Notes from FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Pastoring People in a Mental Health Crisis with John Stevens and Professor Alan Thomas.
1. Jesus’ miracles are signs of eschatological salvation. They are a huge encouragement of how Jesus saves, His power to save, and His ability to put things right in the end. In Luke 8:26-39 we see how Jesus redeems from bondage to Satan, rescues from death, and restores us to our right mind.
2. Every single human being is in bondage to Satan, belonging to his kingdom, and blinded by his lies. The enemy we all face is death and we need to be rescued from the second death. The result of the fall is that our thinking is distorted. In the gospel, Jesus redeems us from this bondage to bring us into His own kingdom. He rescues us from death, and He renews our minds. Be confident in the power of the gospel. We have the hope of the eschatological salvation that is to come.
3. COVID-19 Update for Churches:
– Be realistic. We are facing the prospect of greater restrictions because the virus is increasing. The government does not want to close churches but will if required (as in Wales). Some kind of lockdown is the only policy option the government is pursuing at the moment.
– Be prepared. With great restrictions likely, we should invest in our online presence in case our churches have to close again. We also should invest in our online presence to reach people who will not come to church.
– Be pastoral. We are now more likely to be ministering into frustration more than fear. Acknowledge this frustration but don’t exacerbate it as there is little we can do about it. Encourage people to accept it rather than be angry about it. Maximise the opportunities to give pastoral support to individuals.
– Be evangelistic. Be outwardly looking not inwardly distracted. Getting annoyed with the situation takes away our evangelistic energy. Look at how your church might meet the needs of the community. Equip church members to speak to others. Engage unbelievers with the gospel online as gathering in the church building will not be the main place to engage in evangelism at present.
5. Check out the Baptist Union Guidance on Pastoral Visits.
6. We are psychosomatic wholes (created body and soul/spirit/minds). Some people are stronger physically and mentally than others. Those who are stronger are more robust in their ability to handle physical and mental strain.
7. There are lots of issues related to COVID that put those in ministry under pressure: Information overload; Daily rule changes; Feeling out of my depth; Fearful of the future; Watching world; Lack of personal contact; Dissension in congregation or among elders; Rapid major decisions to make; Libertarians; Risk averse worriers; Destruction of worship; Will it ever end?; Does our church have a future?; Reduced pastoral contact.
8. Burnout and Pastors (with help from Elijah in 1 Kings 19).
– Burnout: physical and mental exhaustion associated with despair and negativism.
– Elijah’s burnout was caused by personal isolation and loneliness as he hid from King Ahab, the lonely work of one man ministry; emotionally draining work and physically exhausting work as he is summoned to face King Ahab and takes on the prophets of Baal; plus threats from Jezebel.
– The pressures Elijah faced, are all pressures we face in busy pastoral ministry. When they come together they can grind pastors down.
– The COVID situation adds additional pressures and puts pastors in a vulnerable position.
– We see the solution to this in how the Lord dealt with Elijah. There is both short-term relief and long-term change.
– Short-term relief as angel of the Lord (pre-incarnate Christ) ministers to him; food and drink; rest and sleep; words of encouragement that you are not alone and your diagnosis of situation is correct. Elijah is reassured
– If you are burning out, you need to take a step back and get some rest, some encouragement from others (elders, men in ministry) to support you in the short term.
– Long-term change for Elijah was a change to his ministry with Elisha and other prophets to support him. He was not a loner anymore.
– If you don’t change pattern of ministry you will burnout again. Look at how you can get a right balance to your work.
9. Stress/Anxiety and Pastors.
– There are lots of common physical symptoms of stress and some mental symptoms as well.
– There is a sinful and a non-sinful anxiety.
– Non-sinful anxiety includes empathy and concern for others and stress that occurs for natural reasons – feeling symptoms under stress is how the Lord has built us.
– Sinful anxiety is responding to stress with lack of trust in the LORD or fretting about coping.
– You need to work out how you respond to anxiety. Each of us have our own pattern of anxiety symptoms. You won’t necessarily feel anxious (at least to start with). You won’t necessarily worry. Aim to identify early warning signs that you are feeling under pressure.
– There are some steps you can put in place yourself to help you handle things e.g. supportive relationships, meaningful work, diet and exercise, sleep hygiene, substance avoidance.
10. Reducing COVID-anxiety.
– Not difficult in theory, but harder in practice.
– Stop watching the news. Take yourself away from being sucked into the negativism.
– Abandon social media (or limit your use of it).
– Don’t always talk about COVID.
– Replace with taking it to the Lord in prayer, with praise (get the hymnbook out), good books.
– Actively socially engage with others as you can.
11. Professor Alan Thomas has a book Tackling Mental Illness Together, which is meant to be worth a read.