Those in ministry are also at risk for burnout, including your pastor. Gunner Gundersen, pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston, shared a pertinent caution about times of crisis: “[Crisis] will eat you up and wear you out, while your adrenaline and your noble desire to serve keep you blind to the burnout that is chasing you down.”
Pastors, ministry leaders, youth workers, care teams, tech teams, etc., are working overtime to keep ministry going and the congregation connected. The effort to create and initiate ways to continue ministry in the midst of isolation has increased the workload for most in ministry. Endless hours on video calls or in front of a screen recording sermons, lessons, workshops and conferences will take a toll. Add to that all the care and counsel that continued via Zoom or phone calls. Coronavirus didn’t stop personal and relational crises from happening. Care and counseling had to be juggled right alongside preparation for Sunday. Be prepared for your leaders to experience compassion fatigue.
What can the church do?
• Pray for health care workers, your pastors and your ministry leaders.
• Encourage or start online support groups or prayer groups for those in health care. Having a place where they can be encouraged and prayed for is a fantastic way to help carry their burdens.
• Identify those in your congregation who work in health care and personally reach out to them. Let them know you are praying for them, and remind them the church is there for them.
• Encourage or require your pastors and ministry leaders to take a Sabbath. Talk about rest in your staff meetings or from your pulpit. Beyond the one-day-a-week Sabbath rest, encourage all staff to set aside one weekend a month and one week a year as a time of rest.
• Promote a mindset of self-care. If you are the pastor or ministry lead, you’ll need to model it. Ask staff to share ways they are practicing self-care on a regular basis, and share it with your team.
• Determine what help and support your ministry leaders need. Prioritize the hiring of people who can help whenever possible. Operating an online platform along with the already existing ministry has likely doubled work in some areas, so now is a good time to add assistants to your team.
What does the church need to know?
Addiction flourishes in secret. The self-justifying lies deteriorate resolve, and old habits gain great ground. There is no better environment for the revitalization of addictive habits or the beginning of new ones than in a time of isolation paired with increased stress. Those in your congregation who had fought long and hard for the ground of sobriety have faced incredible setbacks.
People who have faced addiction know how valuable support systems are. They are keenly aware of their need to have someone look them in the eye and hold them accountable. COVID-19 made that nearly impossible. Support groups went online or stopped all together. This reality along with the isolation created a perfect storm of relapse.
Porn addiction has significantly increased during COVID-19. It would be safe to call it a “porndemic” as some pornography distributers offered free streaming during quarantine. My heart breaks for the many who have gotten caught up in this evil during this time. Believers will deal with significant shame and ongoing battles due to the secret patterns of sin that sparked a destructive fire of porn use during isolation.
What can the church do?
• Start groups now for those struggling with sexual sin and continue them when the church reopens. Here are some resources for both men and women that can be used as curriculum for these groups: Sexual Sanity for Men or Women are great books for groups. Each chapter offers the opportunity to engage the content at a personal level. Another resource is Sex Addicted Christian, which has online videos and resources for guys. Finally, Samson Society provides info on starting a group as well as daily devotions on the subject of sexual purity.
• Prioritize recovery groups as you reopen. For more severe addictions, intensive recovery may be needed. Consider these faith-based resources: Celebrate Recovery and Faith-based residential treatment.
Certainly other areas need to be on the church’s radar, such as relationship struggles. China saw a spike in divorce filings as they emerged from isolation. Domestic abuse is also an area that has increased due to isolation, and churches will need to be equipped to recognize it. Grief is sure to be something everyone will be bringing in various degrees of experience. There is not one of us who has not known or felt loss in some capacity during this season.
And don’t forget the marginalized. Those who suffer with chronic pain and illness, and those who were previously shut in, can easily drift out of our sight as we focus on in-person gatherings. During this crisis, we entered into their world for a brief time. We learned what it was like to be unable to leave home. We experienced the loneliness that comes from isolation. Let’s not forget about them as we begin to phase back into meeting onsite.
To mention all of the issues and give words of direction on each would strain the length of this already lengthy article. My hope is that looking at just a few key issues stirs the church to think about how to prepare even now for how to walk with people as we look forward to days of reunion. Churches across the country have stepped up to the call to love their neighbor during this crisis. As we begin to explore what it will look like on the other side of isolation, we carry the same call.
While we may be asking whether it is almost over, in many ways, things have yet to begin. As you prepare for your first post-isolation gathering and you strategize parking, seating, classrooms, restrooms, etc., keep in mind the weight of emotional and mental strain this time has had on your congregants. May the words of Philippians 2:4 and Romans 15:1–3a guide the church as we continue to consider the needs and struggles of others and bring hope in relevant ways in the days ahead.
“Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 2:4
“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weakness of those without strength and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” —Romans 15:1–3a