Running on E

May 27th, 2020
This article is featured in the Growing Spiritually issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

We are about 11 weeks in with no in-person worship. Or it 10? 12? To be honest, I don’t know what day it is. Everyday feels like a scene from Groundhog Day.

In conversations with clergy and church leaders via Zoom gatherings, social media or text messages, I’m noticing a trend. Leaders, clergy and laity are having to adapt to how they do self-care. They know if they do not during this season, they will burn out and have very little to give when this pandemic is over.

The bottom line is that knowing is different from doing.

We know that self-care and spiritual disciplines are important. Because if we don't take care of ourselves, we take the risk of running on empty and eventually running out. Carey Nieuwhof has written and spoken widely about his own burnout in ministry. Nieuwhof writes in his book, Didn’t See It Coming, “in caring for others, I had not adequately cared for my own heart and soul or let others who wanted to care for me do so.” He describes his burnout as spiraling down for three months before hitting the bottom.

From my conversations, I have gleaned some helpful ways to think about self-care during this COVID-19 pandemic. These three key points are helpful for clergy, church staff and laity.

1. Adapt

All of our routines have been disrupted. There are no two days that look alike, no two weeks that are similar. And that is to be expected. When the environment around us changes, our behavior changes. When this happens, our habits change and we have to adapt to establish new, or adjusted, habits. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, shared three tips recently in an interview. Clear suggests that we start small. When establishing new habits, make it easy. You want an easy, doable win. With that win comes motivation to do more. Clear also suggests reducing the scope, or zoning in with a clear focus, and sticking to a schedule. 

2. Be intentional

One of the things I had to learn early in ministry was that self-care was my responsibility. No one else could do it for me. I had to take the time I needed to care for myself. The result if I didn’t? I imagine it would look similar to what happens to you. We are not ourselves, because we are worn out and exhausted.

You are responsible for your self-care. To adapt and establish new habits during this time, you also need to be intentional. Knowing that every day or week is going to look different from the one before, how can you assure that you will get the time you need and care for your soul.

3. Step away from the screens

Because of the pandemic, many of us are finding ourselves on platforms like Zoom. Dr. Curt Thompson has written about Zoom fatigue. That feeling of exhaustion you have after a day of Zoom meetings? It’s a thing. Dr. Thompson says Zoom takes more energy than being in-person and results in being more exhausted. One of the new habits that I've been trying to be intentional about is when scheduling Zooms that I don't schedule too many in one day, and I give myself enough time between meetings for a screen break. That’s not always doable, but I try.

The other thing is to get outside to take a walk or something else. One pastor mentioned that he has been getting more things done around the house than he usually does. The sense of accomplishment when completing a project has been refreshing. These kinds of things use a different part of your brain, enabling you to get some rest and be more creative with your ministry. 

What are some ways you have been taking care of yourself? 

Jason blogs at

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