much should we avoid technology, as it can communicate embodied presence doesn't matter? Which state and local regulations and guidelines do we follow today, as the target moves on the daily? How do we meet outside when we have no location to do so? How do we meet inside when we don't have the space to social distance? How do we command masks and social distancing when scripture clearly doesn't? Can we excommunicate folks who openly violate such commands by the elders? How do we wrestle through the demands of members who will leave if we don't require masks, and members who will leave if we do? How do we administer the means of grace God has given in word and sacrament while not present with folks? Who's medical advice do we take? Do we take the advice of doctors being paid by the government, or those who have no government interest? Who's legal advice do we take? Do we take the legal advice of attorneys who say we are not violating any laws, or those who say we are? We do live in a country where there exists a whole process by which laws are challenged and declared unlawful.
These are just some of the questions your pastors are wrestling with daily. They don't know the right answers. They will often make wisdom calls that are later deemed unwise. Most of the pastors I know are doing their best. They are reading everything under the sun to try to figure these matters out. They are talking to doctors, lawyers, theologians, other pastors, and a variety of church members as they try to work through it. Please be patient and give deference to them.