When is the last time you heard that word? Beleaguered. Perhaps an even more important question: what in the world does it mean? I looked it up for those of us who have not heard this word in a long while.
Beleaguered: suffering or being subjected to constant or repeated trouble or harassment.
Now that we have that cleared up, let me tell you where I heard the word. I was on a Zoom call with some other district superintendents, and we were discussing the pastorate in our current age. The word “beleaguered” was used to describe the pastors in the district of one of my friends. The moment struck me because I have been around pastors for most of my life. I have served as a pastor for a few decades now, and I have never heard “beleaguered” used to describe my fellow men and women of the call.
And yet, it’s strangely accurate, isn’t it? Every week we climb into pulpits (assuming you have reopened) and attempt to deliver the gospel message of hope to the most divided congregations we have ever led. The congregations aren’t just divided in one area — they are divided in a number of areas, areas of great importance to society and the ethos of our country.
We are in an election year, so every media outlet is attempting to paint the division of two rival parties who are incredibly adept at mudslinging and half-truths (sorry if that is too cynical).
We are in the middle of a pandemic and experiencing all the division surrounding the potency of COVID-19 and what is an appropriate response to what we are facing.
We are in the middle of racial tensions like our country has not experienced since the 1960s.
We are divided over appropriate ways to police the citizens of our country.
Facebook: what was designed as a social experiment to bring people together is now one of the most divisive venues on the planet.
All of this is in the context of division related to border walls, impeachment and one of the princes of England moving to California!
Of course, we are beleaguered!
Did I mention we are trying to reopen houses of worship and keep everybody safe while social distancing? Did I mention we all have been on a crash course, learning online worship production and online giving?
You know what I am doing to combat all this? Napping. I find myself needing that nap. I’ve always been pretty good at napping, kind of like a hobby of mine. But, now, napping is essential!
Where do beleaguered pastors turn for help?
Might I suggest we turn to God? I know, I know. “Tom just gave us a Sunday school answer.” And that is fair.
However, as I find myself leading in arenas I have little to no experience in leading, I am becoming more dependent. I am learning to lean hard into the Holy Spirit, trying to walk in each moment alongside him. I am pausing a second or two longer in meetings before I respond, listening for the Spirit’s promptings. As I write messages and speak, there is this constant dialogue between the Spirit and me.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented dependence on God.
When the day is done, outside of the Spirit’s anointing, all I have is another opinion. The world doesn’t need more experts. We need more examples. We need men and women of God. We need men and women who know God.
I am not sure if he still does it or not, but pastor and writer Erwin McManus used to refer to himself in the church as chief architect. I like that. I have never thought of myself as “chief architect,” but I do believe the local church is to be the architect of culture. A Spirit-empowered movement must impact and even direct culture.
As I revisit the list above, I am convinced a fresh wind of God’s Spirit would be healing for all of us! Of course, there are some legitimate issues we must tackle as a society, but how we move forward certainly demands an outpouring of God’s Spirit of unity and hope.
So, my encouragement to you is to be salt, be light (not original with me). Use who is in you to care for those around and before you.
Fight your beleaguered-ness by immersing yourself in God’s Spirit for such a time as this. Culture needs you. Your church needs you. But they need you spirit-filled and spirit-empowered.
We are in this together. Pray for me, and I am praying for you.
Rev. Tom Harding is district superintendent of the South Carolina District and senior pastor at Alive Wesleyan Church in Central, South Carolina.