By Chris Lewis
Most of us remember what we were doing on 9/11 or when Operation Desert Storm began. Now, most of us will remember the day everything changed for church leaders. For me, it was Thursday, March 12, and like many churches, Foothill Church launched its first online service Sunday, March 15.
March feels like a distant memory.
Little did we know we’d still be locked down 10 weeks after that historic day. “Maybe this will last a couple of weeks,” we thought. “Maybe we can come back just in time for Easter… end of April?… end of May?… end of Summer?… Fall?… 2020?”
So, here we are, 10 weeks later. How are you doing?
WHEN THE NEWNESS WEARS OFF
For me, the first several weeks were energizing. I believe this is the most significant leadership challenge/opportunity we will experience in our lifetimes. It’s hard to imagine anything bigger than this. None of us saw it coming, and most of us shifted our entire ministry strategies in a matter of days. It was exhilarating.
But now, as we stretch into month three, the newness and novelty are starting to fade. Maybe you’re feeling tired, fatigued and exhausted by it all. Maybe your people are feeling the same.
So, how do we fight the mental, physical and spiritual fatigue we’re all experiencing? Here are five strategies that have helped me during this crisis:
We need routines and habits. They take the guesswork out of hundreds of daily decisions. Without a daily or weekly rhythm, we have to reinvent our schedule every day.
For me, that was the most exhausting thing about the first two weeks of sheltering in place. My schedule was upended. Most of my normal daily routines were interrupted. I was reactive, not proactive. So, one of the first things I did was figure out my day and week, making a day-by-day schedule for meetings, exercise, sermon prep, rest, etc.
Monday mornings are filled with staff and elder meetings followed by a time to shoot videos for new attenders, birthdays, and weekly congregational encouragements. Monday afternoons I respond to emails and get reading done for Sunday.
Staff meetings take up the majority of Tuesday. After several hours of Zoom calls, I’m a zoom-bie! I usually take a nap in the late afternoon.
Wednesdays are sermon prep days. It may take all day, but I’m getting a sermon on paper before bedtime.
Thursday, I finalize my sermon and record online service around noon. Thursday afternoons are filled with impromptu staff meetings or other video recordings for the congregation.
Fridays are mostly days off, but I will make a few appointments for extra things that don’t fit anywhere else. Saturdays are days off. Sundays, I monitor all four services and live interaction with the congregation.
You have to decide whether you want your day to determine your rhythm or your rhythm to determine your day.
I sleep better, feel better and lead better if I exercise. When I don’t, I feel sluggish and dull. Exercise sharpens my leadership axe and gives me greater capacity and creativity for leadership. I make better decisions with more energy after I’ve worked up a sweat!
Let me be clear: I’m not an exercise junkie. I don’t love it. Most mornings, I fight with myself about exercising. But generally, exercise wins because the benefits far outweigh the burdens.
For me, that looks like working out four times each week, focusing on running, strength and cardio. I need to get my heart rate up and sweat a little.
But if you’ve never worked out, try going for a 20-30–minute walk. I think you’ll be amazed at the variety of ways staying active helps you feel less fatigued and more energized for your day.
Church leaders are chronic Sabbath breakers, and our bodies show it! You need at least one day each week you can unplug from all the external inputs and do something that recharges, renews and recreates you.
We live in a hyperconnected world and have managed to fill up every moment of the day with some type of connection. We’re tethered to our phones like dogs on a leash and respond to every beep, buzz and ring with urgency.
What fills your cup? Maybe it’s working in the garden, going on a hike, reading a good novel or biography, taking a nap, playing with your kids, working in the woodshop or cooking a great meal in the kitchen. Whatever it is, give time to it.
Life isn’t a sprint, and we’re quickly realizing, this pandemic season isn’t either. We may be in this for the long haul, and if we keep running at our current pace without unplugging to rest and recreate, we’re going to burn out before the coronavirus does.
Say this with me: “[fill in your church name] is not my church! It belongs to Jesus. He’s the Great Shepherd. They are His sheep. And I’m one of them.” I’m guessing you know this, but sometimes we need to call it back into our minds and hearts.
Perhaps in His sovereign purposes, Jesus wants to remind us who’s in charge. When we recall it’s Jesus, we realize we don’t need to burn the candle at both ends.
We work hard. We’re diligent. We’re vigilant to feed, provide for and protect our flock. But in the end, we remember, “Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stay awake in vain.” Unless the Lord builds his church, working to the point of exhaustion will be futile.
Jesus is in charge. Jesus loves his church. Jesus is building it even when you find yourself hamstrung by COVID-19, “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
We should be preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.
I saved this one for last not because it’s the least important but because it’s the most important.
Church leader, maybe you’re so fatigued because, after preaching the gospel to everyone else, you forgot to preach it to yourself. We forget the Shepherd of the Church is also the lover of our souls.
So, let me preach to you what you already know:
Jesus doesn’t just love them, he loves you.
Jesus’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light.
There is now no condemnation for those (like you, church leader) who are in Christ Jesus. Your future is secure even if the future of your church is not.
God’s opinion of you has already been settled in Jesus Christ. You can walk out of the court of public or personal opinion. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe (even you!).
In this world, you will have COVID-19 and the fatigue of ministry, but take heart, church leader — Jesus has overcome the world.