As a pastor’s wife (and a woman in ministry) I am often asked to be the peace-maker. This week I had an interesting set of conversations. Both people were on opposite sides of the Covid19 mask and vaccination issue. Both believers, long in the faith. Both long-time attendees of our small-town small church. One even pinpointed the disagreement as starting over coffee after a women’s Bible study. One is a militant mask-wearer vaxxer and one is anti-vaxxer who only wears a mask under extreme protest. The masker scolded the anti-masker and it did not go over well.
If your church is like my church, you wonder if people who are no longer attending church are gone because they have disagreed with:
- The Covid restrictions (much stricter up here in Canada) or they are unsure whether vaccinations are Biblical or not
- The Pastor’s sermons
- How someone spoke to them during fellowship hour
- Why their work on the latest event was not recognized publicly
- Someone spoke to my child in a harsh way
- 7,8 …. or a myriad of other reasons.
- Maybe they were just tired and needed to move on to fresher pastures. Sometimes we know why they leave. But lately, they just leave and don’t come back. And we are left baffled… and discouraged.
It seems to me that the Covid restrictions have almost given some church attendees the excuse to stay home, and maybe for a few months watch the live-streaming service, and then… well, they had to go for groceries that one Sunday; or Aunt Millie happened to come to visit just then; or they had to get caught up on yard work.
All silliness aside, it has been brought to my attention that my militant mask-wearing pro-vax friend is fearful. She has a husband on immune system suppressing drugs, and she is fearful that she will lose her husband if she brings Covid to him. She cannot even imagine life without her husband by her side, so she is on the warpath to convince everyone to mask and vaccinate. I am sorry that she is fearful.
Today, the anti-vaxxer called me, and talked about how she and the pro-vax woman had words at Bible study. This woman also has a husband who has compromised health but they have both had Covid19 a few months ago, and she is convinced that her antibodies will protect them from any further illness, so masks and vaccines are not necessary and may even be evil.
The interesting thing is these two women are both nurses. The sad thing is that they are also both strong Christian believers, with the same Holy Spirit living inside them. They both love the Lord. They both want the best for their church family. And yet they both have very strong views on a politicized issue.
Today, I talked to each of them, separately, and I urged them to show caring love, grace, and forgiveness to people of the opposite opinion. I reminded each of them that the other was not acting out of vindictiveness, but out of fear, a concern for their husband, and that the best thing was to agree to disagree out of love and kindness, without judgement.
While this could have been any issue in the world, it is rough that this pandemic has caused so many people to leave the church, or let their church be divided. As a Pastor’s wife, I struggle alongside my husband to know why people, even some on the leadership team, have decided to no longer attend.
Matthew 10:10-14 tells the parable of the one lost sheep. God has used this parable over and over lately to show me in a variety of ways that I need to minister to those who do come to church, while giving grace and loving care to those who don’t, even when they block us on FB or ask to be taken off our email list.
How does God deal with us, his poor dumb sheep? He cares for us, and seeks us out, and calls us by name.
- Grace – God’s favor; He cares for us.
- Affirmation – Letting us know that we are special to Him, and seeking us out wherever we are in the dark broken world to tell us that He loves us.
- Forgiveness – Embracing us when we return to the fold and fellowship with Him, where He calls us by name because we are already known to Him.
When people leave your church, or talk about leaving, or fight with others before leaving, care for them. A shepherd cares for his sheep, protecting them from hurt as much as possible. When people say hurtful things, whether about the pastor, his wife or family, or any other member of the church, let them know they are still loved by you and by God. If someone returns to the church after being bitter or hurt, ask the Lord to help you embrace them with forgiveness in your heart.
This does not mean that we excuse anyone’s bad or ungodly behavior, especially if it is hurting the body of Christ. We address that fearlessly. But we do it in love, not in anger. Always in love. Matthew 10 goes on to tell us in the next verses, right after the parable, how to correct believers who have sinned against the church. As pastoral leadership and especially pastor’s wives and women in ministry, we need to be a fearless shepherds (or support a fearless shepherd). Fearlessly spreading grace, sprinkled with affirmation, and served with forgiveness.
My two women friends will be loving to each other again. I know it. They cannot ignore the love they have shared over the years, and they know God too well to diminish the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives, even in these tough times. It is up to me to also love them, care for them, guide them and forgive them – giving them the same grace that God gives to me, to each of us, all trying to make our way through some very troubling times.