So, how are you doing? It’s very possible that you’re all over the place emotionally and spiritually right now. That’s understandable. Does it help to know that you’re not alone? Practically every church and every leader of every church is feeling like things are extremely precarious. After all, about every 3 weeks since March, we’ve all had to adjust to some new development. And each time we do that, we use up a little more of our emotional and spiritual reserve. If we’re not taking the time to let God refill us, we all run the risk of burnout.
Recently, Carey Nieuwhof wrote a blog post that attempted to describe how most church leaders are feeling now. More importantly, he also offered counsel to us on how to respond to many of these feelings. I think he offers wise counsel, so I asked his permission to reproduce that for you here. As you read, you most likely will feel like the guy has been in your head. Be assured, he hasn’t, but he has been in the heads of plenty of other church leaders. Thousands of Christian leaders are feeling the same right now. I want to encourage you, though, not to focus on how well Carey understands you, but to focus on his counsel. This is where the wisdom is to be found. Below, I’ve reproduced only a few of the points that Carey makes in his article. For all that he has to say, I encourage you to go to https://careynieuwhof.com/what-church-leaders-are-really-thinking-in-2020/.
1. I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH LONGER I CAN DO THIS
Right now, most leaders are more tired than they’ve ever been. I interviewed Levi and Jennie Lusko recently to talk about the coronavirus crisis, racial reconciliation and how they, their family and church were responding. Levi gave me a great metaphor. He said we feel this exhaustion because we didn’t know we were running a triathlon. It’s like we got to the end of our run, we thought we were finished, and someone handed us a bicycle and then told us later we also had to swim. Exactly. If you’re thinking about alternative careers, other things you can do with your life, or just taking a long, extended sabbatical, hang in there. Never quit on a bad day. If you’re going to quit, do it on a good day. Hint: there aren’t a lot of good days right now. So hang in there.
In the meantime, please get the rest you need. Taking a restorative break this summer is a great idea. A rested you is a much better you. Leaders who never take a break end up breaking.
2. I’M TOO TIRED TO ADDRESS THE THINGS I KNOW I’M SUPPOSED TO FIX
So much is changing right now. Long term disruptive trends that are causing decline and stagnation in the church are accelerating rapidly, and if you look at the list of issues to address and things to do, it’s arguably never been longer. The longing you feel for everything to go back to normal is in part a natural reaction against the massive task ahead. Denial is not a great strategy. But irrelevance and ineffectiveness are arguably worse.
So what can you do? Get the rest you need and lean into God and the team to give you the strength ahead to do what you need to do.
3. MY THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS ARE A TOTAL YOYO
Many leaders right now are feeling yoyo emotions: up one minute, down the next, and everything in between. I get it. One of the first casualties, when I’m stressed, are my emotions. Sometimes they go numb, and I feel nothing. Other times, they end up being completely inappropriate or disproportionate.
Physical rest and spiritual health are key to me keeping my emotions healthy. Your emotions impact you, your family and your team. While this is a season,
just remember that emotionally healthy leaders tend to lead emotionally healthy teams. The opposite is also true.
4. I’M ANGRY AT PEOPLE FOR NOT COMING BACK
Not only has the crisis accelerated long term trends of declining attendance, the possibility that many people aren’t coming back to church regularly even after coronavirus has lifted is also real. And you’re angry at people who aren’t coming back. If you’ve opened, you’re angry with healthy people who haven’t returned. And if you haven’t even reopened yet, you’re probably already mad at the people you think won’t return. As you know, anger is a pretty ineffective evangelism strategy.
So what do you do? Feel that emotion. Pray through it. Vent to a friend. And then move on.
5. I’M NOT SURE I OR MY TEAM HAVE THE SKILLSET FOR THE NEXT CHAPTER
If you drill down further, you’re a little frightened. No one trained you for this. There wasn’t a single class in seminary in online ministry. Other people are better at the camera than you are. Your church isn’t really staffed for this. Maybe you just don’t have the skillset for the next era of ministry. And perhaps your staff doesn’t either. You didn’t hire your team for this moment. And now you’re into something you didn’t sign up for.
The truth is you can probably learn the skill set and so can your team. It just takes time and energy. Which takes us straight back to points 1-3 of this post.
6. I HAVEN’T TAKEN ANY TIME TO GRIEVE
Everybody around you is grieving and craving a return to normal, and secretly so are you, but you know in your head you haven’t really processed much. You’ve been too busy. And as a leader, what you do is cast vision and bury your grief because you’re afraid that if you stop, you’ll break. I can personally assure you that this is a little too true. I spent a decade not grieving the losses that piled up, and it was a major factor in my burnout. A mentor once told me that ministry is a series of ungrieved losses. He’s right. And now more than ever. When you grieve your losses, you’re able to move through them to a new tomorrow.
Take time to rest…and grieve. You’ll come back with fresh energy. The situation may not be any better, but you will be. And that’s what makes the difference.
Like I said, Carey has more to say. I encourage you to read his entire article at the link I provided at the beginning of this. Did you notice some recurring counsel? REST. Don’t think that you have to take the church from 0-60 in a week. It’s not reasonable to think most of your folks are going to bounce back that fast. I’m figuring on taking the entire summer to ramp us back up to a place where we can begin to look beyond the daily processes of each church’s needs. My advice to you: Get some rest, spend a lot of time with God, pour the spiritual and emotional health you gain from that time into your leaders over the course of the summer, make a plan for getting everything back on track and keeping the best of the new things you’ve started doing, and implement gradually and strategically.
God wants you to succeed at what He has called you to do. Trust God, lean into Him, follow His leadership, and your church will follow you. Remember, too, your MTSBC staff is here to help. If you need a Sunday off, let us know. If we have a Sunday open that will work for you, we’ll be there. Be assured that we are praying for you, too. Our God is bigger than all of this. He will see us and our churches through these days. May you know His presence and His peace as you minister to His people and point those living in fear to the Savior.