Church leaders tired ... but enthusiastic

Survey says the coronavirus restrictions took a toll on leadership

Church leaders are tired and saturated from their drive to put services online and care for their congregations in isolation, according to a survey of a wide spectrum of denominations.

This unsurprising finding emerged from a survey taken in the week after Easter by the Centre for Ministry Development (CMD) at Sydney’s Moore Theological College, and Partners in Ministry.

“What you have been through has been enormous and you are allowed to be tired.” – Peter Mayrick

Of the 179 churches from 12 denominations which responded, 29 per cent were in NSW, 29 per cent in Victoria and the remainder spread across the other Australian states.

Asked to reflect on their experiences of the previous six weeks, leaders revealed an enormous drive to adapt and get through to Easter.

During a time when so many feel fatigued or overwhelmed by the many changes and pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, 63 per cent of church leaders indicated they were exhausted or tired. More than half of leaders (56 per cent) said they were saturated by the amount of information they were receiving.

CMD’s Peter Mayrick, author of the survey, said it was right that church leaders should be tired.

“That’s not surprising at all, ” he told Dominic Steele’s The Pastor’s Heart podcast.

“Just think about the way the normal rhythm of life goes in church. Pastors are tired the week after Easter – we’re always tired. The first term is hard.

‘[But 2020’s first] term is like no other term we’ve ever seen. Four weeks before Easter people changed the whole way we meet and I think pastors need to acknowledge that, yes, they are tired.

“I want to say … pastors, we get that you are tired. What you have been through has been enormous and you are allowed to be tired. So the first message should be to commend you for what you have done …

“Make sure first and foremost you’re looking after yourself because a tired you is not the best you.”

On the other hand, most – 56 per cent – of leaders indicated that while they were tired, they were enthusiastic for what was possible over the next few months.

With the recently announced three-step framework to return to a COVID-safe Australia, Mayrick said it was important that pastors and churches learn from the changes they had had to make during the adrenalin rush of the first six weeks of isolation.

“Sustainability is one of the core things that must come out of that [period], said Mayrick about what pastors and churches can take into the future.

“The mission hasn’t changed. We’ve changed the way we’re doing things. Is what we’re doing sustainable?”

“It’s a real opportunity for leadership at this time is to bring the whole crowd along for the journey and to recognise leadership.” – Peter Mayrick

As more decisions need to be made for the staged timetable up to July, there is a risk of “decision fatigue.” Particularly after the enormous effort and stress of achieving an online-based method  – which 90 per cent of churches managed to do, according to the survey.

“We know we may not be able to meet face to face for some months – leaders will need to consider how sustainable this approach and other efforts are,” the survey report says.

“We strongly suggest you begin involving members in the effort.

“If ministry staff become diverted by the need for serious pastoral care due to the human impact of COVID-19 (such as financial problems, serious health issues or even deaths), how will the programs you have instituted be sustained/implemented?”

Mayrick commented that he was surprised to discover that some churches had not recognised “the full bandwidth of leadership” and “too often we make it about the ministry club.”

“Only about half of the churches right across the board were communicating through lay people,” he said, adding that it was important to give lay leaders the full picture of “what are we thinking, what are we saying, what are we planning and what are we hoping for” – and give them the permission to speak about it.

“As leaders, they listen with a different ear and they’re more likely to communicate … the truth is, leaders who aren’t confident they know the whole picture … either lean out from the conversation and don’t engage or they lean in and engage but make it up.

“It’s a real opportunity for leadership at this time is to bring the whole crowd along for the journey and to recognise leadership.”

According to the survey, the area leaders were wrestling with most was building community. Mayrick commented that some of the old-school techniques, such as phone calls, may work better for community – provided the activity is widely delegated.

“Some churches are doing wonderful things like Zoom rooms, Zoom morning teas, Zoom phone calls …”

“But we’ve had more people come and visit from all over the world than we’ve ever seen before. The most common frustration and wrestle is ‘who are they?’”

“We need to not just be professional but we need to be personal.” – Peter Mayrick

Good examples of welcoming initiatives included setting up a specific Zoom room for visitors to be welcomed, or briefly stopping the service to encourage people to click on a communication card.

“We need to be more explicit in what we do,” Mayrick said.

“If you think about it, it’s actually authenticity over professionalism, because the professional would say ‘don’t stop, make it shmick!’

“No, no, we’re going to … do something so that people know they’re welcome and we want to follow them up.

“We need to not just be professional but we need to be personal.”