This year has been brutal for pastors. It’s been difficult for everybody, but especially for pastors and church leaders.
They’ve had to lead their congregation through massive and sudden change, without warning or a road map. And while they make the best decisions they can, it’s almost guaranteed that no matter what they decide, there will be a handful of leaders in their congregation who will disagree and might even have a little bit of anger and strong emotions.
Pastors are weary. They have decision fatigue, and they’re emotionally exhausted. And some have full-on burnout.
That’s why we started this series of videos geared toward the emotional health of pastors. Each week I’ll interview a pastor or leader to give practical wisdom or guidance. This week I have a special guest because he’s both a pastor and leader in our movement.
Bruce Hopler: So, Steve, welcome. Glad you’re here.
Steve Krier: Thank you, it’s an honor to be here.
BH: Good. So, Steve, I’m gonna ask. I’ve been seeing a lot of emotional, mental and spiritual challenges for pastors. Have you been seeing this as well?
SK: Oh, absolutely. Both pastors that I talk to who are in my area, as well as within the district, using words like overwhelmed, tired, worn out, thin, those kinds of things are words that are often used.
BH: Yeah, Steve, I really appreciate what you just said. In fact, that’s why I love the title so much: When I am tired and worn. So, let me ask you. For you, personally and pastorally, what has been your biggest challenge during this time?
SK: Yeah, I think pastorally, I think, I go to 1 Thessalonians, where Paul is talking to the church back in Thessaloniki, and he talks about this. He said, “I don’t know how you’re doing. I don’t know if you’ve walked away from the faith. I don’t know if you’ve abandoned things. I don’t know.”
And he says, “And when I couldn’t stand it any longer I sent Timothy.” And Timothy goes to the church, and he comes back and gives Paul a good report, and [Paul] said, “I was overjoyed and I’m just, in my prayers, I’m so excited to hear that you have not abandoned the faith.”
We don’t have that. Like, I don’t know how my church is doing. I don’t know how they’re doing spiritually. I don’t know how they’re doing relationally. I don’t know how they’re doing mentally. And that is a huge burden for me.
And so that, I think, pastorally the challenge has been I don’t know how my church is doing. We’re in a rented facility, and we haven’t even opened the doors yet. So we’re still a week and a half away, and I still don’t know, since mid-March, I don’t know how my church is doing. Individuals have called, but, on the whole, I don’t know. That’s a huge challenge.
I think personally, personally, if I’m just gonna get really personal, it’s been a very challenging time. My dad has cancer, on top of all of what’s been going on, and so I’ve just felt railed by circumstances of life. And so, yeah, there are days when I just had to take naps. I just had to stop early. There’s days when I put in an hour and go, “I’m done. I’m done.” Or take an extra day and just to say, “I can’t move today. I have to be able to rest ’cause I’m toast today.”
So, personally, that’s been a huge [challenge], and I love being around people, and I haven’t been. It’s been difficult in that season.
BH: You know, I appreciate you sharing that because a lot of times we only think about as pastors saying, “OK, try to figure out the struggle of getting online and the struggle of trying to keep the church open,” and all these different struggles, and they’re very real. And life happens too.
And with what’s going on with your father and for some pastors, they have other family issues, or they might have issues that are going on with regular attenders or leaders that are coming through, and they’re going through trauma or loss of income.
So there’s a lot of things that are going on above and beyond just the pandemic or something like that, and so those are real things. I know you have a lot of experience in mental health, especially before you got into this role. So let me ask you, you’re a human being, so you have some knowledge, but you’re a human being, and you’ve been honest about some of your wrestlings. What are some things that you found helpful, and what are some things you found not so helpful?
SK: Yeah, well, we’ll start out with not helpful. I have a tendency to obsess over things that I can’t control, so if I watch the news too much I get freaked out and get a lot of anxiety.
Also, the reality is as a pastor, I compare myself to other pastors. And so I see what other churches are doing, and I’m like, “Man, we didn’t think of that,” or, “We didn’t do that,” and the enemy wants us to compare and say that we don’t measure up.
And even if we’ve had this plan, this is what we’re going to do, then you see someone else and what they’re doing on social media and you’re like, “Oh, man, I failed. I failed. You know, I failed as a leader.”
And so it’s just not helpful to ruminate on those things. You have to find a place and someone to talk to so you can process that. So just getting in your own head and just thinking about all the worst possible things, that has not been helpful. And I wish I could say I have avoided that completely, but there’s been some pretty substantial ditches during this time where I had to get out of my head and go talk to somebody, even if it’s over the phone.
BH: Before you get even into what’s been helpful, maybe you have some more on non-helpful first. Isn’t it amazing, as leaders, how we will tend to spiritualize ourselves into the not helpful?
For example, you’re watching other churches to see what they’re doing, so you can learn. And that’s a good thing. But then deep down inside it becomes an obsession of like, “Well, they did it better,” or, “I don’t look as good,” or, “I can’t believe I messed up here.”
And all of a sudden, it puts you into a dark place when you did it in the name of I want to improve. And again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you start getting into a downward spiral over it, or just kinda checking the news, nothing wrong with that. You know, kinda know what’s going on, but if you’re allowing it to put you into a downward spiral, I’m just trying to say it’s amazing how we can spiritualize or justify getting into these places that are not so healthy.
SK: Yeah, and every strength is its own weakness, and so when you start out on one thing, and you end up kinda gettin’ out of control and just deep down the rabbit hole of your life. So, yeah, no, I totally agree.
