The devil has used the pandemic, the fear it created, the distance it has encouraged, and the despair that it has caused especially against the Church and the pastors of the Church. If the Church has suffered because of this virus, it is the devil who delights. If pastors of the Church have been worn out or despair because of this virus, it is the devil who delights. And if we presume that we must battle against the devil, all his works and all his ways alone, then the devil also delights. We are contending against the demonic powers but not alone. He fights for us (as Luther also wrote).
While I am concerned about the Church that will be left after this pandemic is over, I am more concerned for the state of the pastors of the Church. I know for myself I am tired, irritable, thin-skinned, and cranky. Like so many of my fellow pastors of the Church, I have not had many days off and no vacations and missed the pastor's conferences that helped to refresh me and reinvigorate me for the pastoral task. It has been a long year and some of us pastors of the Church have lived through it only with some scars and wounds that still need to heal.
Some congregations have suffered financial problems that come to roost on the pastor and his compensation. Some congregations will register statistics that show a decline and the pastor will be held responsible or blamed. Some congregations will remain divided among those who wore masks all the time and those who did not, those who hunkered down at home and those who tried to live as normally as possible, and those who thought everything should have shut down and those who thought the whole thing was an invention of some deep state conspiracy. In the midst of this pastors have tried to do their best and they will get caught in the cross hairs of the fight. In the homes where the pastors live, they have wives and children who bore a great measure of the cost of this pandemic and the time and energy stolen from the pastor was also stolen from them. The pastors will think of those who died in the faith without benefit of pastoral care in their last hours and of their own family members who died and they were not able to be there for the funeral and to grieve as a family. In my own case, I lost an uncle, a cousin, and a very close friend who were buried a thousand miles away and was unable to be there. My wife lost an aunt and grieved alone. It is a recipe for despair and the devil is there to exploit every opportunity to bring down those who serve the Lord's people and His Church.
Suicides and despair have increased and the devil has been at work to increase our awareness of our misery and to minimize the comfort of God's Word and promise. These afflict Christians and pastors as well as people without faith. In fact, the devil's target is not the world but precisely the Church and the servants of the Church. Yet his power works best when we are isolated, when we alone and lonely, and when we are without the benefit and blessing of the Word preached to us and the Sacrament received by us. For the pastor this means not simply preaching but being nourished by the Word preached. It means not simply bringing God's gifts to His people but receiving those gifts himself as the penitent absolved and the communicant fed and nourished. Pastors need pastors, too. And friends. Those who give must be refreshed or they can give no more. This is true of the people in the parish and that is why they come to have God's Word preached into their ears and taught into their minds and built into their hearts and His absolution release them from the prison of their sins and His Supper feed their hunger and quench their thirst. But it is also true of the pastor. We ignore this to our peril. We are targets for the devil's taunts, temptations, trials, and troubles. Alone we will be victims of his wiles but in Christ and within the fellowship of God's people, we will be given strength and power to endure, grace to rescue and restore when we fall, and instruction for our hearts so that we will learn from it how to resist and be strong.
Thank you for sharing this important insight. I am an LCMS Pastor who recently resigned my call for health reasons - namely, that the direct and indirect stress added by the pandemic to an already burdensome position was having too great an impact on my cardiovascular disease and diabetes. I had constant chest pressure, elevated heart rate, gained about 20 pounds, and lost control of my diabetes. You touch on some of the reasons for this, but I think the greatest was the isolation for Pastors and people and staff without the in-person, incarnational Ministry we were trained for and for which the Spirit have given us the heart to serve. I consider myself "walking wounded," but have been blessed to also receive and accept a call to a smaller congregation.
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