Every June, many United Methodist clergy families learn to unpack quickly and begin ministry anew. Local pastors, elders, and deacons experience the joys and the trials of moving to new communities throughout their lifetime of service. I’ve had the honor of serving five churches in this conference, and each congregation certainly has its own personality and worship style. Effective clergy learn to move nimbly from high church to contemporary worship, from city life to a rural setting, from leading a youth retreat on the Florida coast to speaking at a United Methodist Women circle in west Alabama.
This truth supports my contention: there is no one better to lead the church during a pandemic, such as we find ourselves in now, than United Methodist clergy! No, we pastors didn’t take a course on Pandemic Leadership 101, but everything that we have learned in our studies and in our ministry has equipped us to lead well during these challenging days.
We have taken courses on theology and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that our faith is sure and unshakable. We have also learned that the methods we use to worship can change to meet people where they are! After all, if John Wesley can preach outside by the mines and in the street, we can certainly adapt to holding online and drive-in church!
Leadership during these turbulent times is all about clinging tightly to the core of our faith while constantly adapting to the challenges before us.
Our United Methodist theology is about temporal needs
as well as eternal concerns. Th erefore, United Methodist
clergy can take the lead today on safe food distribution in
our communities, supporting healthcare workers with supplies
and encouragement, and working with mission partners
combatting the increases in domestic violence and
abuse. Taking to heart the greatest commandments to love
God and love our neighbor, we have shifted pastoral visits to
phone trees, Zoom calls, and driveway visits. We have quietly
paid power bills and rent for those whose needs are rising
to the surface. We have reached out to connect with other
churches to plan online Vacation Bible School, videoed Sunday
school lessons, and learned how to apply for government
loans to keep the staff of local churches employed.
Pastors have used adaptive leadership as we fi rmly focus
on our shared mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ
for the transformation of the world.” All the while, we have
counseled with members of our church families for hours
on the phone. We know those in our churches who have
had the virus and were on respirators, because their family
members tell us in pastoral confi dence. Our hearts have
hurt with workers and business owners who don’t know how
they will recover economically. We have heard the shame
in the voices of those who are too embarrassed to admit
that they need food. With compassion and grace, we have
received the rants of those who think this is all a conspiracy.
All the while, we wonder how we can ever use hymnals, pass
off ering plates, adequately disinfect nurseries, and so much
more. Can we answer every question or concern? Of course
not. But we continue to proclaim the Good News and empower
the church to be God’s instrument in this world.
Even in our moments of doubt and fear, we lead forward
with the wisdom passed down to us from all of the faithful
who have invested in us. As the Gaither hymn reminds us,
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all
fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future, and life is
worth the living, just because He lives.” Th at kind of faith,
nurtured by the Stegall Foundation and its generous supporters,
empowers the clergy of our conference to lead without
fear into God’s future, constantly adapting our ministry
to share the Good News with the world. After all, we are
United Methodist pastors! We are called to love God and
love our neighbor wherever we are appointed and whatever
may come our way.
Ministry during COVID-19
By Rev. Robin C. Wilson
Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Opelika, AL
Member, Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors