The following was written by Billy Reece, pastor of Formosa Baptist Church in Clinton, Arkansas. I asked his permission to repost it here. It is heartfelt, and in these surreal days of 2020, as I have begun a sabbatical, I deeply identify with it.
An open letter to all church members who have a pastor,
I love you! You are not a burden. Some of my favorite memories include times that I was with you. We are in a difficult time right now as a world, nation, and church. None of us have ever experienced anything like this. There is no manual that tells us best practices for a church during a pandemic. The most difficult aspect of it is that we have no idea how this will play out.
If I can be vulnerable with you right now, I would like for you to know that this is the most difficult time I’ve ever faced in all of my years of ministry. The Lord has put me in the role of a shepherd and I find that task not only humbling, but scary as I attempt to steer my flock in the way that the Lord would have me steer it.
I am used to hearing encouragement and also complaints as a pastor. However the moment that I find myself in now, most of what I am hearing is complaining. If we take precautions against this virus, I lack faith….according to some. If we move forward in faith, I am being careless….according to others. From one person I will get a phone call expressing their frustration with how we have decided to move forward, but a few minutes later I will get a call from someone else criticizing the speed in which we are moving.
I get it. I want things to be normal again just as much as you do. I did not enjoy talking to a camera as I sat alone in the church for three months. I also do not want to see any of you get sick or die from this virus. Believe me, I am trying to see this from every angle before making any decision to move forward.
I have experienced burnout before, and now I feel that this foe is knocking at my door again. Burnout is where you pour out more of yourself than you replenish. It’s kin to a dehydration. Pastors do more than just preach to a congregation. We never stop thinking about our role and how to best minister to a group of people that we absolutely love. Friend, right now…..I am feeling desperate for some spiritual water.
If you love me, please be patient with me. If you trust me, please understand that any decision I make is in hopes that I am moving forward with God’s will, for His glory and your good. No decision will please everyone, and no amount of pleading with you will keep you from having an opinion. But please understand that in our church there are many opinions, and I am the one who gets to hear them all.
The real tragedy will come not from people dying or from a transfer of this virus between us. Heaven is real, and we shouldn’t fear the joy that we will have from going there. The real tragedy will be if we cannot pull ourselves together out of a love for the Lord and a love for each other. If this tension that is happening right now all around us creeps into our church and it breaks us apart, that will be the true tragedy.
Again, you are loved by me. Even when you are not kind and patient with me, I am burdened for your well being. Even when you talk negatively about the pastor that your God sent to you and to your church, your pastor is still praying for you and is available to you most anytime. Even when you are disappointed with my shortcomings….most of the time I will agree with your assessment. When you have a difficult moment that you’re walking through…I want to walk with you through it. But friend….right now I am walking through that moment in my own life.
What most church members do not know, is that a pastors job is lonely. Incredibly lonely. If I really opened up to you, you probably wouldn’t like what you saw. If I asked you to pray for me as I struggle with some temptation or pain, you would probably think that it was a mistake to call such a man to this role. Who can I share my inner most thoughts with? Who can I really bounce ideas off of without someone being disappointed in my humanity? WHO CARES ABOUT MY SOUL MORE THAN MY ROLE? I need a friend….more than that….I need friends.
I hope that you can hear my heart in this. I am grateful to you and to God for leading me to you. But please understand that I am a human and all humans come to an end of themselves. I invite this ending, because I know that God’s strength is perfect in my weakness. I just hope that you can accept that weakness as an opportunity for you to minister to the minister.
You may not agree with every decision….in fact you won’t. But if you could understand that your pastor is walking a tight rope with dangers on both sides….and with no end in sight….maybe you would choose to give him some grace instead of your criticism. Friendly fire is coming at us from every side, and some of the friendly fire does not feel all that friendly right now.
Thank you for considering these words not as a complaint, and not as a dissatisfaction of you. I truly love you. Please accept this as a plea for patience, prayers, and true companionship. I want to serve the Lord with joy, and right now that joy is hidden behind a mountain of people’s opinions, and my own anxious prayers and exhaustion.
***Please share this if you are a pastor, or if you love your pastor. Church members everywhere need to hear these words as most pastors are struggling right now more than their congregations realize.