Six Parts that Pastors Play during the Pandemic

By: William D. Shiell

When I served on staff in a rural church in Texas, Easter Sunday involved more than a morning worship service. We planned a sunrise service at the football stadium, community breakfast in the fellowship hall, Sunday School, and the regular morning service. The day felt more like an Easter pageant than a day of worship. Then we came back to church for Sunday evening. Invariably, there were always more parts to play than there were people to volunteer. Several people had to volunteer for multiple roles to celebrate the resurrection.

For over a year, COVID-19 has felt like a long-running Easter pageant. Pastoral leaders have played multiple parts simultaneously. With relatively little preparation, pastors have become technology specialists, healthcare workers, building sanitizers, and food pantry organizers– all while fulfilling their calling to “shepherd the flock under their care.” They border on exhaustion while holding onto the hope of resurrection.

Over the past year, I’ve met with over 100 pastors, most of whom are connected to our seminary. Northern helps pastors embrace these new roles, providing a community to support them, and carving out space to reflect theologically on the new day that is dawning in church. As we look to the future, it’s essential to see these pastors and hear their stories. They are bearing witnesses to the kingdom of God that is dawning over the horizon even now. Some of their roles may seem familiar to us, but these pastors adapt to the new realities of 2021. Here are six parts that pastors play today.

1.) Evangelist

Today, pastors are focused on listening deeply to the needs of a hurting world. They’re spending time with seekers who they met through their online ministries. They are asking critical questions and giving nonbelievers a chance to ask hard questions about the church. Pastors are less focused on sharing a rehearsed message and more interested in being present in people’s lives. They are showing the Way to follow Jesus by showing that “God is with us.”

2.) Peacemaker

Like Israelites turning to a golden calf in the wilderness, the pandemic has exposed church divisions. Before COVID-19, churches largely tried to stay unified despite their differences. Now pastors are becoming peacemakers, convening gatherings of Christians who are learning to listen to each other and respect others’ viewpoints.

3.) Visionary discerner

The pandemic has offered opportunities to innovate, but the pastors I have spoken with shared with me that they are spending a good amount of time helping people discern the next steps. Because of the divisions in churches, they need to slow the process of innovation to give people a chance to hear one another, reflect together, and discover what God is doing.

4.) Guide

So many Christians are now church nomads. They are caught between the church they once attended before the pandemic and the multiple congregations they view online. Pastoral leaders have become tour guides for helping digital spiritual seekers find a home. As Nijay Gupta writes, they help people who doubt their faith discover that Jesus walks with them into that doubt. Pastors help Christians process the trauma they experienced in one community and help them find a congregation that can utilize their gifts in service.

5.) Prophetic preacher

Preaching, which has always been an essential part of the pastor’s life, has moved from the pulpit to Facebook live, from the pew into the street corner. Pastors are not predicting the future; they are announcing Jubilee in their communities and congregations. They are communicating hope for refugees, immigrants, persons of color, and the marginalized. They are standing in the gap for victims of violence and speaking into our society’s deep wounds.

6.) Host

Pastors are the host at the table of the Lord. Today, there is an even deeper hunger to come to the Lord’s table and share a meal with fellow believers. As I mentioned earlier, some of those meals are prepared food baskets for the hungry. As Nate Ray has shown, caring for the hungry is just one opportunity churches have to minister in their community. Pastors are also re-imagining how the Lord’s table can be a platform for breaking bread, drinking from the cup, welcoming strangers, proclaiming Christ’s death, and commissioning the church into the world.

Northern Seminary is equipping pastoral leaders to serve Christ’s church no matter what part there is to play. The church of today is already much different than it was just fifteen months ago. While pastors cannot do everything, through Northern’s education, they do learn to adapt what they thought ministry would be into a new ministry that Christ is calling us to fulfill. If you would like to learn more about Northern’s educational opportunities, please click here for more information. 

















April 20, 2021

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William

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