We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

Pastoral Self-Care in a Pandemic

By Doug Clay | Church Leadership

The coronavirus pandemic is making radical, though temporary, changes to the way Americans live, work and worship. Social distancing is a term we all are learning, and state and local governments have taken emergency actions to limit the size of social gatherings in order to protect public health. In many places, this means churches are temporarily closed for worship in person, though not online.

In light of these emergency actions, let me say how very thankful I am to all of you for responding quickly and with such mature spiritual leadership over the past few weeks of uncertainty and change. And yet, I am also mindful of the negative effect these uncertain, rapidly changing circumstances can have on you and your loved ones.

Just a few days ago, members of the Mental Health Care Committee met via Zoom. I asked them to consider the following question and identify potential answers: What mental health advice do you have for our ministers not our church members — during this pandemic? They identified the following nine points, which I’d like to elaborate on in order to help you care well for yourselves and your family as you also help others walk through this storm.

1. Be mindful of your boundaries. Even if your meetings have moved from your building to an online presence, it can feel like you’ve slowed way down. But in reality, you may be swapping out former duties and activities for new ones. Once you provide a video update/instruction, where is the line on how often to do that? While trying to check in with parishioners, our time on electronics could double or triple. Make yourself a schedule. Decide when you’re taking off your work hat and putting on your personal hat, even if you don’t leave your home.

“So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear’” (Hebrews 13:6, NLT).

2. Find a trusted friend to process with. Some of you are quarantined to your home. Some are caring for ill family members. The socializing you previously did at the office or while grabbing lunch with a friend may have come to a halt. Being “on and available” to those you serve, even if electronically and by phone rather than in person, can be taxing. Being alone doesn’t have to equal being lonely. Be intentional to pick up the phone and process your experiences with a trusted colleague, one of your go-to people, to share how you’re really doing and be emotionally honest. Stay in touch with your district leaders who are working hard to communicate with your fellow ministers. Ministers should always guard against isolation. It just looks a little different during this crisis.

3. Intentionally manage your input. Take breaks from news updates and social media. Pick up the Bible and read the promises of God, not in preparation for your next Facebook Live update, but to feed your own soul and encourage yourself in the Lord.

4. Take care of yourself. With the gym closed, sporting events cancelled and many working from home, can you find some creative ways to get physical exercise? Go for a walk or run. Download a workout video. Dust off the weights. Are you getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, praying and getting into God’s Word, being mindful of eating habits and taking required medication? When life gets disrupted, these are the first things to get disrupted as well. It’s important that you stay healthy.

5. Humor really helps. So much is very serious right now. Watch for opportunities to throw back your head and laugh out loud. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

6. Hold realistic expectations. The temptation to work long, hard days during an emergency is real. But this could last longer than we know, and you want to be realistic. It could be a marathon instead of a sprint. Prepare for the long haul. Being on social media more than normal gives rise to that trap of unfair comparisons. Am I posting updates to my flock as often as my colleagues? Is our online service as sharp as another’s? Have I followed up on the hundreds of people who “visited” our service last Sunday? Will our finances sustain this crisis? And on it goes. Relax. Trust in the Lord, and don’t expect so much of yourself.

7. Worship privately. Ask God for a go-to song to hum your way through this season. Worship is our weapon against worry. You can’t worry and worship at the same time. Mark Batterson recently shared this helpful quote at the CMN Conference:

Worship reminds God of who He is.
Worship reminds Satan of who he was.
Worship reminds us of who we are becoming.

8. Control what you can. With so many unknowns and so many areas we cannot control, it will stabilize you, especially as a leader, to control what you can. Keep your morning routine of devotions, getting dressed, making your bed, etc. Limit your time on social media and with the news. If you are quarantined, knock out a college course online or catch up on reading. Control what you can.

9. Instill hopefulness. The world’s idea of hope may be a desired outcome. The biblical definition of hope is “confidence in that which is certain.” Not much is certain right now but God and His Word. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, I shared the following Scripture with our 67 district superintendents via Facebook Live: “So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear’” (Hebrews 13:6, NLT).

Let that be your watchword in this current season!

This article will appear in the forthcoming issue of Called to Serve.