I’ve spoken with a number of pastors this week – and scheduled to talk to more this afternoon. While all my pastor friends are mostly remaining positive online and helping people remember to demonstrate faith over fear, some pastors are struggling too. When I left Leadership Network late last year I didn’t see entering into another pastorate this quickly or if ever. But here I am again.
The personal problem
There’s a definite sense of loss for pastors. All the plans you worked so hard for Easter have suddenly been diminished. Buildings are mostly empty. We are preaching to near empty rooms. (Thankful for the worship and tech teams sticking around for us so far.) Our teams and volunteers are scattered.
The church problem
All the while there is an incredible need to minister to people. Pastors know we have to continue to “be the church”. From my current perspective, the needs and burden to help people seem somewhat larger (and certainly harder) today than even a month ago. While people are stuck at home or stuck in care facilities, they still need care and concern expressed to them. Most of us had that figured out when we could gather people on Sundays and throughout the week.
The future hope
I’m an optimist. In these days, I’ve been more of a cautious optimist, simply because none of us know what is going to happen. But there are tremendous opportunities being created and desperation is leading to innovation. I fully expect we will develop ministries and Gospel offerings to people that will advance the Gospel for years to come. That excites me.
The cautious reality
Even those opportunities bring a certain amount of pressure on pastors. I only share this from my perspective, but frankly many of the voices saying how things will “never be the same” and how the church must completely change don’t seem to be currently pastoring at a local church. Of course, we should listen to and learn from them, but pastors have budgets and buildings we need to fill. Those are realities that aren’t ending immediately after this crisis. And context is king. We shouldn’t try to be another church.
So, bottom line, it’s tough. And because of that, some pastors are struggling. I said to our church recently, “it’s okay not to be okay sometimes.” That’s true for you too. My intent of this post is not to vent (although I need that too sometimes). I only hope to help a group of people I’ve grown to love and respect – pastors.
If I were advising you as I would a member of our church going through crisis, my advice might be about the same.
Here are 7 suggestions for navigating your emotions during this crisis:
Recognize the sense of loss. Don’t ignore it. This hurts. Something is missing from your life right now, just as it is for the people God called you to shepherd. Don’t overlook your own feelings and emotions even as you minister to others.
(On a completely personal note, I’m pastoring at my home church. They were in need of revitalization. I came into this so motivated and excited about helping the church. All those plans changed suddenly after only a few weeks on the job. That’s a loss.)
Grieve. We don’t grieve like the rest of the world, but we should grieve. Every loss deserves a grief period. Grieving has stages. And they are different for everyone. Some mornings you may wake up confused. Other days you may be angry. Still others you may have an incredible burst of energy and enthusiasm – and you’re not even sure why. All those can be natural.
Exercise. I encourage maintaining health all the time for leaders. The busier and more stressed you are the more important it becomes. If you’re past few weeks are like mine then you’re in one of those seasons – and you need to be exercising. Regularly. Take time to get outside and walk. Find ways to do a workout indoors too. There are plenty of apps and resources online to keep you fit during this time.
Stay close to other pastors. I have found this especially helpful for me. This is not because misery deserves company, but another thing I say in leadership is “you can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit”. That’s so true in this scenario. That first day everyone was looking to me as to whether to take services online was one of the most stressful I’ve had in a while. Huge decision. Talking to other pastors through it helped.
Protect your Sabbath. The Sabbath isn’t just a command for the church where you serve. It’s vital for you as well. Plus, if you have children at home you need to spend time with your children. And if you’re married with your spouse. They are likely struggling with isolation too. Pastor, you don’t have to work all the time. Your family needs you too. Protect what will definitely be there after this crisis.
Find ways to laugh. I’ve had a few good belly laughs lately and thy have been so life-giving. Most of them were at my own expense making “bloopers” while trying to do a video. (I’m sure there’s a blooper video in the works by our creative team.) If needed, Google some clean comedy and take a mental break. A good Seinfeld episode often works for me too.
Dream about the new future. Yes, it will look different. Again, it will have to be contextualized for your church. But God has made promises for His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This includes the coronavirus. We will get back to doing church again.
What might that look like? This is where there are tremendous Kingdom-building ministries who serve the church and are thinking “for us” right now. I’m grateful for them. (I may do a separate post with some of these resources I’m following.) I’m thankful that we can concentrate on ministering to our churches while they help us think “what’s next”, but we should spend some time doing this too. We know our context like no one else does.
Pastor, I say this humbly to you, but none of the future talk matters if you don’t protect your soul. We will need you to be strong after this crisis as much as we need you through it. I’m praying for you. Please let me know if I can help. Lastly, get professional help if needed. There’s no shame in that.