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Pastoring Well When People Are a Challenge

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In many cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in people. People are giving sacrificially, they are banding together as a community, and they are helping one another in more ways than imagined. However, the pandemic has also brought out the worst in people. People are fearful, uncertain, and looking for someone to blame. Emotional and psychological problems are on the rise as everyone faces quarantines, a new season of life, and a changing world. Many people when confronted with all of these new and now prolonged worries are searching for help. 

Pastors and church leaders are some of the first on their call list. However, those seeking pastoral care and assistance are not always kind and compassionate. They often make unrealistic demands of the church and lash out emotionally at those trying to counsel them. Somehow, we, as church leaders, must find the strength and compassion to help them in their time of need, despite their less than friendly demeanor. 

How can we do that?


  • First and foremost, we must see them and their reality through the eyes of Jesus. Move beyond having compassion for them into empathizing with them and the position they are in. Their state of desperation because of job loss, financial struggle, fear, relationship tension, or simply cabin fever may cause them to respond in ways they normally wouldn’t. Seeing life through their eyes helps us get to the heart of their struggle. Author and vulnerability expert, Brené Brown says, “In order to empathize with someone’s experience, you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be.” Step into their emotional shoes. Live a moment in their life. Then begin to counsel them from that point. It will make all the difference.

Set boundaries

  • Being open to helping someone doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own safety and emotional sanity to be of assistance. Whether you communicate with them or not, set boundaries for your interaction with those you are counseling that will guide your times together. Make sure to include what topics you will and will not discuss, what practical help you are willing to give, and how much time you can realistically dedicate to each person. If someone begins crossing your boundaries, even though it will be difficult, let them know you are not willing to go there. These guardrails to the relationship will promote health for you and will ultimately benefit anyone seeking your assistance in this unprecedented time.

Get help from others

  • There is no reason why you have to be the only one to help everyone. Find other church leaders or lay leaders who are qualified and compassionate to join your care team. Working together, you can help more people and provide relief for whoever finds the person they are assisting a little too challenging to handle. Emotional burdens are heavy to carry. We all need someone to help us along the way. Find people to help you and let them in. Create a strategy for serving those in need and stick to it. You’ll all be so grateful for the camaraderie.

Don’t take accusations personally

  • People who are struggling in life are often looking for something or someone to blame for their problems. Sometimes, they lash out with blame and accusations against those who offer to help if the assistance they’re given doesn’t meet all their needs perfectly. If and when that happens, do your best not to take their complaints personally. In their physical and emotional desperation, they are likely not upset with church leaders. They need someone safe to stand beside them in their toughest of times. You are that person. If needed, find a counselor of your own to debrief with about these situations. You are doing a good thing, you are doing God’s work, and you are not to blame.

Remember: You can’t meet all their needs.

In the end, it is crucial to remember that the church cannot meet every need of every person who is struggling in these uncertain days. We must simply do our best with the resources we have to ease their pain one day at a time and point them in the direction of hope. Allowing them to see Jesus in us and in their situation will give them hope for a positive future, even when their “right now” seems so bleak.

COVID-19 has ravaged our world. We as church leaders will have to help lots of struggling, desperate people. Being the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of so many will not be easy at times. It will many times be a thankless job. But taking the time to gain a little perspective, love people with empathy and compassion, and protect ourselves with reasonable boundaries will go a long way in helping us to maintain our own personal health as we help others who are in need.

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