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Wednesday Word: Tired, Overwhelmed, and Lonely

June 2, 2021 | Jim Keena

“Many pastors are tired, overwhelmed, and lonely” is the title of an article by the Barna Group. Their research revealed that “Three in 10 pastors (31%) are currently struggling with their emotional well-being.” And slightly over half (51%) reported being tired. Of the pastors surveyed, “Two in five say they primarily felt exhausted (41%), sad (41%) or panicked (39%).”1 My conversations with local pastors confirm their findings. Many pastors are emotionally and spiritually depleted.

So, why has this happened, and what can be done? Around eighteen months ago, the full impact of the Coronavirus pandemic reached local churches. Nearly all churches were forced to either limit or eliminate their public worship services. Rather than gathering as the visible body of Christ, churches went digital. As a result, for pastors and worship leaders, the congregation became virtually invisible. Making matters worse, our nation entered a divisive and mean-spirited national election. And what divided our country has split many churches. It’s been a tough time for all of us, pastors included.

What can be done for pastors who are “tired, overwhelmed and lonely”? Here are three suggestions.

Less Complaining, More Complimenting

Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” In contrast, Job asked his critics, “How long will you try to crush me with your words?” (Job 19:2, NLT). Our words can be life-giving or soul-crushing. And during the last eighteen months, pastors have been targeted with unfair criticism or unfounded complaints. So now is the opportune time to strategically compliment pastors.

The most effective compliments are specific, brief, and heart-felt. I still remember a life-giving compliment I received nearly thirty years ago. After teaching a Bible class, an older lady said, “You’re a gifted teacher.” Unknown to her, it reaffirmed my call into the pastoral ministry. A few months later, I accepted the call to become the lead pastor in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. We stayed there for over thirteen fruitful years of ministry. Her four simple words helped nudge me into the pastoral ministry.

A Change of Pace and Place

One day, Jesus and his apostles were so overwhelmed by the crowds they didn’t have enough time to eat. Jesus said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Then Jesus took them by boat to “a solitary place” (Mark 6:31-32). During the stress of ministry, Jesus gave his disciples a soul-refreshing change of pace and place.

Recently, the Center for Disease Control has recommended loosening some of the restrictions related to the pandemic. For example, as more people become vaccinated, fewer are required to wear masks. In addition, it appears we will soon be able to travel more freely. Now would be a good time for churches to give their pastors an extra week or two of vacation in light of this. It could be incredibly refreshing for them to slow down and get away. Give them the gift of a change of pace and place.

Give the Present of Your Presence

Pastors are growing lonely, in part, because of social distancing and online worship services. In the Barna survey, over half of the church leaders (52%) admitted to feeling lonely within the last month. Corporate worship and Christian community both strengthen and refresh a pastor’s soul. And the necessary shift to online services has only heightened their sense of disconnection and loneliness.

But now, it appears the tide is turning toward returning to normal. In light of that, please return to in-person worship services as soon as safely possible. Christians are a gathering people. From its inception, the church has assembled in large groups to worship and home groups to fellowship (Acts 2:46-47). So please know that your presence is a welcomed present for your pastors and church leaders.

1 https://www.barna.com/research/covid-19-pastor-emotions/

Jim Keena

Professor of Pastoral Theology and Church Relations

The Rev. Jim Keena was senior pastor of the Evangelical Free Church of Bozeman from 2008 through early 2020, when he joined the […]

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