When you are in ministry for very long, you come to expect crisis. We live in a broken world and walk with people in pain. But it’s a whole different ballgame when the crisis are many in a short period of time. They come fast and hard, barely leaving us time to catch our breath. Earlier this year, our church went through one of these seasons of crisis. In a period of about five weeks, we had a police shooting, a staff husband die suddenly and 11 other deaths, including three suicides. I noticed my emotional and spiritual tank being depleted and knew I needed to be super-intentional in order to make it through to the other side. I looked around at our precious staff team and saw a spiritual tiredness, one that comes from walking with people in pain and continually bringing them to Jesus. Not long after, I had a wonderful conversation with Lance and Connie Witt (author of Replenish – Leading From a Healthy Soul and founder of Replenish Ministries). Here’s a snapshot of what we talked about in tending your soul in a crisis season – and helping your staff team do the same.
8 Tips For Surviving A Season of Crisis in Ministry (and helping your staff do the same)
1. Understand that there is no fixing the “heaviness”. Like grieving, we just have to get through it. It is not only understandable, but expected, given the number and intensity of these crisis. So give yourself a break when you are just feeling “sad”. You are in the wave crashing zone, and have been hit by a few big ones. Grieving is human. Grieving is normal and we shouldn’t ignore it or stuff it or pretend that because we are in ministry that we are the exception. So, allow yourself to just be human first, then a pastor/minister. The Psalms are filled with the raw emotion of grief, sadness, frustration and anger. Lean on each other. All of your co-workers are feeling some of what you’re feeling. Don’t feel bad talking through your pain, grief, etc.
2. Do whatever you can to create some margin. Streamline – just to get through the crisis time. Experiencing this much emotion and sadness, paired with walking through painful places with people is emotionally exhausting. You need more time than normal to breathe, practice some solitude, and recharge. In a season that is draining emotionally, we can’t just “soldier on” with business as usual. We must be more intentional on the backside of the crisis to get physical rest, create emotional margin and space. And to be intentional to listen to God. Ask the question “how is God coming to me in this season of crisis?” What is he saying? Again, talk with a trusted co-worker about what you’re hearing from God.
3. Watch for the “break”. God always seems to provide a rest after these seasons. Watch for it and make yourself take it! After a season of emotional intensity, it takes a little while to replenish. And it’s not a quick charge, it is a trickle charge.
4. Identify what refreshes your soul. Once you’ve allowed yourself to feel the inevitable sadness, figure out what it takes for you to allow the Lord to “lift me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Ps 40:2-3).
Is it time with people who encourage your soul? Schedule a lunch and be honest about where you are. Tell them what you need.
Is it time alone? Schedule extra time to take a walk, go to the gym, or read.
While you will certainly need some alone time to process and “be” with God, don’t walk through a time like this in isolation. Paul’s command to “grieve with those who grieve” is a call to walk through sorrow in community. Staff members need to allow themselves to be in the position of receiving care and comfort from others, not always being the ones who do the caring and ministering.
5. Do not neglect your time with your Lord. He is the ONE who refreshes our souls. Even when you have no words and your tears are gone, He meets you where you are “with groans that words cannot express” (Rom 8:26)
6. Don’t be afraid to go to someone trained to come alongside people in ministry, even for a session or two. Sometimes we just need a safe person to talk to that isn’t in the midst of the muck.
7. Address the WHY … If you haven’t already, I’m sure people are asking why does God allow this to happen to his people? When walking with people in crisis, initially our presence and our prayers are what is often needed . But many people will come to a place of asking the hard questions of God’s goodness and His sovereignty. Don’t be afraid to dive into those. And don’t be afraid of going to someone who has wrestled longer with these issues to help you find some clarity. If you are in a place of shepherding others in ministry, help them work through the hard questions so that they aren’t afraid when others come to them for answers. And yes, for some of the questions, there may not be an answer. But if God’s Word gives one, let’s offer it out with hope.
8. Recognize the battle for what it is. I think this is truly a season of warfare. It seems that the ministry world is being targeted. So I believe prayer against the enemy is more important now than at any point. I know you are a praying church, but maybe a refresh on praying boldly, binding the enemy and embracing power of prayer. What are the keys to success in spiritual warfare? We rely on God’s power, not our own. We put on the whole armor of God. We draw on the power of Scripture—the Word of God is the Spirit’s sword. We pray in perseverance and holiness, making our appeal to God. We stand firm (Ephesians 6:13–14); we submit to God; we resist the devil’s work (James 4:7), knowing that the Lord of hosts is our protector. “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2).
You are waging spiritual warfare when you give radical praise to God in the midst of your need and lack. When you are thankful to God for all He has done and is doing, you are defeating the enemy. When you hold your peace in the midst of the storm, you are warring with spiritual weapons (see 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Hope this helps, friend. Remember that the sorrow will last for a night, but joy DOES come with the morning.
In His Joy and Grace,