Pursuing pastoral health in the middle of a crisis

What does it look like to pursue our own pastoral health in this time of crisis?

All of us are in uncharted waters, but it’s not uncharted to our sovereign God. That’s what’s most encouraging to me. I’ve talked to people who are 95 who were children during the Great Depression and they shake their heads and say “We’ve never been here, either.” So it’s nice to know God is with us in that.

I have a few thoughts as it relates to leadership. I’m really drawn to the book of Acts. The apostle Paul has such timeless and timely words for all of us as he gathers the Ephesian church elders together. Clearly there’s a cloud of grief hanging over them as he says I’m not going to see you again. Imagine the sense of grief and disruption, heartache and disappointment. At some level that’s maybe a microcosm, but I think they were really feeling wiped out. So in that context, in Acts 20:28, Paul gives us some really important leadership words. Paul writes:

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

In the last few weeks, with all the disruption, disorientation, and distress, we’ve all needed to pay more attention to our stewardships of leadership. Wherever we are, whether we’re a church leader, a board leader, a business leader, all of us have had to give attention to others if we’re in a leadership role. Notice what Paul says first: It’s important we pay attention to ourselves. Yes, give adequate attention to the flock. But also to our own integral well-being as created and redeemed in Christ. Self-care is not selfishness. It’s actually a primary stewardship of biblical leadership. That is true at any time, tranquil or turbulent. But how important it is when times are so turbulent.

Cultivate spiritual buoyancy

At the heart of this is that those who lead well are well led. And, fundamentally, leadership is following our good shepherd. The primary stewardship I have is being well led by the good shepherd (Ps 23; John 10). David talks about “my shepherd.” Psalm 23 is personal to each of us. We have our own individual journey, our own shepherd with us. “I am with you” is explicit, and implicit throughout the whole text is God’s presence. He is there. He leads us, he guides us. We are secure in him now in his already-not-yet kingdom, and we are secure in him forever. Psalm 23 is often seen as a psalm for death, but I think it’s one of the most important leadership texts in all of Scripture.

Cultivate physical endurance

Wherever we are in our physical strength, this is the time to keep building because this is probably going to be a long-haul. We need physical stamina to be strong and have courage. We need God’s Word and we need to be physically strong. Getting sleep is essential. I’ve added an hour to my clock and am intentionally trying to sleep longer. Your physical well-being is hugely important for you to honor God and love him and serve well.

Cultivate psychological awareness

This is increasingly important. We need to monitor what we’re paying attention to. What are your triggers, what are things that distract you, what brings anxiety into your life? We need to be aware of that. There are stages of grief, loss, disappointment, and stress we all go through that impacts us, impacts those closest to us. You will notice in these times of trauma or difficulty there will be extra tiredness, forgetfulness, or irritability. So pay attention to what you’re paying attention to, and then process with others.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a recent webinar through Common Practice. Common Practice is a weekly check-in designed for pastors to connect and share best practices on how to shepherd the church through uncertain times. Each week, we’re going to be providing content around a theme. This week, Tom Nelson, president of Made to Flourish and local church pastor, addressed pastoral health amidst the crisis of COVID-19.

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Topics: Current Events, Pastoral Practices, Pastoral Wholeness

About the Author

Tom Nelson serves as the president of Made to Flourish and is the author of Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, Five Smooth Stones: Discovering the Path to Wholeness of Soul, Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Design for the Church, and The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community's Compassion and Capacity.  Tom is a regular speaker and facilitator on faith, work, and economics. He is also the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Kansas City. He has served on the Board of Regents of Trinity International University and is on the leadership team of the Oikonomia Network. He graduated with a master’s of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and received his doctorate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Tom and his wife, Liz, have two grown children and reside in Leawood, Kansas.