Impact of COVID-19 on Pastors’ Lives

Bread (photo: Pixabay)
By Zoe Zhang May 8th, 2020

Because of the current pandemic, the Chinese Church has been temporarily suspended for over three months now all on-site activities and it remains unclear when they can be resumed, although the situation is getting more relaxed now. During this time, pastors are still struggling how to look after the Lord's flocks in new ways.

Besides this, pastors are a group that need attention too. The impact of the outbreak on them is manyfold. This report is about the impact of the outbreak on the lives of pastors.

Pastor M, from a rural church in Anhui Province, repeatedly expressed her regret that she can’t do full online ministry during the outbreak due to restrained conditions. M, who rarely talks about her personal life, recently testified, "As the usual on-site activities are disturbed, my church receives no financial donations. This makes it worse on my church which already suffers from a shortage of various kinds. Pastors here have now stopped receiving subsidies which were already meager."

Fortunately, the municipal church committee has paid attention to the lives of grass-root pastors and has given them living allowances. Also, her husband has an income. So, sustaining her family is no longer a problem. Pastor M is grateful for that.

M’s church hasn’t issued a QR code for financial donations. She doesn’t think most believers have an understanding or appreciation of online financial giving. So, it won’t be worth it because the issuance of a QR code might cause suspicion and misunderstanding among the congregation.

As to whether the tithes not donated during the outbreak would be made up after the outbreak, Pastor M said, "I really don’t know. It depends on the Holy Spirit’s work." It is understood only about 10% of the believers tithed before the pandemic.

Pastor Z, from an urban church in Anhui, is very concerned about the impact of the outbreak on pastors. The following is based on his and other pastors’ experiences.

According to Pastor Z, his church has issued a QR code on its WeChat Account promoting financial donations, but such income during the outbreak is sure to decrease. Maximally the on-line donations are up to one-tenth of what it was before the disaster. Consequently, his church's pays for pastors have been reduced, but they are assured for "sustaining life."

As a pastor, Z said he would share the hardship of his church because compared to his situation the church was suffering more which he believed was only temporary.

Pastor Z estimated that the Church’s suspension as a whole could last about half a year. However, in the long run, if the suspension goes on for a year or more, his church's strategy would definitely change and pastors’ situation would be even harder. If his church received no donated income for a long time, the church would reduce a pastor's salary on a massive scale or encourage the pastor to find other jobs.

During this special time, pastors’ salaries have been affected. However, apart from a decreased income, Pastor Z has thought that the decision-making of church leaders was crucial. He believed that with these two factors working together, some pastors’ salaries would almost be unaffected and some would be completely out of pay.

As to the latter, Pastor Z figured that some church leaders would question the need to pay "pastors who are not working" due to this special time. There would be very few instances where the pastor and the head of the church did not get along well and the pastor would be kicked out.

It is understood that during the virus outbreak, churches in China that do live video sermons are the minority. Most churches issue Bible chapters and learning materials through WeChat Accounts or WeChat groups. "From the point of view of a church’s administrator, this is not the same as a ministry before,” said Pastor Z. “Before the pandemic, a pastor's services were much more diverse: being on duty in the church, training believers, delivering sermons, visiting believers and participating in other activities scheduled by the church.”

Usually, now is the time for the new theology graduates to choose which churches to work for, but this year they face a big challenge.

The graduates who are designated by a church will be less affected because the outbreak will always pass and they can still serve in their own churches. However, the non-designated graduates need to apply for a position by themselves. Where would they work since recruiting pastors is significantly reduced?

In this regard, Pastor Z suggested that these graduates be prepared for making sacrifices, such as volunteering in a church for a period of time. The key was to serve God, which was still the priority. After the church situation became better, the issue of a personal salary could then be considered.

Z recommended that theological colleges consider this year's graduates in next July’s recruitment season, to help them through the difficulties. Pastor Z said that this was not the responsibility of the theological schools, but that in exceptional circumstances, the schools were to do some work to help students in need of finding suitable positions in a church. He believed that caring and capable churches would consider recruiting some theological graduates.

The impact of the outbreak on churches and pastors is continuing. To avoid being caught off guard by a similar situation in the future, Pastor Z thought that a church should prepare ahead of time.

First of all, a church should not be too far ahead of the curve in spending and it is best to have savings. Second, the hiring of pastors should be based on the actual situation. Some churches believe that there will be explosive growth after conducting a series of specific ministries, so they will hire a few more pastors in one go. Finally, a church should have a sense of crisis. Two hundred years of Chinese Church history have seen many ups and downs. The Church was closed for a long time. Pastor Z believed that this was the best and the worst of times for the Church as a whole. A church should be able to see both living in peace and guarding against danger.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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