Dear Pastors and Church Leaders,
How are you doing…really?
If you are like most pastors and church leaders these days, the longevity of this season of change, division, lack of volunteers, decrease in giving, etc. has depleted your limited reserves and you are past empty.
Covid has taken its overpriced toll and you are not alone. According to Barna Research, 38% of US pastors (it is probably the same in Canada) have seriously thought about quitting (an increase from earlier in 2021). https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being
As we enter our second Covid Christmas, I want to offer five things to consider as encouragement and advice for both your soul and your ministry:
Take Time to Disentangle Your Life from Your Ministry
The pandemic has been an accelerator and amplifier. It has accelerated change and amplified challenges. One of the challenges for pastors that has been amplified is ministry entanglement. It is understandably hard for pastors to separate their ministry from their marriage, friends, family, personal life, etc. They are by nature interconnected and intertwined. Thus, when there are stresses and challenges in ministry, it can suffocate the other areas of their lives. In fact, the very challenges Covid has amplified (feeling disconnected, incompetent, and beat up from division and hurting people) may be strangling the life and joy out of you and making you feel increasingly isolated and alone.
When you are being suffocated by ministry entanglement, it is not a simple task to disentangle yourself and begin to breathe again. It is a complicated web, formed over time and tied in knots by lies regarding your identity. It is possible to untangle yourself, but it is not easy. Like all knots, the first thing to do when you look to untangle them is to find the ends. One way to do this is by creating an identity statement that states who you are separate from what you do and your role as a pastor. Write a paragraph statement that you can read daily as a reminder of what your life is supposed to look like when untangled from what you do. Second, create a relationship inventory to see gaps in your relationships and discover how many of them are personal over professional (ministry-related). It is vital to have relationships that exist outside of what do you and feed into who you are apart from your ministry role. Thirdly, you will need help. These kinds of knots can’t be undone alone, and you need the help of a trusted friend and/or counsellor to guide you. Finally, begin to rediscover joy in life by intentionally doing things you enjoy (or if it has been a while, things you once enjoyed) with people you enjoy, seeking to laugh each day (with the goal to laugh so much it hurts once a week) and embrace God’s gift of fun.
Embrace Neo-nostalgia this Christmas
As you lead your church this Christmas, embrace the new and creative but do it with a sense of traditional nostalgia this Christmas. Embrace the traditions of your church, sing classic Christmas songs, light lots of candles, and embrace the familiar. There is comfort in familiarity and this Christmas I sense people need the grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soap-on-a-rainy-day-Christmas over the hyper-creative-gourmet-meal that sees familiarity as the enemy. Take a new spin on traditional (the neo of the neo-nostalgia) but embrace the familiar rather than shy away from it.
Personalize Care this Christmas
If it has been a while since you have checked in with your congregation, now is the time to personalize care again. Make phone calls, do creative deliveries, mail personalized notes, etc. Every church context is different, but regardless of your context or church size find a way to personally care this Christmas. In a season of disconnection, these connection points (although taxing for you, your staff, and your congregational care team) are the lifeline for your church family.
Be Flexible and Have Backup Plans
This should be second nature by now, but whatever you do, don’t put all your eggs in one regather basket. Every jurisdiction is different, but it is key to have backup plans for your backup plans. Covid can change in an instant and having a way to move online or that allows for more people to gather in person is key to adjusting in this season. Having alternative plans is a little more work upfront but it can reduce stress and anxiety for you and your team, allowing for quick and effective pivots if needed.
In every pastoral coaching call I do, every pastoral ministry class I teach, and pastor group I speak to, I end with an encouragement to “Keep going!” Covid has been a leadership marathon, and, like all marathons, the runners don’t need cheers at the beginning of the race. Rather, the runners need it most as they approach the “runner’s wall” when the impulse to quit and give up is at its peak. It is exactly at this point that they need to be reminded that a breakthrough is coming and that things are better than they appear. I sense we are approaching the wall and as we do, we are also at our most vulnerable to despair and hopelessness.
Maybe this Christmas is the pastoral ministry wall for you. If so, I want you to hear me, and many others who are cheering you on.
You can do it!
Don’t give up!
It is worth it!
Jesus is worth it!