Pastoring In Pandemic, Part 4: Herding COVID Cats

We all agree that we are living in the strangest of times. Opinions about why we are and what we are “supposed to” do about re-opening churches as Pastors ranges from “go with the flow” on one end to anger (“righteous” of course!) and civil disobedience on the other.

Throw into the mix that we have “had more time to pray and fast than possibly ever, and here’s what God told me….,” and let the firestorms begin! There’s not much room left for you, me or anyone else to be wrong or to have heard something different from the Holy Spirit. Or to have “heard from God” for ourselves, without succumbing to the anxiety of needing to have “a word for my people,” and projecting “what God has spoken” all over everyone else around me, along with as many other Pastors that might listen, when it might have just been meant for me in the first place.

Late Pastor Ron Mehl (Beaverton Foursquare Church, Beaverton, OR) used to say that “Pastoring is like herding cats.” I had never heard a Pastor describe ministry so succinctly, nor comedically!

in my line of work as a Pastoral Counselor for my denomination, I talk to Pastors every day. In the grip of this global pandemic for several weeks now, a consistent question resounds from the hearts of shepherds everywhere—how do I lead among dozens of varied opinions about where this came from, where it is, and where it is going?!?!

I am reminded of what must have been countless occasions (the Bible certainly doesn’t mention every single one) where people and leaders, religious and governmental, thought Jesus needed to do something completely different than what He was doing.

  • When his exasperated parents asked where He was and why He wasn’t with them, He simply stated He was right where He belonged, in His Father’s house.
  • When his mother and others pressed Him to solve the wedding reception problem of empty jugs of wine, He clarified that it wasn’t yet His time.
  • When Martha tells Jesus to tell Mary (notice she doesn’t ask Him) to come help her make dinner, He explains to Martha that Mary has chosen the better thing to do.
  • When the crowd wanted Him to exert power in a Kingly fashion, He made it clear His Kingdom wasn’t what they thought it was.
  • When Peter sliced off the ear of one of the guards arresting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Savior made it right and told Peter this wasn’t going to be handled this way.
  • When the religious leaders yelled at Him to prove His power by coming down off the cross, He remained silent, knowing what the Father had for Him.

One of my first therapists during a season of burnout recovery halfway through my three decades of pastoral ministry told me that the average American congregation expects their Pastor to wear 72 hats! I came to understand that any one person can really only wear two, or maybe three, hats well. I would eventually lead my leaders to discover who among us God had gifted to wear the remaining ones.

Through great pain, I have come to conclude that regardless of what I (or anyone else) thought my most important job was as a Pastor, my #1 job was to differentiate. Jesus was our greatest model of this truth, as He was differentiating Himself, clarifying His mission and what He believed He needed to do, many times every day (see above examples).

Pastor, God loves you, and everyone else has a wonderful plan for your life! I hear Ron Mehl’s voice in my head, reminding us that “Pastoring is like herding cats!” It takes tremendous patience, solitude, silence before God, and courage as well, to herd cats well.

May I simply remind you… Pastor, Jesus is not anxious about when & how to come back from COVID. Rushing yourself or your church, or being mad or concerned or worried about what other Pastors are/aren’t doing is not Jesus’ light burden & easy yoke.

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