You have survived one of the biggest weekends of the year at your church. Of course, not without extra planning and preparation, lots of intentionality, and potentially extra services. And now, everything is back to "normal" - right? Not exactly.
There are two common feeling pastors have after Easter weekend has come and gone. The first is a sense of exhilaration. Maybe your church saw a record number of decisions for Christ. Maybe months of hard work led to an exciting, inspiring, powerful celebration of the resurrection. You’re walking on air after Easter, and the future seems bright.
The second, and arguably more common, is depression. Sometimes due to weekend results – fewer people attended or the program elements didn’t come together as you hoped. More common though is a sense of emptiness. You spent so much emotional, physical, and relational energy driving toward Easter, and then it happened, and it was great, and as you go to bed you’re left with the question: now what? What comes next? How do you lead your community? And do you have any strength left?
This is a common experience for many pastors, and it’s why one of my favorite biblical accounts is the story of Elijah after Mt. Carmel. After years of faithfulness, persecution, and waiting, Elijah participated in a triumphant victory for God’s people – fire literally fell from the sky – and immediately following that Elijah ...
...well, he got super depressed. He realized that Queen Jezebel was still in charge, that things in many ways still hadn’t changed, that the same tiring battle he’d fought for years was still going on. Does that feel familiar? If so, let’s look at a few lessons from this story, because it contains some great reminders for those of us in ministry when we’re feeling drained.
Sleep a lot and eat healthy foods
The first thing Elijah does when fleeing to the desert is sleep. God then wakes him up, feeds him, and then … tells him to sleep more. It reminds me of a friend of mine who once said – very seriously – that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.
So give yourself (or possibly your staff) permission to sleep in for a day (or two!). Or if you tend to be a night owl, go to bed earlier. Take a nap – they’re really great!
Also, after bingeing on all that Easter candy, get serious this week about eating healthy foods. I always tend to underestimate how much my diet affects my mood, so this week drink lots of water, eat lean meats, get lots of veggies and fruits.
You may be one of those people who naturally takes good care of themselves (good for you!), but for the rest of us, taking care of your physical body is worth the extra effort this week.
Get honest with God - and yourself
I love how right out of the gate Elijah tells God “Listen, I’m doing all this stuff, and it doesn’t seem to matter much. I’m all alone, and I’m tired of it.” Such raw honesty! And here’s the deal: it’s not like God was shocked Elijah felt this way. God already knew! What was important is that Elijah got real with God about it. Before God could move Elijah toward restoration, he needed Elijah to admit where he was.
So, where are you right now? Do you know? Are you bitter, tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, or depressed? Are you feeling vulnerable or inadequate? Do you feel like God isn’t coming through on his end of the deal? Whatever it is, make space for you to hash it out with him!
Be quiet and still
This next part is for the pastors who say they are great about taking care of themselves. If you’re the type who runs every morning, drinks a vegan kale smoothie on their ride to work while listening to an Andy Stanley leadership podcast, then eats a salad while standing for lunch? That’s all great!
But...how are you at being still?
When God brought Elijah up on the mountain, he showed Elijah all the things Elijah thought he wanted: mighty movements of God’s ferocious, world-shaking power. It’s almost like God was saying “yeah I know, Elijah. You want me to show up and wipe out your enemies and make everything perfect, but that’s not how I work. My main way of moving is in the still, quiet spaces where I capture people’s hearts with a whisper, with kindness, and with a gentle conviction.
When’s the last time you went somewhere quiet, and peaceful, and isolated, and did...nothing? When’s the last time you just sat in stillness, invited God to speak, and then listened? No reading. No podcasts. No productivity. Just being still, and knowing God is God.
Remember who God is
Because it’s in these quiet moments you remember why you’re in ministry in the first place. You’re working long hours for low pay, not for the glamour of it all, but because you’ve encountered a God whose yoke is easy, and whose burden is light. A God who is gentle with the tired and wounded and broken and depressed. A God who restores. A God who is good.
The best way to recover from your Easter exhaustion/burnout is to remember that God is good, not just in some general, cosmic way, but to you. He knows your name. He cares about you. You’re His kid. He delights in you. And He builds his kingdom, not you. All He wants from you is just faithfulness.
Remember the people you do ministry with
The last thing God does is circle back to Elijah’s original complaint - that nothing he does makes a difference and he’s all alone. God responds with “Actually, there are thousands of others living faithfully just like you, and I want you to meet one of them - a guy named Elisha.
Being a pastor, especially a lead pastor, is a lonely gig. But God has never called you to do it alone. Who are the people on your team who make you feel loved and supported? Who are the most encouraging people in your life? Who are the fellow pastors who understand what you’re going through? Who are the friends who make you feel alive and joyful?
The two lies Elijah believed after Mt. Carmel were 1) that the fate of the world lay on his shoulders and 2) that he was all alone. What God is doing in this story is slowly, gently unraveling both of these lies and giving Elijah the strength and tools he needs to keep serving faithfully.
And he wants to do that for you as well. Be encouraged. God is using you. He’s on the move. You’re not alone. He sees you, loves you, and cares about you.
You can do this.