This has been a year like none other, and I believe pastors may be among the hardest hit when it comes to the stress and demands placed on them by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to all of the typical responsibilities carried by those in the pulpit, over the last nine months or so they’ve had to walk a tightrope between protecting vulnerable congregants from the virus and continuing to meet the spiritual and relational needs of their flocks. It’s a tall order, and I know many pastors have been working around the clock to juggle these often-disparate goals.
My hope and prayer is that each and every pastor across the nation and around the world not only feels supported and valued by the Body of Christ, but also experiences the sustaining, supernatural presence of Christ during these troubling times.
As I consider you and your fellow ministers, I can only imagine the weariness so many of you are battling even as you remain faithful to your calling. I’m reminded of that beloved passage of Scripture that points to where true strength can be found: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I imagine “weakness” could be a feeling you relate to these days, so I want to remind you of the importance of that popular practice that’s been trending in recent years known as “self-care.” Of course, our sinful natures can take this concept too far – and I believe modern-day culture puts a distinctly self-centered spin on the idea of meeting our own needs.
However, support for the idea can be found in Scripture. Of course, we’re certainly required to care for others and exhibit Christ-like service and selflessness – but, as you know, God’s Word also shows us that the Lord wants us to seek rest and renewal when we need it.
Consider, for example, Psalm 127:2: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” I love this clear indication of the Lord’s tender concern for those who are overworked and burned out, not to mention His gracious and practical provision of sleep for those who are exhausted. What an encouraging reminder that our Heavenly Father doesn’t just care about our work; He cares about us.
And who could forget how many times the Gospels mention Jesus going off to a quiet place to pray and seek a reprieve from the constant appeals of the people who clamored relentlessly for His help and attention? Despite being “pressed on every side,” Jesus consistently modeled a healthy balance between ministry and rest – and, in doing so, he acknowledged the need for all of us, and especially those entrusted with spiritual leadership, to do the same.
With all of that in mind, I pray you will be able to experience a lightening of your day-to-day pastoral responsibilities over the Christmas holiday so that you can be refreshed and renewed and spend quality time with your family. Truly, I can’t think of anyone more deserving of some bona fide “R&R” than the pastors who have tirelessly shepherded the Church through the ordeal of the past year.
And, as the head of a ministry devoted to preserving and strengthening families, I’m especially concerned about the pressures facing pastors’ families during these difficult days. With clergy being spread so thin, it’s nearly unavoidable that their families would be feeling some of that stress as well.
That’s why it’s so vital for pastors to ensure that they’re carving out time to nurture their relationships with those who matter most. As someone who is confronted with numerous ministry-related tasks that never really let up – even during major holidays! – I know how easy it would be to remain “plugged in” to my Focus duties over Christmas rather than engaging fully with Jean and the boys.
I’ve found, however, that when I’m intentional about stepping away from all ministry obligations from time to time in order to recharge, invest in my marriage, and make memories with my kids, I return to Focus better equipped to carry on our mission to families.
So as we celebrate our Savior’s birth, I encourage you to reflect on this beautiful passage we read so often this time of year:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
You are a source of wise counsel and peace to your flock – but this Christmas, may you rest in the certainty that the Lord longs to meet those needs in your life as well. May He guide you and your family to a time of well-deserved rest and fellowship this Christmas.