Richard Blackaby said the COVID-19 pandemic had unintended consequences for him when he had to cancel 65 events.
“This is what I do, so it’s been a hard year for my ministry,” he said. “I think I faced the same kind of decision Elijah did. I could curl up in my cave and feel sorry for myself, or I could lean in to God. I’ve spent more time in prayer this year, and I think I can be a better man for God when COVID is done.”
Blackaby, president of Blackaby Ministries International, is the son of Henry Blackaby, author of “Experiencing God,” and the founder of BMI. The younger Blackaby was featured presenter for “Ministering Out Of The Overflow — How to Be On Fire For God Without Burning Out,” a webinar on March 23. Ken Allen, director of the Office of LeaderCare and Church Health for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, served as host.
It’s easy for a pastor to grow discouraged, Blackaby said. He remembered serving as pastor early in his ministry and seeing some success coming in the Lenten season to a formerly-plateaued church.
‘Unprepared for this’
“We’d just had an event and many decisions were made,” he said. “We had a church council meeting on the Monday [of Holy Week]. One of the church leaders criticized how I’d directed the event and questioned my capacity to do adequate follow-up. Then on Good Friday she got upset with me again when she showed up the first time for a weekly prayer meeting that I had canceled that day. She questioned my administrative abilities. I was expecting praise for the good things I’d done and was unprepared for this.”
Blackaby said his wife suggested inviting the woman and her family to the Easter lunch they’d planned with Blackaby’s parents.
“She told me I should learn to practice forgiveness before preaching on it,” Blackaby said with a laugh.
Blackaby said the familiar story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18 continues to encourage him.
“Elijah had the best day he’d ever had,” he said. “The evil prophets were defeated, the drought ended, and he thought the people would now return to God. But that didn’t happen.”
Blackaby said pastors can be attacked by critics — or they can be met by silence, as Elijah was — either of which brings discouragement. The prophet also knew fear when the wicked queen threatened him.
“Fear can put us in the wilderness, too,” he said.
“One of the first signs of discouragement is isolation. This has been especially true in the pandemic when getting together with other pastors is harder. But healthy ministers find ways to stay connected to others.”
Blackaby said there’s also a danger in filling our soul with divisive and angry things from the world.
“I’ve found myself withdrawing from much news-watching and social media since these things can make us upset,” he said. “I don’t mean to say that I don’t want to know current events, but I don’t think our congregations want to know on Sunday that we’ve watched news for six hours the past week. They want to know that we’ve spent time in God’s word. We have to guard our hearts. The Bible isn’t designed to anger us but to help us focus on the Lord.”
‘Suddenness of God’
Blackaby said Elijah also found a gift in the “suddenness of God.”
“God sent an angel to encourage him with food, drink and rest,” he said. “I think the bread spoke not only of sustenance, but of the love of God. Elijah could’ve found food in the wilderness but what’s better than freshly-baked bread? I think this was God’s way of letting the prophet know He loved him and would continue to help him.”
Blackaby said discouragement can be a way that God moves us from complacency to new things.
“Leaders get into a comfort role when life is normal,” he said, “But the pandemic has put us in places where we need to grow some more. We’re told 70 percent of our churches weren’t growing pre-COVID, so why do we talk about ‘getting back to normal?’ Maybe God is leading us to make constructive changes and not put the furniture back exactly where it was before.”
In response to a participant question about discouraged ministers who’ve left their churches, Blackaby said he’d indeed heard of numbers of ministers giving up during the pandemic. He acknowledged some ministers had delayed retirement to help their churches through the pandemic while others had already stepped aside believing they weren’t prepared for the changes required. He also knew of pastor search teams who had delayed their work during the past year.
“Of course, some pastors have died from COVID,” he said. “I think this means we’ll see a real need for new pastors on the other side of COVID, and I think this means some lay people will need to step up and fill the need, too, which is a good thing.”
BMI is headquartered in Atlanta. Ken Allen can be reached at 800-264-1225.