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11 Self-Care Steps for Leaders Who Are Barely Holding On

deeper truths

Lately, it’s hard to remember what day it is.

Without the usual markers, one blends into the other in a confusing emotional haze.

My sleep is off, too. And with my sleep goes my ability to think and lead clearly.

You too? Yes, me too.

So how can we stay stable and sane in the middle of such uncertainty? Here are a few ideas that are especially helpful for pastors and other leaders:

(This is a companion piece to an earlier article, When You’re Trying To Lead Others, But You’re Barely Holding On.)

1. Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to others

If a friend or church member told you they were mad at themselves for not being able to function at peak performance during this crisis, what would you tell them?

To get over it? To work harder? To stop whining because people are depending on them?

I sure hope not.

I expect you’d go easy on them and help relieve their feelings of guilt. You’d sympathize. You’d emphasize their need to rest, emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.

That’s good advice. We need to talk to ourselves the same way.

2. Be vulnerable

There’s nothing wrong with letting the people you lead know what you’re feeling. You’ll notice I started this article that way.

“But won’t they have less respect for me if they see my weakness?” Not unless you’re in a completely toxic environment.

Chances are, your cracks are already being seen by the people who know you best – even over a video chat. Being honest about your challenges instead of working so hard to hide them might provide a great deal of relief for them, too.

It’s hard to believe we’re in this together when the leader seems invincible – or, even worse, when you’re obviously not invincible but are acting that way.

3. Embrace deeper truths

There are always two sets of truths running parallel in our lives – especially at a time like this.

Immediate truths: I feel confused, hurt, angry, or fearful right now.

Deeper truths: I know that God is greater than my current feelings and I have faith that he’ll get us through.

Both are true.

Although the immediate truths are more obvious and visceral, the deeper truths are more real.

We need to acknowledge the immediate truths, but embrace the deeper truths.

“I’m feeling defeated right now, but I know God is able.”

“My mind is in confusion, but my heart will follow Jesus.”

“This feels scary, but greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world.”

4. Lean on others

Pastors do too much alone.

This has to change. And there’s no better time than now to start making that change.

Now, more than ever, people understand their – and your – limitations.

Not only is it okay to ask friends, family and church members to help out, it’s essential.

5. Invest in personal relationships

There’s a big emphasis on technology right now. Understandably so.

But the more we have to go virtual, the more valuable the personal touch will be. Even if that touch can’t be physical, it matters more than ever that it’s personal.

Regular “how are you doing?” phone calls are more important than ever. The “how can I help?” text is vital. And the follow-up with a box of groceries or an extended time to talk, pray and cry is essential.

6. Stay physically active

This is one I’m not doing as well as I should. In California, we’ve been in lockdown for over a month. In that amount of time, I should have accelerated the weight-loss regimen I was on, but it’s gone into reverse.

This is not good. Not for my body, my emotions or my spirit.

I understand why it’s happening. Motivation is hard. And comfort food feels so good.

But it’s more important now than ever to stay healthy.

7. Get plenty of rest

As I mentioned earlier, my sleep patterns are off.

So, I’m embracing the daily nap.

If you can’t sleep through the night, take a nap. If you can’t nap, close your eyes and rest. We’re all going through trauma right now. Trauma demands rest.

8. Practice spiritual disciplines outside of sermon prep


Read the scriptures.


Not to get sermon material. To stay connected to Jesus.

9. Seek professional help

In severe situations, you may need to get outside assistance.

Reach out to a mentor, a coach, a financial consultant, a therapist, or someone else who has more training than you do.

It’s not weakness to ask for help. It’s weakness and foolishness – usually based in pride – not to use it when you need it.

10. Write it all down

There is no better way to find clarity in the middle of confusion than to write down what you’re thinking, feeling and wondering about.

Even if you don’t find answers as you write, the act of turning those ethereal feelings into something more tactile through your fingertips has a way of clearing the cobwebs.

This will also give you a more accurate record of your thoughts, feelings and actions that will serve you well as the days turn into weeks and possibly months.

11. Have some fun

If you’re in lockdown with others, get out a puzzle, or board games, or photo album. Reminisce and laugh.

Use the available technology to have virtual parties with distant friends and family members.

Don’t be so serious all the time.

Laughter and joy are gifts from God.

Open them up and play with them.

This article about deeper truths originally appeared here.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.