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In praise of religious leaders

By Mike Ruffin Back when I was a pastor, I had a conversation with the local high school football coach. I observed that our jobs were similar in that everybody in town thought they could do our job better than we could, and that 99.9% of them wouldn’t last two weeks trying to do it. He agreed with me. We laughed outwardly as we wept inwardly (at least I wept inwardly). We parted to go do our jobs the best we could. I know for a fact that it isn’t easy being a pastor. I can safely infer that it isn’t easy being a rabbi or an imam, either. I have a deep and abiding respect for ministers who do their best to do their best. I believe this includes the vast majority of members of the clergy. What does it mean for ministers to do their best to do their best? It means doing all they can to be the best human beings they can be. The first and most crucial step in doing that is to maintain a deep and vibrant relationship with God. Ministers do this by developing practices that help them grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally’”practices such as prayer, Bible study, fasting, spiritual retreats, resting, and reading quality literature. Such practices will help them stay healthy so they can keep their focus on serving God and on serving others, rather than on promoting themselves or building their own kingdom. Most of the clergy members I know or am familiar with have done a remarkable job of adapting to the demands placed on them and their congregations by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pastors and other ministers have shown great creativity in leading churches to continue engaging in existing ministries and to develop new ministries. They have also done fine work in providing online worship experiences for their congregations. I hasten to add what every spiritually healthy clergyperson would want me to add: they could not have done what they’ve done, do what they’re doing, or do what they’re going to do without the excellent leadership and sacrificial service of church members. In many cases, those members have come up with new ministry ideas. In other cases, they’ve provided creative and innovative leadership in making necessary changes to existing ministries. For example, few ministers could have made the transition to virtual worship without the contributions of tech-savvy volunteers. We should encourage our religious leaders regularly. We should especially encourage them regularly during these irregular days. On behalf of all of us, I say to those religious leaders who have done all they can to help us stay connected to the Lord, to each other, and to the world: Thank you! We are grateful for your servant leadership at all times, and especially during these troubling and challenging days. We will always remember your faithfulness to God, to your congregations, to our community, and to our world.

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