• Paul Coulter

Staying Centred in Strange Times - 4. Supporting Shepherds

We have considered our core beliefs in these days and how they sustain us with hope in Christ. We have also thought about some of the practical ways we can respond as people who speak hope and show help within the church and beyond. The final issue I want to address is your own position as a leader. If you aren’t a leader in a church (a recognised shepherd) then this may not be for you, but I would encourage you to think of the needs of your leaders at this time. How can you make their work easier and encourage them in it?


This is a time, more than most, when godly leadership is needed. If you have been given responsibility under the Lord to be a shepherd of His sheep, then be aware of the particular challenges you will face in these days. Satan will seek to destroy your faith and the flesh will cry out for self-preservation, but you must listen to the Christ-exalting voice of the Spirit and dwell in the promises of the Scriptures. Do not neglect your own spiritual health at this time. Your spiritual well-being will be vital as you seek to inspire and encourage others .


There is little doubt that your working patterns will change in the coming weeks. Depending on the nature of your ministry you may face lesser or greater pressure on your time. I suspect that many will initially find they have greater flexibility as some church activities are suspended. I urge you to use this time to dig deep into the Scriptures and to dedicate some time to be still before the Lord. Meditate on His Word and reignite your commitment to prayer. As things progress, however, you may well find yourself under greater pressure with pastoral need. So use these early stages to build a good team around you. Lean on your fellow-elders if you have any. Speak to those you know you can trust to help shoulder the weight of pastoral responsibility. Begin putting plans in place now for what you will do down the line and make sure that none of your church’s responses depend on only one person. The likelihood is that most of us will get the virus and, although it should be mild for the majority, that is likely to mean down time for all of us. Build your contingency plans.


In all of this, remember that you are human. That will include:

- Getting rest and adequate sleep;

- Exercising regularly - get outside, while keeping your distance from others, if at all possible; - Make sure your day has a routine;

- Laugh and talk to those you live with about things other than the pandemic;

- Consider switching off the news and don't allow yourself to carry a psychological burden you can't cope with (the curse of instant and global news is that it can overwhelm us).


Consider, too, the conversations you need to have. Talk with your family members, explain to your children or grandchildren, if you have them, the nature of faith in God in such unprecedented times. Invest in deep and loving support for your spouse of you are married. Model and teach all of this to your church members – encourage them to have the conversations now that they may not be able to have if they or a loved one are struck by the virus and does not recover. Don’t suppress your own anxieties either, but bring them to the Lord.


Also be wary in this moment of the dark side of leadership, the abuse of power and influence. Be certain to keep wise boundaries in place around your ministry, to serve those who you shepherd without controlling them and to point to trust on Christ rather than encouraging dependence on you. This might seem like an odd warning when people are in such fear and need, but it is exactly in those moments that temptation is greatest and actions that are wrong can feel right. Beware inappropriate intimacy, maintain accountability and transparency (while preserving appropriate confidentiality), and have clear principles that guard against physical, emotional, financial or sexual abuse of those you and your team care for.


Finally, I would recommend that if you don’t already have someone outside a team that co-works with you in your setting to pray for you and to provide pastoral support, you find that. Living Leadership is here for you and we are available in two ways. Firstly, we are dedicating ourselves as a staff team to praying for you. We do that anyway, but we are making that a special priority in coming weeks so please email us or complete the contact form on our website if you have specific prayer requests. Secondly, we are available to chat to you by phone or video call if you need to speak to someone and be refreshed in the gospel. Our time and resources are limited, but we will do our best to respond ourselves as staff or to link you with one of our trusted associates. To ask for that, use the contact form on our website.


Supporting Shepherds – top tips

· Focus on your own spiritual health in this time. Use rearranged schedules to create patterns of prayerfulness and digging deeply into the Word. Remember you are human!

· Form a team around you who can support you and work with you to meet the pastoral needs of your congregation. Remember you aren’t omnicompetent!

· Find prayerful support outside your immediate team – someone you know is praying for you and who you can talk to as you need. Remember you aren’t alone – Living Leadership is here for you!

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in England and Wales

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