The last eighteen months have certainly dragged on and challenged us. We have witnessed storms rise up on the horizon only to then move in and engulf us. We must be careful not to over-dramatize our situation, but we must also be honest about our struggles. Barnabas and Paul make us aware of this in Acts 14:22, “strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.’” Our storms have not equaled what many – especially Paul – have endured for the cause of Christ.
The reality is that prolonged stress will drain and deplete us of any built-up energy, stamina, or endurance. When this hard season began, we believed at first that it would just be a blizzard and cause us to . . .
hunker down for a couple weeks
prepare by hoarding toilet paper, bottled water, and bread
re-emerge basically unscathed
But we were wrong and we realized this was not a blizzard but a very hard winter and we had to figure out how to survive this season. Greater changes had to be made as everyone scrambled to figure out how to adapt.
Churches became very creative with drive-in church, livestream, and hosting online Bible studies and trainings. Zoom became the relationship sustainer and we believed that spring would soon arrive, but culturally we entered an ice age.
The storms of global infirmity (COVID-19), economic insecurity (inflation and closed businesses), racial inequality (George Floyd murder and racism), political incivility (extremism on both sides and a chasm between), and social instability (riots, looting, and cities set on fire).
In current culture no matter what you do, people are scrutinized and attacked, even in churches. Most of us have less energy than we had eight months ago, and we feel the weight of the times we live in.
Outrage, however, is not a strategy, but it’s real and it’s difficult to recognize the communities in which we lived just a few years ago. If you were already running on empty before this “ice age” hit, then you were really in trouble when it escalated very quickly. But even if you were in a good place spiritually and emotionally, these storms wear on you and drain emotional and spiritual reserves. You cannot continue to press forward without refueling, recharging, and re-energizing. The stress, exhaustion, and strain are real, so what do we do?
#1. Give yourself permission to be human.
The enemy’s attacks are real, continual, and meant to break us, but our God is able to use them to make us into who He desires us to be. You’re not bulletproof, and it is hard to maintain a thick skin and a tender heart.
#2. Don’t press ahead alone without God and friends.
The pressure is real, and God has placed godly friends in your life for accountability and encouragement. You might be thinking that you should not feel this way or be discouraged, or having these emotions . . . but you are. The question is, “What are you going to do about it?”
#3. Be keenly aware of the dangers of role immersion.
More than ever before, pastors and leaders are expected to be available 24/7. Now, cell phones allow you to receive a text at 11:30 p.m. explaining how you have messed up and how disappointing that is. These storms have caused presumptive criticism to increase to new heights. Everyone seems to presume that they know how to better handle the situation.
#4. Seek the advice of others.
You can move ahead faster in your decisions than you can alone, so if you want to go further then go together. Be intentional about helping each other with spiritual health and vitality in a daily walk with Christ, then take and implement the advice you give to others in this area.
Make sure that your intimacy with Christ is increasing every day. Tony Evans has said, “Spiritual intimacy with God expands spiritual capacity.” What is promoting spiritual resilience and perseverance in your life? The Message Bible (a paraphrase) says this in Romans 12:11-12: “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.”
What are you doing to make sure the ministry does not consume you? Not only do you face role immersion but also role complexity (wearing way too many hats) and role ambiguity (not understanding the weight of the ministry).
Moses stood before a burning bush, but the miracle was not that it burned (Burning bushes were common in the desert.), but that it burned and was not consumed. The bush was fueled and kept aflame by the presence of the Lord. If you press forward in your own energy and efforts you will most likely be consumed. There have been many who have flamed up and fizzled out.
Unless we learn to allow God to transform our own personal brokenness (check out Romans 12:2), we will transfer our brokenness to our congregations. Every day our resources and energy are being drained. Every day we need to refuel and recharge. You can only run on adrenaline so long.
What are you doing to thrive and flourish in the midst of this ice age? As a leader are you taking the advice you are giving everyone else about rest, Sabbath, and godly rhythms? Are you being a maverick by trying to go it alone when you know God never meant for you to walk this path alone?
We are here for you and we are here to help! Call us, email us, and reach out to us so we can pray with you, encourage you, and walk this journey with you!