You're tired. I'm tired. We're all tired.
And nearly every pastor I've talked to over the past month is exhausted. Sometimes they come right out and say it. Other times it's just written all across their faces.
I've never seen disruption in the Church as I have since March 15, 2020.
The way we've had to lead has changed entirely.
Our model of ministry shifted immediately and significantly.
Each new day brings a new set of challenges.
Should my church re-open? When?
Now that my church has re-opened, how will we care for the substantial percentage that does not yet feel comfortable returning?
I know pastors that have staff with COVID.
Some churches have had volunteers test positive for COVID and had to shut in-person services back down.
And don't get me started about all the conflicts in churches that have to do with wearing (or not wearing) a mask.
Around every corner, it seems, there is a new problem to be solved or a new crisis to manage.
And it couldn't come at a worse time.
In most of our churches, now is the time we need to be at the top of our game.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented leadership.
Honestly, we don't make our best decisions when we're drained, stressed, and burned out.
And you are moving into a time where you must make some huge decisions for the future of your church; decisions that will affect your church for years to come.
So what should you be doing right now?
I propose you schedule a 48-hour sabbatical.
Do it in the next two weeks.
Here are some suggestions to take off some of the pressure you're feeling and set you up to make strong and healthy decisions in the next 30 days for your church moving forward:
STEP 1: DELEGATE FIVE THINGS
You probably don't need to be doing everything you're doing right now.
What are some things that someone around you could take off your plate?
Start by making a list of five things that you WON'T be doing for the next 30 days. Find someone else to do these for you, or stop doing them for the next month.
The world won't end. I promise. And you'll be surprised how freeing it is to get some of the non-essentials off your plate.
STEP 2: STEP AWAY AND REST
Now that you've delegated your five things (that felt good, didn't it?), It's time to schedule some down-time.
You need to get away for at least 48 hours.
(Why 48 hours? It gives your body time to relax and reset).
Here are my rules for 'away time':
- Plan to go somewhere at least 3 hours away, preferably with just your spouse. This gives you some physical distance to 'zone out.'
- Plan to escape. No church business. Ideally, no one contacts you unless it is an emergency.
- Limit your access to media and cell phones. No news. No social media. Disconnect from all the stressful inputs as much as possible.
- Do something you enjoy. Try to pick things that will not be a constant reminder of the virus or your church.
- Invest time in your personal relationship with God. Try to separate your prayers and scripture reading from trying to get answers to your church situation. (We'll get to that next). For many of us, separating our devotional life from our church life is difficult. Do the best you can.
- Last rule: Do nothing 'professional.' We've already mentioned email and social media. But don't think about your church or the decisions that you need to make. Don't read books on church leadership. For 48 hours, do whatever you can that energizes you. Eliminate whatever you can that causes you to stress or worry.
A couple of days away will do wonders. Most of us don't exercise this practice enough, and now's the perfect time to getaway. In fact, for many of us, it's imperative right now.
STEP 3: PRAY FOR THREE MAJOR AREAS
Now you're back. Hopefully, you feel a little less stressed and feel a little more ready to plot out your church's future.
When you return from your 48 hours hiatus, start a 2-week concentrated period of prayer to discover what God has for you and the church. Take more time than usual for prayer (I suggest setting aside 2-3 times the amount of time you usually spend). Ask for wisdom. Pray BIG prayers for direction for these three things for your church:
- Direction: "God, where do you want this church to go? What kind of a church do you want us to be in this next period? How do we best carry out the vision you've given us in our community and around the world? How do we serve those who return to our in-person services and those who don't return immediately? How much of a priority should 'church online' be for us?
- Budget: "Where do we need to prioritize (or de-prioritize) our budget? What is the balance between being wise and being prudent? What areas of our budget should be cut-back during this next season, and what areas should we add money to? What ministries should we start, and which should we end or prune?
- Staffing: Do we have the right amount of staff for this next season? Are they deployed in the right areas? Do we need to pivot some staff to new areas? Do we need to make the hard decision to remove some staff as we re-prioritize? Are there people we need on our team that are missing?
There are more things to pray about than these three. And these three areas might seem a little odd to pick out and highlight. But in our conversations with pastors and church leaders, the future decisions that are the most important and daunting all seem to reside in these three buckets. Start here, and expand your concentrated prayer times on the things that God is calling you to lean into.
STEP 4: SEEK COUNSEL
As you are praying, it is good to seek counsel as well on the decisions you'll need to make. According to Proverbs 12:15, you have two options: doing what you think is right in your own eyes or listening to advice (one man is a fool, the other is wise).
Seeking counsel is always a wise thing to do. Here's where to start:
- Ask someone you trust what they think. We all have mentors or people we respect in ministry. Tell them what you're thinking and get their honest feedback. It will bring clarity and confidence in what you believe God has been telling you.
- Ask someone who's ahead of you. Seek out people that you feel are somewhat ahead of where your church is. Who is already doing the type of ministry that God is calling you to? Reach out and grab some time with people like this. You may not know them, and that's ok. Most people will take the time to talk about what they're learning if you simply ask.
STEP 5: LEAD!
Now you've done your homework, bathed your plans in prayer, and sought advice from those you trust and have more experience than you.
It's time to lead.
Up until now, this has been a pretty introspective exercise. Now it's time to share your plan with your team.
Sometimes you'll have to 'sell it.' That's ok.
Determine your direction. Set your timeline. Get other people on board.
Here's what I'm convinced of: Great challenges bring great opportunities.
But only if you take them.
I think that many churches will be much stronger after COVID. This pandemic has shown cracks that needed to be repaired. It has also exposed opportunities that we didn't know existed.
Our job as spiritual leaders is to repair the cracks and seize the opportunities.
We can only do this if we are in a good spot to lead. Tired leaders do not lead well.
Schedule your 48-hour sabbatical now. And let me know how it goes!
PS - In the past three weeks, we've presented you with a framework to work through your church's online strategy. You can find them here, here, and here. I hope you'll find them helpful. (And if you need a trusted confidant after your 48 hour sabbatical to help talk through some of your ideas for your church, I’d love to talk).