Another thing, I guess, that hasn’t been helpful is my, let me say this, I see a real strong correlation by how I eat and how I’m doing spiritually. That’s me, so if I’m filling my life up with just a bunch of ice cream and chocolate, and I have a sweet tooth, and if it gets like, I’m like, “OK, if I’m not paying attention here, where else am I not paying attention to?” So I think that’s not been helpful trying to find comfort in other things.
BH: Right, yeah, that’s huge. So, what has been helpful?
SK: Yeah, so I have had some things that have gone well. One of the things that I had to do, Bruce, and for every pastor out there that’s listening to this, and I hope you really show this to your board as well. I had to get honest with my church board. I had to share with them. I had to get over the fear that if they found out that if I wasn’t doing well emotionally that somehow they were gonna fire me.
You know the thing, I had to get honest with the leadership, my board especially, about where I was at emotionally and where I was at mentally, and if I was doing OK or if I wasn’t doing OK. We reach out to pastors, we reach out to other people as well, and that’s been great, but I think one of the most helpful things was getting honest with my board so that they could pray for me and they could help me, and they could take the burden off of some of this stuff.
And so I hope that whoever’s watching this, they actually show it to their church board, as well, and say, “We need to talk.” We need to talk about it. We need to talk about these things.
And the other thing that I found, the Lord Jesus tells us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And so I have, on good days, I try to do something that benefits each of those areas.
So for my heart, I think about relationships, I think about things that are good for emotional health, right? And so if I can connect relationally, it’s good for my heart. If I can do something physical, even going for a walk, a 15-minute exercise, whatever, if I can do something for my body and my strength, if I can do something that helps that.
My mind, if I can learn something, even if it’s a, I watch a lot of TED Talk videos, you know? They’re just fascinating to me. So if you can read an article, learn something new. I learned how to make my own hot sauce during this time, just ’cause I wanted to learn something new, so it’s good for my brain.
And then for my soul, to spend time with the Lord, journaling, prayer, Bible reading, worship music, those kinds of things. So if I can do something for my heart, soul, mind and strength, those have been very helpful days for me.
BH: That’s powerful because, you know, there’s a lot of things that all of us know, cognitively, we need to do those things, but during the time of crisis, we’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, push that aside. I gotta solve the world’s problems, you know?” and all of that. So, I appreciate those words, and I pray that as pastors are listening to this that they’ll be able to say, “Yeah, that needs to be more true about me.”
So I’d like to wrap up with a question. Again, the primary focus of this is for pastors. And so with that in mind, what would you like to tell them?
SK: You’re not alone. You’re not alone in your pain. You’re not alone in your fears. You’re not alone in your struggle.
That’s why I love Converge so much is that we’re part of a family, we’re part of a movement of churches and pastors.
It came out recently, Darrin Patrick’s death was ruled a suicide. We had pastors committing suicide before COVID. You’re not alone. You’re not abandoned by God. You’re not a disappointment to God if you’re struggling with these things. That you can reach out.
What I’ve found that getting over that fear of thinking that someone’s gonna think less of me, think I’m not a good pastor, think that I’m not qualified for the ministry. All those fears that we all have, just know that you’re not alone in your struggles and that we’re here as a family of churches to walk with one another.
And what I love about Converge is that we have a whole department for church strengthening, and we have a whole resource center of all those things to help us walk through these things. And so don’t give up, pastor. And you’re not alone.
BH: Strong word. I’d like to end this way. Would you pray for the pastors, particularly focusing on those that are wrestling with aloneness?
SK: Gracious God, I thank you for hearing our prayers. And God, for the pastors who are feeling really isolated, they’re feeling alone and they’re feeling lonely. There’s so much going on, and there’s so many decisions that need to made, and there’s so much scrutiny that’s happening to pastors right now, things that we’ve never had to consider, like should we sing in a service, or how many people can gather. Or do we take the names of everybody who comes in? All these things that we’ve never had to think about.
And God, it can feel very alone. So God, I pray for all of us who are feeling lonely, that you would be near, that your presence would be palpable. God, I pray for each and every pastor who’s hearing this right now, that someone in their life would reach out to them and go, “How are you doing?” And that they would be an encouragement.
God, I pray that you would give every pastor a dose of courage to be able to open up about their feelings of aloneness to someone that they can trust. And then I pray for their churches to be understanding and accommodating and supportive in this time.
Lord Jesus, we love you and we thank you, and we know that you know what it means to be alone and that we do not have an unsympathetic high priest. And God, that you can minister to us in our weaknesses and in these spots because you have tasted that yourself. Thank you, God, for being our good shepherd, for leading us through the valley of the shadow of death, and leading us out to the other side. God, have mercy on us and walk with us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
BH: Amen. Thank you, pastor Steve. Your words have been very meaningful.
SK: Well, thank you, it’s an honor.
If you’re a pastor and you need someone to talk to, contact us.
Other Staying Emotionally Healthy as a Pastor videos
Dr. Bruce Hopler, Vice President of Church Strengthening
Dr. Bruce Hopler has been coaching pastors and church planters for over 20 years. He now serves as the executive director of Church Strengthening at Converge. Bruce started a church in Maryland against all odds with no core group and no upfront funding, but it has grown for 18 years. He then moved to Las Vegas, where he was the Spiritual Formation pastor for the eighth-fastest growing church in America. During his time in Vegas Bruce completed his doctorate in spiritual formation and leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. After four years there, he moved to Orlando to join Converge. Bruce loves planters and pastors. He has been certified in StratOps, Church Unique and SOULeader coaching. He strives to help pastors discover what healthy means, within their unique calling and context.