Pastors, I see how hard it is to be leading churches right now. Fall generally brings lots of busyness as programs and meetings resume, which can be stressful in the best of times. The faith leaders I’ve talked to have tended to come into this busy season already stressed from more than eighteen months of reinventing what it is to be in ministry and navigating one impossible decision after another as pandemic information and recommended precautions keep changing. Pastors are trying to balance their congregation’s needs for connection and “normalcy” with concerns for safety. They are facing criticism from those who don’t see how hard they’ve been working or who don’t understand the complexity of choices leaders are having to make. They are grieving those who have died. They are worried about those who have not come back and what the future of the church will look like. Many are second-guessing what they have or haven’t done or whether they have it in them to keep going in ministry.
I don’t have a ready solution for the multitude of challenges that clergy and churches are facing right now, but there are a few bits of encouragement that I would invite you might keep in mind as you’re finding your way:
· Recognize that you are doing the best you can in a really hard time. Know that “your best” may look different today than it did last week or two years ago, and that it may look different still next week or next year. Be as compassionate and grace-filled with yourself as you can.
Consider that the people around you are doing the best that they can in a really difficult time. Know that “their best” might look different from yours. Be as compassionate and grace-filled with others as you can.
There is a lot of anxiety in our churches and communities right now, which contributes to increased reactivity, fearfulness and irritability. When others react in angry, critical or blaming ways, keep in mind that this is expressive of their fear and anxiety. While this may be expressed in very personal ways, it is more about them than you. Know that you can be understanding of the challenges others are facing without accepting disrespectful or abusive behavior from them. Set and hold healthy boundaries around how followers of Christ treat one another.
Responding intentionally to the anxiety of others is much easier if we are not drowning in our own. Supporting your own well-being is good for you and for your congregation. Prioritize making time away from work to rest and play. Do what nurtures your spirit and connects you with what is meaningful. Tend to the basics—move your body, drink water, eat regularly, and allow time for plenty of sleep. Find a therapist or spiritual director.
In the midst of all the chaos, look for stable touchpoints. These might include regular spiritual practices, consistent meal times, or daily routines. When you are caught up in all that seems wrong, bring intention to noticing what is okay and good, in your life.
I hope this is an affirmation that you are not alone in the struggles of this season, even if it feels that way at times. Know that there are people praying for you and cheering for you. You are loved by God and so many others! I pray that you will feel that love and care and be encouraged to reach out, trusting you will bless others as they bless you.
Andrea Severson is a licensed mental health counselor and spiritual director. Her degrees include a Master of Science in counseling from Drake University and a Master of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. She holds a certificate in spiritual direction and is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Andrea enjoys hearing the unique stories of the individuals and couples with whom she works. Her areas of interest include anxiety, depression, trauma, identity, faith and spirituality, life transitions, and relationships. Andrea is a member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association and Spiritual Directors International. In her spare time, she likes reading historical fiction, listening to the Beatles and camping.