Dear Pastor,

How is your soul?

I only ask because things are a bit wild right now. The ground feels a bit shaky; the future uncertain. You have become a new kind of pastor to meet a new kind of world. You are rising to meet an unprecedented challenge. You are live-streaming, prerecording, checking-in, and planning for an unknown future.

These are all great things. But if I am honest, as a fellow pastor, I have become a bit concerned about all of us.

I have been thinking a lot about a Sam Wells quote from a series of talks at Duke Divinity School in 2009:

Your first duty as a priest is to save your own soul. That’s the first foundation of ministry. God is not interested in the sacrament of your own exhaustion. Martha will always be worrying over countless things, but Mary has chosen the better part. The theological mistake lies in believing that your sacrifice takes away sins and redeems the world, rather than Jesus’s.

Clergy have fallen victim to the business world’s paradigms. This is not new with the coronavirus. It started in the middle of the last century when clergy and denominations wanted to be taken seriously so they began acting like *serious* business people. Processes and systems were optimized; church was streamlined.

Before this pandemic began, I had coffee with a friend who worked at a local church. There, the pastor was so taken by the book Deep Work that he mandated everyone in the church office shut their doors for the entire morning and not connect with anyone else. No emails, no calls — just deep task-focused work.

Hopefully, you can easily see how this productivity mindset runs counter to the ministry and model of Jesus.

Fast forward two months and we now find ourselves in a time when businesses and churches are shifting to a new way of doing things and moving everything online. The question for most businesses is “How do we continue to deliver our product to the consumer?”

Is that the same question for our churches and for us as pastors? What is our product?

I don’t know the answers to all these questions. I surely don’t know the right thing to do at this moment, but here is a thought:

If our product is Jesus and his message of comfort, mercy, and rest for individual people in their individual circumstances, how can we deliver that at this time? How can we best communicate that Good News?

Listen, I know we are all doing our best. I know we are all trying to steer a ship into unknown waters with varying levels of success. I also know clergy friends that are burnt out already from this new mode of catastrophe ministry.

So I come back to that quote from Sam Wells.

“Your first duty as a priest is to save your own soul.”

Pastor, leader, priest, friend — how is your soul?

Perhaps the product we are trying frantically to deliver is the thing we need most. Perhaps the comfort, mercy, and rest promised by Jesus is for us, too.

You do not need to optimize anything. You do not need to produce something (or anything) to be worthy. When that final trumpet blows, you will not be judged by viewers, streaming quality, or anything else that you can manufacture.

The Good News is still as good as it was two months or two thousand years ago. Perhaps now, here at the end of our collective rope, we have ears to hear what Jesus says to us:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Sincerely,

An optimizing, calculating, performing, exhausted pastor and sinner named Connor


Image credit: David Crigger/BHC