Jun 17, 2020

COVID-19 Conversations: Pastors Share on Family Time and Reopening Church


2020 has been a challenging year. Pastors especially are feeling the weight of our current moment as they attempt to not only shoulder the personal burdens of their congregants but also to address the national discourse surrounding racial justice. While caring for the hearts of their people can be overwhelming, pastors must also remember to take time for personal check-ins to ensure they and their family are doing well in trying times.

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In this week’s ChurchPulse Weekly episode, podcast hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman chat with Jennie and Levi Lusko about how the current moment provides churches and families the chance to reboot and how they have been addressing racial justice from the pulpit and in their home. You can watch the latest broadcast of ChurchPulse Weekly here or listen to the most recent episode wherever you get your podcasts.

“We didn’t know we weren’t running a marathon…”
In the days following the murder of George Floyd, the message that “silence is complicity” gained momentum, calling on people to take a stand against injustice. Since then, many leaders and organizations, including pastors and churches, have clarified their stances on the current state of race relations in the U.S.

Recent Barna data (June 4-15) show that, in light of current events surrounding racial justice and reconciliation, just under one-third of Protestant pastors (62%) says their church has made a statement on the recent protests happening across the nation. In addition, a large portion of pastors (65%) feels well-equipped to lead in this moment (18% completely true, 47% mostly true), though one-third expresses doubt or admits they are not well-prepared to lead (24% somewhat true, 8% somewhat untrue, 3% mostly untrue).

Levi Lusko, author and lead pastor of Fresh Life Church, says he didn’t realize that COVID-19 wasn’t the only pressing societal concern he would have to address with congregants in 2020.

“I think we all feel a sense of exhaustion because we didn’t know we weren’t running a marathon,” says Levi. “When you run a marathon, you use everything in the tank to get to the end. But [now], when you get to the end, you [realize it’s a triathlon].”

Levi continues, “In ministry, we tend to build seasons. [As a pastor], you have it in your head that this [season] is when you have built in rest and this [season] is when you accelerate, but this year has defied all of that.”

“My daughters expressed interest to go to a protest…”
Current data show that pastors are feeling a range of emotions in response to the national discussion surrounding issues of justice and human rights. Pastors say they are primarily feeling frustrated (23%) right now. Other emotions such as anger (11%) and exhaustion (11%) sometimes surface, while feelings of optimism—like motivation (8%) or determination (7%)—are low on the list.

The Luskos discussed how they and their family have been approaching the current moment in both ministry and family.

“I resonate with both [positive and negative emotions],” says Levi, speaking from the perspective of a pastor. “I’m fatigued and I’m frustrated… but I’m also extremely hopeful. The conversations that we’re having have needed to happen.”

“Honestly, I’ve never been so gripped by something before,” Jennie, author and co-pastor, adds. “There has never been anything that has gripped my heart [like this] and caused me personal repentance and personal grief—grieving with those who have been grieving for decades—but I honestly have been refreshed in my own heart to know that this is something we are going to address.”

When it comes to teaching their children about what’s going on in the world, Levi adds, “We’ve been involving our family. We’ve watched Selma and bought a book on Dr. King, [among other things], and my daughters expressed an interest to go to a protest. So we as a family did that.”

“This is a chance to reboot, reassess and jettison old systems…”
In a recent article, we looked at how pastors are feeling tired, overwhelmed and lonely in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, comparing recent findings to data from The State of Pastors (2016).

Jennie and Levi both took time during the episode to comment on how their perspective of life in era of social distancing has shifted over the past few months.

“We’re choosing to not gear up into the mistake of longing to go back to life before COVID,” Levi says of his pastoral standpoint, “nor are we trying to treat regathering as if it’s a silver bullet. We’ve chosen to say that this is a chance to reboot, reassess, to jettison old systems.”

“It’s messy,” Jennie adds. “It is not smooth—there are raw, rough edges—but if God is calling you to it, he will give you the strength, the endurance, the stamina that you need to keep showing up.”

“Bacon, Bloody Marys and Bible study…”
Recent data from Barna’s weekly Protestant pastor panel survey (May 19–June 1, 2020) show that one in seven pastors (14%) reports their church reopened in the month of May, with another two in five (40%) expecting to reopen in June. One-quarter of church leaders (24%) says they expect to welcome members back in summer—July or August—while another 6 percent are holding out for later in the year.

Despite their state easing on the number of people permitted to gather together (50), the Luskos have decided to hold off on reopening their church.

Levi says, “When Montana gave the green light to begin gatherings, part of me thought we should [reopen], but with masks, six-foot distance and all that… I didn’t want our church to be like that. So we decided not to gather until we can gather as a gathering should be and [instead encouraged] watch parties.”

“We encouraged people to invite others over for breakfast and get community that way,” continues Levi. “[We know of some gatherings] that are in little store fronts or coffee shops, some that are in backyards. I saw one on Instagram that was ‘Bacon, Bloody Marys and Bible study’—so people are doing what they need to do [to have community].”

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About the Research
COVID-19 Data: 
Barna Group conducted these online surveys among 1,950 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–May 18, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

Data Collection Dates
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Weeks 12 and 13, n=400, June 4-15, 2020

Featured image by Ben White on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2020


About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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