Pastors As Shepherds In A Crisis

By Mike Ainsworth


I have been praying for our pastors as they try to balance the needs and concerns of their congregations with the unfolding Coronavirus phenomenon and the swift disruptions it has brought to ministry and life.

I was reminded of the first time I read the popular book by Philip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Not only did I gain a greater understanding of the Lord as our Great Shepherd who watches over us, but also the meaning it has for those who serve His church as pastors.

Having been a shepherd in Africa and North America, as well as a pastor, Keller relates his vast experience of caring for sheep to each aspect of the Psalm. The application of his words to the work and ministry of the pastor as a shepherd is powerful in both imagery and substance.

In the scriptures, the supreme model for pastoral ministry is seen in the work of Jesus Himself. The New Testament writers bestow upon Him the name and title of Good Shepherd. With Jesus as our role model, the scripture also has much to say about the pastor as a Good Shepherd.

“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” 1 Peter 5:2-4

So, what does it mean to be a shepherd over the flock? First, to be a shepherd over the sheep means that it is the shepherd’s responsibility to LEAD the sheep. Secondly, the shepherd is responsible to FEED the sheep. And finally, the pastor is called to TEND to the flock.

What’s more is the symbolic significance of the use of the ROD and STAFF in the work of the Shepherd to complete these tasks. The staff is used in leading, feeding and tending to the sheep. It is essentially a symbol of the concern and compassion that a shepherd has for the sheep. Many bible scholars agree that there is no other single word that can better describe its function on behalf of the flock than the word “comfort.”

The shepherd’s rod is an instrument of protection for himself and his sheep especially when they are in danger. It is used both as a defense and a deterrent against anything that would attack or harm the sheep.

All of us understand the responsibilities that are given to us as Pastors – especially when we are fulfilling the day to day duties of living out our calling as an assignment from the Lord. But what do we do when we face new challenges? How should we respond in the realization that “I have never been through this before?”

Pastors are still shepherds even in a world crisis like the Coronavirus Epidemic!

Pastors must lead, find ways to feed and tend to the flock especially in a crisis! The Staff, though symbolic, is evidenced in our love, care and comfort of the sheep. The Rod, is symbolic of our work to protect the sheep from harm or the threat of harm – like the current Coronavirus Epidemic.

World Health Organization Declares Global Pandemic on March 11, 2020

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak to be a global pandemic. We are all grieved at the number of lives this virus has claimed as well as the global disruption it has caused.

IPHC Response on March 13, 2020: Prayerful and Prepared 

The church should respond to every situation with prayer and preparation. Every local church’s situation is unique, and while more might be required later, consider taking the following general action steps.

NC Governor Issues Executive Order 117 on March 14, 2020

To slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and reduce the number of people infected, Gov. Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 117, which mandates that organizers of events that draw more than 100 people cancel, postpone or modify these events or offer online streaming services.

According to the NCDHHS, these events include large gatherings where people are in close contact (less than 6 feet), such as concerts, conferences, sporting events, faith-based events and other large gatherings. The ban on gatherings does not include airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, libraries, shopping malls and spaces where people may be in transit. Office environments, restaurants, factories, or retail or grocery stores are also excluded.

CDC Recommends No Gatherings Of 50 People on March 15, 2020

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended that no gatherings with 50 people or more take place for the next eight weeks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

President Releases Guidelines For America on March 16, 2020

The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America — 15 Days to Slow the Spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) More at Whitehouse.govpdf iconexternal icon.

To Our Ministers and Churches

As you know, we’re in a situation none of us have been in before and things are changing day by day. We have been monitoring the situation with COVID-19, sought wise counsel and devoted time for prayer. Each of you are in our prayers, especially our Pastors as you shepherd your congregations through this crisis. 

For the safety and wellbeing of all our ministers, members, staff and employees, I am asking every Pastor to take the following steps:

I urge all Cornerstone Conference IPHC congregations of any size to immediately postpone all in-person services and events for the next 15 days.

This does not mean that we stop ministry! Just the opposite! I am encouraging you to pursue other avenues of ministry including online services, congregational care opportunities and need-related community outreach. 

This request is in step with the announced plan of our President to Slow The Spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) over the next 15 days.

I believe this crisis is an unprecedented opportunity for each of us to BE THE CHURCH! I reminded myself today that when it is darkest, Christ’s light (through His church) shines the brightest! Let’s continue to be salt and light bringing hope through the gospel to our communities and the world! (Matthew 15:4) 

We have prepared resources to help you navigate the changes. You can find them at We will also be hosting a video conference Q & A for pastors. More information will be provided very soon. 

Our WIN Director, Doug Beane-Hall shared Isaiah 43:1-2 with the words WHEN (not if) YOU GO THROUGH…! Please join with me in prayer as we take these steps together. Our trust is in the Lord!

“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah‬ ‭43:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬



Please Stay Informed 
I encourage you to monitor the regularly updated information and recommendations from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Virginia Department of Health and encourage you to follow the recommendations and updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. We will continue to share information and updates that we believe will assist you in your response to protect and to serve our congregations and communities.

We Are Here To Help 
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to assist you. You can reach our offices at 336-656-7936. You can reach me at [email protected]. I am available to assist in any way possible. You are in my constant prayers.

These Are Recommended Resources From Our Staff

Below are resources from the CDC and Ministry Grid, on how to prepare your church for the COVID-19. You can visit the CDC Coronavirus Home: for the latest news and updates on the Coronavirus.