the shape of leadership


Leading with a full tank after COVID

Doug Clay on July 28, 2021

I share the excitement about public health officials lifting restrictions and life returning to normal. However, I am also concerned for the spiritual and emotional well-being of ministers in the Assemblies of God. Many of us are still trying to figure out what the “new normal” of ministry looks like post-pandemic.

Some seasons of ministry are more stressful than others, especially those of interruption and change. This past year has been an energy-draining season. Leading people through unprecedented times has taken a toll on those of us who are called and empowered to shepherd God’s flock.

With that toll in mind, we need to keep an eye on the fuel level in our spiritual and emotional tanks. Just as pushing the pedal to the metal drains your car’s gas quickly, so restarting in-person ministry after a long season of Zoom-ing can rapidly deplete your spiritual and emotional reserves.

In this regard, I love how The Message paraphrases Paul’s advice in Romans 12:11: “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.” As one pastor to another, let me offer seven suggestions for pastoring with a full tank after COVID.

1. Know your limits. As public health restrictions on in-person ministry end, your temptation will be to resume everything all at once. It’s understandable that you want your church’s ministries to return to pre-pandemic levels right away.

However, keep in mind that you have limited time, focus and energy. Scripture says, “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5). Resuming everything all at once exceeds those limits.

Think of it this way: Your church’s ministries didn’t start overnight, so they aren’t going to restart overnight either. To stay fueled and aflame, put your limited time, focus, and energy on the most crucial ministries, and rebuild slowly but steadily.

2. Manage your media input. It’s important for ministers to be informed about current events. It’s another thing entirely to be addicted to social media. Your spiritual and emotional well-being demand that you keep your soul free of toxic stuff that will hinder your effectiveness in ministry.

How toxic is social media? In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Loren Soeiro writes, “The persons who use social media platforms most often have been shown to be three times as likely to harbor feelings of depression and anxiety.” Soeiro says they also report “feeling worse about themselves” and having “reduced life satisfaction overall.”

By contrast, I recently talked with someone who fasted social media for a season. This individual told me the result was a clearer mind, better sleep, stronger relationships, and a greater receptivity to hearing the Spirit’s voice.

The takeaway is obvious: Your input determines your output. As Scripture says, “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash” (Proverbs 15:14, NLT).

3. Practice healthy rhythms of socializing. As we all have learned over the past year, it’s difficult to socialize when you are socially distanced. Public health orders kept church members apart, of course, but it was far worse for family members who were unable to see one another. Social distancing is hard on relationships. None of us is sad to see it go.

In life and in ministry, friendship is not optional. It is essential. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). We need constant contact with others … in person!

Your spiritual and emotional well-being demand that you keep your soul free of toxic stuff that will hinder your effectiveness in ministry.

So, in this new season, make sure to be intentional about resuming the regular “fellowshipping” that ground to a halt during COVID. You need other people, and they need you.

4. Set realistic expectations. Restrictions on in-person ministry are lifting, but that doesn’t mean your ministry will return to pre-COVID levels right away. As I noted previously, you need to set reasonable limits regarding your time, focus and energy. The same is true for your expectations about what’s going to happen in your church the next few months.

The Bible says, “Desire without knowledge is not good — how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” (Proverbs 19:2). Be smart about the relaunching of your church’s ministries. Resist the tendency to expect things to return quickly to pre-pandemic levels. Don’t expect others or yourself to perform at the prior level.

You are likely exhausted. So are your volunteers and church members. Show grace to yourself and others.

5. Control what you can. For many people, the pandemic took away the belief that they alone controlled their own destiny. Government shut down business as usual and required everyone to mask and social distance — whether we wanted to or not. And those who suffered badly with COVID realized how precious and fleeting life itself can be.

In ministry, as in life, so much stress comes from trying to deal with and steward the things you can’t control. God has sustained us through this crisis. He will guide us effectively out of it.

Instead of trying to control what you can’t, stay focused on influencing what and whom you can. In the words of Ecclesiastes 4:6, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”

6. Step up your private worship. Psalm 147:1 begins with an exhortation to worship. “Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!”

Worship is an intrinsically good thing, of course. We do it because God is inherently worthy of our praise. But worship is also a good thing instrumentally; it is good for our spiritual and emotional well-being.

Worship is our weapon against worry. Why? Because worship reminds us of who God is; He is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. It also reminds us how small Satan and our circumstances are by comparison. There is no problem so big that God is not bigger still.

Moreover, worship reminds us of who we are becoming. When we praise God for who He is and what He has done, is doing, and will do, we have a better understanding of where He’s leading us. And let me tell you, our final destination is glorious!

So, in the words of “Raise a Hallelujah,” that popular worship song, “Sing a little louder!”

7. Stay hope-filled. In an article titled “Our Hope-Filled Future,” theologian David Murray writes insightfully about hope’s relationship to both the present and the future: “Christian hope sees reality, faces it, feels it, accepts it, and yet rises above it on the wings of faith.

“What most dread as the end of time, we desire as the beginning of eternity,” Murray says. “But our present-energizing hope is not just looking to the ultimate solutions in the eternal tomorrow. Our hope in God also calls us to look for temporary solutions in much nearer tomorrows.”

Whether we’re looking at the near tomorrow or the eternal tomorrow, we can have confidence in that which is certain. And here’s what is certain: Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). It is our privileged opportunity to participate in His great work.

So take heart! “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

May that be our reality in this new season of ministry after COVID!

This article appears in the Summer 2021 edition of Influence magazine.

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