What's Tony Thinking

Pastors Over-Functioning in The COVID Crisis


Before we turn to the topic of “over-functioning,” here’s today’s photo along with a few notes from a grocery store visit yesterday. The photo shows the markers that have now appeared in all the stores, encouraging people to “keep their distance.” While in this store (Ballard QFC, the grocery store nearest us) I noticed an unusual number of security guards pacing the aisles. Usually this store has one security person standing around. Today there were at least three MIBs pacing about.

So I asked, “I see an increase in security. What’s up? Shoplifting?” The guard answered, “Fear of rioting. May not happen, but stores are worried about it.” This had not occurred to me.

On other fronts, pastors (and probably others) may be tempted to over-function in a crisis such as this one. At least that was the warning from a Mennonite pastor, Melissa Florer-Boxler in a thoughtful piece that came out on March 26.

“It’s hard to believe that just over a week ago, our congregation was negotiating whether or not we should meet in person. Within days, we went from elbow bumps and singsong hand washing to social isolation.

“That Sunday, most churches worshipped online or were canceled. Predictions swelled from weeks to months to a year and a half for our lives to begin to recover from the effects of the pandemic. For those of us who center our lives as pastors on embodied rituals of eating, drinking, washing and gathering, it was easy to feel as though we were lost in a fog.

“But soon I noticed a curious change. If there was going to be a gap in our corporate worship, churches were going to fill it. By the end of the day, I’d been invited to participate in Facebook Live theology reading groups, an online small group and no less than four different formats for Zoom session prayer.

“My colleagues began setting up home recording studios. They produced new small groups, buddy systems and home liturgies. They offered ideas such as tracking down pictures of our church members and taping them to pews as we prayed. They told stories of hundreds more people logging on for worship; they shared new book studies and Bible studies.

“Clergy friends began sending out daily recorded messages and prayers. I received four invitations to gather digitally with other clergy to process and plan strategies for the times ahead.

“What’s more, from the arts and education community, there were offerings of online doodling sessions with a famous children’s book artist, free operas broadcast by the Met, concerts streamed online and a worldwide catalog of university courses opened up to the public.”

Reading this I felt, as folks in evangelical circles say, “convicted.” After all I have been publishing at double my usual pace since this crisis got underway. And I only a mostly retired pastor.

More from Florer-Bixler:

“My friends in pastoral ministry are creative, wonderful and beloved people who want nothing more than to care for those who are scared, tired and anxious about the world.

“And they are overproducing and over-functioning.

“Overproducing is not unusual in the church. It’s easy to get sucked into busyness, to lose sight of the boundaries of time and energy. A crisis, especially one that physically distances us when our first impulse is to gather, makes us especially prone to overfunctioning. How can we fill the gap? How can we help people feel connected? What resources are available? How can we be present?”

How many ZOOM meetings are on your schedule today? Florer-Bixler cautions, without using these exact words, that we’re in for a marathon here, not a sprint. Deep breaths.

“There is much ahead of us, a great sea of unknown. But we know that more will be required of us; more will be needed. There will be more adaptations to make and even more heartbreaking scenarios to navigate.

“Instead of more output, more content, more forms of interaction, perhaps what we need are ways to slow down, to resist filling the grief of loss and isolation with busyness.”

Meanwhile, the Barna Group came out with an interesting set of numbers. Church attendance has gone up during the COVID-19 crisis. Almost all churches are now doing their worship services and other programs on-line. And more people are coming (logging in). Surprising maybe, but it makes sense. During a crisis people turn to the religious faith and community. And worship on-line makes it pretty easy.

But it’s not all good news in the Barna study. If attendance is up, giving is down. So remember to support your church(es) financially during this time.




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