Navigating Anxious Times
How are you doing? Really.
As people of faith, we trust God is present in the midst of our everyday lives. Maybe you spent last week learning new technology, creating new systems, and checking in on people in your community. Maybe you were exhausted and maybe you’re missing people you usually see on a weekly basis.
All of those experiences, and many more, are normal for what we’re experiencing.
Stay at Home
As a leader of a congregation, a family, or a business, you are making decisions regarding the safety of the people entrusted to your care. The “Stay at Home” order in Ohio goes into effect tonight at 11:59 p.m. through April 6. That means you’ll be spending more time with your family.
You are already stepping up and leading well. You’re learning new things at a rapid pace and navigating ever-changing circumstances with grace.
You are equipped to lead people through this. No, you and I weren’t trained for what we’re experiencing in seminary or Local Pastors’ School. But you have the skills to lead others through this time.
What follows are seven reminders as you navigate this season of ministry:
1. Feelings are normal.
Feeling anxious in uncertain times is normal. What’s not ok is to allow your anxiety or the anxiety of others to rule the situation. Your job, as a leader, is to manage your own anxiety as you help relieve the anxiety for others. Help them to find calm. Sometimes that’s as simple as inviting people to breathe. Remember that when feeling processes heat up, thinking processes cool down. We need you to keep your head and heart present. That means keeping calm.
2. Keep the facts in mind.
Allow persons to express their feelings. But at the same time, remember to keep the reality of the situation before them. Some questions you might ask are:
- What do you know for sure?
- What are the experts saying?
- What are you thinking?
- What are you feeling?
- What are your options?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages?
You manage your feelings better when you rely on the facts than you do when you immerse yourself in the emotion of opinions and assumptions.
3. Respond swiftly. Be aware of when to HALT.
Remember, we are living in rapidly changing circumstances. That means you’ll likely need to respond swiftly when something else changes. Be sure to check your response against your normal behavior. If you find your behavior being out of sorts, check if you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT). Your response can become uncharacteristic reactions when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Yes, that means now, more than ever, please care for yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
4. Keep a narrow focus as you broaden your action.
Your congregation is a part of a larger system. As a leader, you might feel you are responsible for the health and wellbeing of your entire congregation and the local community.
Remember that you and your congregation are connected to a larger system. As you focus on what you need to do, remember that you have other people within the district, conference, and your local community with whom you can partner. In other words, you don’t have to do it all alone.
5. Let go of perfection.
With the stay at home order in place tonight, you and your congregation will not only be practicing social distancing, but contributing to the health of your community, church, family, and to people, you will never know.
Pastoral care is taking on different forms, so is worship. Your meetings are happening in different ways, too. All these new things and new mediums to communicate mean now is not the time to focus on perfection. Offer your best, don’t exhaust yourself. And that leads us to…
6. Keep things simple.
A telephone is still a great tool. Use it. If you have the capacity to use technology, use it, too. And, yes, wash your hands and keep a 6′ distance. (We hope one day we look back on this post and laugh. For now, these are life-saving measures for you and the people you lead and love.)
As you seek to support people and care for one another, keep your systems simple. A phone tree, email distribution list, or common time for Facebook prayer gatherings are simple ways to stay connected.
7. Work the plan you created.
You’ve suspended worship services and meetings or moved things online or to conference calls. Some of you are also cleaning up from floods. Our guess is, you didn’t have any plans in place for this. After all, why would you?
Now is the time to create communication systems and work those plans. How often will you use the phone chain? When will you send emails? What about USPS mail? Where does social media fit into the plan? (That’s not a list of things you have to do. It’s a list of things to consider.)
In the midst of any crisis, it’s always helpful to name what events trigger your plans. Remember, anxiety does not rule the situation. Decide what will objectively trigger your plan and relax in the knowledge that you will know when to act.
You are Leading
You are already thinking of things that we have not mentioned. Good. That means that you are already starting to lead in the midst of anxious times. Remember to manage your own emotions and thoughts as you work to lead the people around you.
With a deep and abiding peace of God’s presence, you will assess the situation, understand what is happening, and make the leadership decisions needed to navigate this season of ministry.
Please know that you are not alone. We (Sara Thomas and Tim Bias) are available to help navigate these uncertain times with you.
Thank you for this post, and for your encouragement. The Holy Spirit is moving in novel ways as well!