By Pastor Matthew Anderson
In December 2020 the pandemic hit my community hard. Over a six week period we saw around 30 cases of Covid-19 among our members. If you were to page through our membership directory and point out the people you definitely would not want to get Covid due to high risk factors, those were the exact people who were coming down with it. It seemed like every day I was calling five to ten households to see who would be next to the ICU. All told we ended up with three deaths, several more hospital stays, and one that is still struggling with severe effects of the disease.
Obviously the past year and half has been challenging for all ministry leaders, but this was one of the hardest seasons I’ve had as a pastor. I felt so helpless, able to do nothing except calling to check in and pray over the phone. Thinking back to my experience during that time, I am reminded of the sentiment of a popular lay care ministry: we will all go through hard times, but none of us should have to go through them alone. Thanks to my Thriving Leadership Formation group, I didn’t go through that season alone. As I accompanied my parishioners and their families, my colleagues in my cohort accompanied and supported me. The timing of that group could not have been better.
During check-in time I was able to share my struggle with caring colleagues, while also listening and supporting them. The spiritual practices we engaged in together brought me back into my heart and reconnected me with the Spirit, time and time again. Even if I wasn’t “feeling it” that day, doing those practices together – even over Zoom – and reflecting on our experiences often resulted in hearing from one of my colleagues exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. But perhaps the most powerful thing of all about that group was that each Tuesday morning when I signed in, I knew that I was not alone. Others were struggling through some of the same experiences I was. We were truly church together.
I am honestly not sure how I would have coped during that time without my TLF small group. But what’s more, I ended up writing in my evaluation that “even though ministry is still challenging during this season, I feel a renewed sense of purpose to guide my community through and out of this time.” Where did that renewed sense of purpose come from? I was spent, and in that still pre-vaccine time there was still no clear light at the end of the tunnel. It could have only come from God, and from my connection with God facilitated through my experience in this group.
As a leader in ministry you will go through challenging times. You don’t have to go through them alone. However, you have to make intentional decisions to live in community. This is an easy one that costs you nothing: sign up for a Thriving Leadership Formation group.
Matthew Anderson has served as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Victorville, CA since 2013. A self-professed “Bible nerd,” a passion for the scriptures is what first drew him into ministry, and he still loves witnessing moments when people discover new dimensions of the love of God through the Bible. Pastor Matt is also a singer and songwriter, and before ordination he had the opportunity to play in a wide variety of venues, from bars and clubs in Hollywood to leading worship at churches, camps, and conferences. These days he spends most of his non-working hours with his wife Becky and their two children, Ellie (8) and Luke (5). Becky and Matt are both 2004 graduates of California Lutheran University. Though he grew up outside Milwaukee, Matt was born in northern Illinois and claims Chicago as his true hometown when it comes to sports fandom – especially his beloved 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.