Pastors reflect on pandemic preaching


When COVID-19 hit Houston in March 2020, South Main Baptist Church had to make many adjustments quickly. But Pastor Steve Wells’ previously planned sermons on fear and anger have taken on new relevance.

Steve Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, participated in an online workshop on “Preaching in a Pandemic” offered in conjunction with the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. (Screenshot)

“In the fall of 2019, I was pretty convinced that the fall of 2020 was going to be the most controversial time we have experienced in our city and as a nation,” Wells recalled in a Zoom teleconference offered in collaboration. with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. General assembly.

So by early 2020 Wells was already helping prepare his congregation for “really smart people.” [who] spend all of their time trying to make you ‘frenzied’ by appealing to fear and anger.

“It ended up not needing to change,” Wells said.

Ways to “recover a certain sense of power”

However, in direct response to the pandemic, he and his worship planning team came up with a list of challenges that members of the congregation would likely face. They identified issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression.

Then he contacted a therapist and made an appointment to spend 30 minutes each week with him.

In each session, Wells presented a biblical text of a sermon and the number for the week, and he asked, “If someone came into your office and it was their problem, what is the healthiest advice?” that you can give it to solve this problem? “

“So every week I would try to offer my two best ideas on the text and then say, ‘Here’s some good psychological advice if you’re feeling that way. These are concrete steps you can take to regain a sense of empowerment in your life and move forward, ”Wells said.

After this series of sermons, Wells said, he felt his congregation “needed a very big dose of Jesus last year.” So he began a long series based on the Sermon on the Mount.

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Wells and three other pastors offered their perspectives during a virtual workshop on “Preaching During Pandemics,” which addressed not only the challenges presented by COVID-19, but also political divide and racial injustice.

“Absolutely exposed to the elements”

Cheryl Anderson, pastor at Palmetto Baptist Missionary Church in Conway, South Carolina, admitted feeling overwhelmed when she took on the challenges faced by members of her predominantly black congregation.

“I found myself preaching because of my own desperation and anger, and it was a real challenge to my integrity,” she admitted.

Because the church moved to a virtual worship format where “anyone can listen,” Anderson said she felt particularly vulnerable.

“I had to be faithful to my vocation and faithful to the reality of our life,” she declared. “So I took on the challenge of being absolutely exposed to the elements. … I approached it with an openness to the Holy Spirit, with a practical sense of the Gospel, and with genuine confidence in the truth as the basis of my personal apologetics.

“I felt absolutely compelled to preach the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because I felt there was no time on the clock.”

Christy McMillan-Goodwin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Front Royal, Va., Described the challenge of “the uncertainty – week after week – of not knowing what was going to happen with the virus, the shutdown, the masking and the unrest in the community, “she said.

The preaching from the lectionary provided not only structure appreciated in a time of change, but also remarkable relevance, she noted.

“It’s interesting how connected the lectionary was to what was going on,” she said.

Identify “felt needs and pain points”

Shaun King, senior pastor at Johns Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., Spoke about the challenge of preaching in the COVID-19 environment – first to clear seats in fully virtual worship services and later to socially distant and masked faithful.

He recognized an “interruption of the energies of the preaching moment” which he felt tangibly and viscerally, lacking the “energy exchange” that he used to experience.

King used surveys to identify “felt needs and sore spots” his congregation felt, which he sought to address in sermons, including a series from the Book of Job in the Old Testament.

Going into 2021, particularly during Lent and Easter, King called attention to “trying to name and reframe the experience through the lens of the resurrection.”

Need to take care of yourself

King admitted that his ministry in the midst of the pandemic had brought him almost to the point of “existential exhaustion.” He has found help through therapy, a gym exercise routine, regular meetings with friends who are also ministers, and practicing “centering” prayer each morning.

“If I don’t do it every day, to frame the day, I’m a real train wreck,” he said. “When I deal with this regularly, I am unfazed. And there really is no in-between.

The other three pastors also stressed the importance of connecting with small groups of friends, engaging in some form of exercise – preferably outdoors – and keeping their schedules to avoid straining. constantly solicit their time.

Wells mentioned the importance for ministers to learn to recognize “the amount of gasoline in the tank” and to say “no with conviction” on occasion to be free to say “yes with abandon” to others. moments.

In the future, before starting a series of messages based on the Galatian book of the New Testament, Wells said he planned to preach several sermons on the importance of “claiming the Sabbath.”

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