Manning up in the ministry

Young pastors, you have grown up during this pandemic

It has happened on a number of occasions recently. I could say I have been pleasantly taken aback.

As I have spoken with individual pastors on the phone, come across them at an online Pastors’ Academy Study Day, or interacted with them through an online conference, I’ve suddenly found myself thinking, ‘You’ve grown up.’ They are in their 30s and early 40s. But it is as if the last time I saw many of them they were ‘boys’ in the ministry, but now they are men. Many ‘rooky’ pastors are showing signs of a new maturity – in their thought, in their conversation and even in their demeanour.

Coronavirus catalyst

Rather than being tentative and slightly anxious, they seem to have a new confidence, an added forcefulness in their lives. All our growth in maturity ultimately comes from the Lord, but I have wondered whether the catalyst for the numerous occurrences of this ‘older head on young shoulders’ phenomenon might be the coronavirus lockdown.

Why would that be? This is a unique period. There have never been days like this before – especially for the church. However, it should not surprise us that the popular saying, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ seems to be pursuing its familiar path among us. I’m seeing more clarity and more decisiveness. ‘Bravo!’ I say. Younger pastors – this is your time!

What’s going on?

Many reasons come to mind as to why the Covid19 pandemic appears to be a growing season among many of those in the ministry.

First, of course, the lockdown and necessary closure of public places, including churches, has thrown us back onto the internet and digital technology. It goes without saying that the ‘millennial’ generation is far more at home with the likes of Zoom and YouTube than those who have more years under our belts. The older guys have been asking advice of the young men. This builds a young man’s confidence.

Second, these days are without precedent. None of the beloved ancient sages, either in the ministry or in the congregation, can say to these men, ‘Well, this is how we did it when we faced the same problem’, because they haven’t faced anything like the same problem. We are in uncharted waters. (There was no internet in the days of the Spanish flu of 1918!). This has meant that the younger pastors have had to become pioneers – frontiersmen forging their own paths. They have had to think and make up their own minds about what to do and to shoulder the responsibility for the decisions they have made. This is how men are made.

Third, the coronavirus has brought everyone down to earth. It has meant we have had to contemplate serious matters – life and death, heaven and hell. The gospel is not just the theme of our songs and the stuff of our sermons, it is where the rubber hits the road. We are seeing friends die. We are trying to minister to those struggling for breath and fighting for their lives in hospital. We are trying to help heart-broken bereaved people on a regular basis. We are face to face with the ‘pestilence that stalks in the darkness’ and ‘the plague that destroys at midday’ (Psalm 91:6). Where churches had become too concerned about style and presentation they have had a sobering taste of reality. And the young pastors now see this. Maybe I stretch the comparison too far, but my parents’ generation who came through the carnage and austerity of WWII always seemed more grown up than my peer group. Something on a smaller scale appears to be going on as we come through this deadly pandemic.

Fourth, the Lord himself is at work in these strange times. Leaders can become a little too obsessed with control over the church program and over the flock. Coronavirus has in many ways wrecked all our schedules and thwarted all the plans we have laid. But we have found that everything has not gone to pot. The Lord is well able to watch over and guide his scattered people. As the churches have had to put services online they have frequently seen that far more people are logging on than previously entered the building on a Sunday. There has been a feeling that God himself is reaching out in a new way to the nation. Our present experience in which so often our God has shown himself to be the living God of today has encouraged many men and given them new confidence. Pastors have seen themselves afresh as servants of the God who is there. They have seen themselves in a new light and so have become more brave and more ‘manly’ for Christ.

Going forward

I am quite excited about what I am seeing in the younger generation of pastors (and I am not a man who gets easily excited). What is going on may well indicate that the Lord has something new for the churches in future days and he is preparing his leaders. It could be times of great blessing. It might be times of greater opposition and persecution. It may be both!

Many young men have suffered from a lack of respect from their congregations. I hope that what I think I am observing may lead to them being held in a little more rightful honour in the eyes of their people.