A few nights ago I had a strange dream. I was riding around my childhood home on a golf cart, admiring the scenery when I saw a massive Python crawling under our house. Now, I fall into the philosophical camp that believes the only good snake is a dead snake, and I knew it could not stay under there. It got worse. A few minutes later, from under the house slithered the biggest, nastiest cottonmouth moccasin I had ever laid eyes on. He was followed by the same massive python and a 14 foot alligator. Everyone with me turned to me expecting me to do something. I knew I needed to do something, but I also knew I needed help. Before the moment of truth, I was saved by the (alarm) bell. Isolation and quarantine can do strange things to a person. Unfortunately, our current COVID-19 Pandemic has many pastors feeling like they are facing the reptilian trio from my dream.
A lot of pastors are now working from home and find themselves overwhelmed with fear and anxiety while they try to navigate the uncharted waters of pastoring well in a pandemic world while simultaneously being a good husband and father. One of the great challenges in the world of vocational ministry in a normal season of life is to not allow leading the church to become a mistress that steals one away from their families. As a result, many guys have difficulty turning off work whenever they come home since the 24/7 nature of ministry means there is always something else to be done. This is especially difficult when the home becomes the work environment. Some pastors struggle with an internal compulsion to fill every moment with work activities. After all, the Bible admonishes pastors to “Shepherd the flock of God,” (1 Peter 5:2). Such excessive busyness with ministry tasks, while necessary in certain seasons of life, is not sustainable or healthy. In order to survive in ministry in the midst of this pandemic world, one must take steps to ensure a healthy balance between work and family life. Let me offer you some essentials for maintaining a healthy work and home balance during this period.
Sustain your Soul
This may seem like it is an unnecessary admonition, but it is not. In a crisis situation, a shepherd worth his salt wants to help. He wants to check on everyone, be involved in every decision, or be present in any way that he can. The problem is that it can only be maintained for a short period of time without spiritual replenishment. I love a good cup of coffee. I will keep drinking it as long as refills are available, but if I continue to refill the cup I will eventually find the pot empty. During this time of heightened ministry pastors are pouring a lot of energy into others, therefore it is necessary for them to replenish their spiritual reservoirs so that they can continue minister to others and be fully engaged at home. Here’s how to do it. The first thing to do is maintain your Bible intake. The tyranny of the urgent will shout at you that there are not enough hours for you to minister to others if you are taking time for your devotionals. The opposite is true. You must maintain a healthy spiritual diet of reading God’s Word, scripture memory, and prayer if you want to stay spiritually healthy in order to serve others pastorally and familially.
See Investments instead of Interruptions
Schools are closed, extracurricular activities are cancelled, and many offices have encouraged employees to work from home. Therefore families are spending more time in the same space. For children who are accustomed to dad being away at an office during the day and at home at night, can get excited about the prospect of dad being at home with them. Naturally they will want to talk, share stories, ask for help with their math, etc. Be careful to see these moments as an opportunity to be Biblical (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Let these times be opportunities to invest in your children. Demonstrate how much you love them and how important they are to you. God has granted you this moment to cultivate your relationship with your kids, as well as your spouse. Do not miss these chances. Invest in them, and it will help you find balance during these unprecedented times
Seek Ways to Mortify Your Stress
Stress in large amounts can be detrimental to one’s physical and emotional health. People deal with stress in a myriad of ways, not all of which are beneficial. So put down the Oreos and the oatmeal crème pies. Those, in abundance, will not help you neutralize your stress. Here’s how you can best deal with stress. Set a regular time for physical activity. Take a walk, go for a run, or a bike ride. Get active. Those endorphins will help nullify the effects of stress in your life. A second way of combatting stress is to rest properly. Individuals who are driven often find sleep an inconvenience or aggravation, and yet studies show the importance of proper rest on one’s focus and ability to function well in their jobs. Finally, find a hobby that fills your emotional tank. Read a good novel, find a place to fish, listen to your favorite music, or work with your hands. Find something that fills you up emotionally and do it.
Since many pastors are working from home this is more important than ever. There are certain things that have to be done each week for your ministries to be successful. There will be meetings, correspondence, and sermon preparation. If you are not careful you can find yourself wrestling with the compulsion to work around the clock. Admittedly, ministry is a 24/7 affair. Emergencies can take place any time, but whenever one has set office hours, and set times to return home it is a little easier to be fully engaged at either place when you are present. With the work/office borders blurred by stay at home orders, it is essential that a minister selects times he will engage in work related activities and home time. In order to stay balanced in ministry one must set these times and adhere to them.
Serve to please your Savior
Finally, many pastors struggle with people pleasing. They want people to love them and to be pleased with them. They want people to know and say that they are doing a great job. This can be a motivating factor in overwork that will lead to burn out. The key for the pastor is knowing that he is not working for the applause of men, but rather for the approval of the Father. As Colossians 3:17 reminds us, we are doing everything for him anyway. If we live and serve to please Him, then He will take care of the rest.
My pastor friends, please stay balanced spiritually during this time. Let me encourage you with the words of the Apostle Paul, “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9