A deadly pandemic. Racial unrest. Economic crisis. Natural disasters. With just a few months left before a new year, most people are probably ready for 2020 to end, and hopeful that 2021 will be better. Indeed, the current year has been stressful, to say the least, for all of us. But, did you ever think about the stress pastors are under right now? As a pastor, I have some insight. Here are some things we’re dealing with: trying to pastor a church with wildly differing political views; ministering to parishioners who are sick with the coronavirus and others who believe it’s a hoax, while others either resist or require mask wearing; and then there’s a seemingly never-ending stream of grief, social distancing funerals, and the inability to give a needed hug to a person who’s contracted COVID-19.
And, let’s not forget the exclamations and scrutiny: “Open the church pastor!” “Don’t dare open the church pastor!” “Why are you afraid?” “Why are you reckless?”
During October, we celebrate Pastor’s Appreciation Month. This year, more than others, we must be extra intentional in letting our men and women in ministry know how valuable they are to our families and communities.
I want to address the congregation and the pastors.
Pastors are challenged in three areas:
1. Anxiety — Many have incredible anxiety that keeps them up at night, and an unquenchable feeling that one day it can all come crashing down. People look to pastors as leaders, both in the church and the community, yet they can at times feel like nothing of the sort. Nobody tells pastors when they go to school that one of the most common myths people believe is that they should have all the answers, and should know what they are doing all the time. I have never met a “successful” pastor that has not, either now or in the past, dealt with insecurities mixed with anxiety.
2. Stress — It’s not only about the big four we mentioned at the beginning. It’s that AND being a teacher, or a spouse, or navigating potential dating interests. It can feel like too much at times.
3. Uncertainty — Pastors felt the call and decided at some point to make this not only their calling, but also a career. Suddenly, questions about the future get more attention. What will happen? Will I have a job this year? Will people come back?
What You Can Do For Your Pastor
1. Double the positivity. Resolve to be intentional in encouraging the pastor. For each question or concern, double it up with a positive comment. This will also work in non-pandemic times, by the way.
2. Give a gift of counseling. No, not you counseling them, but providing funds for some counseling sessions — as in multiple sessions. This does not demonstrate a lack of faith or trust in God’s ability. Self-care is not selfish, and counseling and Christ are not in opposition.
3. Pray for your pastor. Pray with your pastor. They are always praying for us. It was such a treat to get a phone call from someone who had no agenda, other than to intercede on my behalf. Ask how you can specifically pray for them, and be very clear about how you will do this.
Here are some things pastors should know about anxiety:
Leaders need to be HOT (honest, open, and transparent). Following are some HOT takes.
1. Anxiety is never the root. Understand that anxiety is the child of two parents. Their names are control and approval. In my own experience, I noticed that my anxiety about ministry was a product of either having something out of my control happen, or getting some friendly fire from the people I led. Criticism from a small minority stayed with me. Understanding this helped me. While it didn’t cure the anxiety, it was beneficial to my healing. I had to ask myself: Where is this coming from? Anxiety unidentified is anxiety augmented.
2. Be cognizant of destructive ways of dealing with anxiety. We usually use some of these as coping mechanisms:
a. Escape. Mind shutting vegetation. Binge on TV, social media. Get so busy you don’t have time to think about it.>
b. Medicate with food. Most leaders I know have or have had a love/hate relationship with food. For a Church that values health so much, the secret snacking, overeating, unhealthy vegi-food (yes, it’s possible to be vegetarian and an unhealthy eater) is seen as an escape. Anxiousness gets us off our sofa and into the pantry.
c. Control. The third way we deal with anxiety is to try to control areas of our lives to overcompensate for areas we clearly can’t.
3. Give yourself an opportunity to receive grace. One thing that took me a long time to notice is the reality that there was a gulf between the advice I gave other people and the processes I used on myself. I am passionate about correcting some misconceptions about God, yet I found myself much better at explaining than experiencing. Give yourself time to study, pray, and fast — not to get something from God, but to experience him for yourself.
4. Try something new. I must be honest. When the pandemic hit, and I saw George Floyd’s life (among others) be devalued and dismissed right on my television screen, it was a very difficult time for us as a family, with an African American son-in-law that we listen to and care for. How I personally dealt with it was in two ways:
a. I listened more than I talked. I didn’t dismiss, minimize, or use what-about-ism. I listened to the pain, the concern, the reality that was different than mine, but made it no less true.
b. I began something I’ve never done in my life. I started and developed a YouTube channel. It was a life saver. It provided a renewed sense of purpose, and has been a blessing both for me and others. If you are interested in topics on relationships, health, and faith, check it out at youtube.com/pastorrogerhernandez. There are resources for everyone, and some just for pastors to navigate these truly unprecedented times.
I leave you with a passage that has always been close to me, 1 Peter 5:7 ESV: “Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”
That means you, pastor.
Roger Hernandez is the ministerial director at the Southern Union Conference
Claudia Maury is the external communications specialist for AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division – South Region.
Southern Union | October 2020