Many of my clergy friends tell me they are feeling more exhausted than ever.
Even before the pandemic made Digital Ministry a requirement, they felt the stress of being always on and available. Now, trying to learn new skills and put them into practice, all while pastoring a congregation that may not be able to meet in person, during an extremely chaotic time, clergy (and lay leaders, and other church staff), are just feeling buried with endless work.
When I became a Free Range Priest, way back in 2016 (it seems so long ago now…), one of my goals was to help reimagine ministry - especially ordained ministry - in terms of the tasks we are truly called to do, so we don’t end up doing everything.
Even in normal times, the model for congregational ministry has become ‘whatever needs to be done to support the building and congregation’ - from mowing the lawn to figuring out the budget to planning and executing programs. It’s hard to ‘stay in our lane’ in terms of ministry, because there is so much to do and fewer people and resources to get it done. There are reasons for this - namely, most congregations can only afford one clergy person’s salary (usually part-time), and maybe one or two very part-time staff, so more and more work falls to them. Congregations are stretched, and so are clergy.
It’s not sustainable.
Not before the unruly year of 2020 and all its challenges, and definitely not now. Even though I am a Digital Ministry evangelist, I get it: many clergy feel that this is one more (huge) thing to put on an already overflowing plate. It’s not just tech skills they don’t feel they have enough of - it’s time management and feeling overwhelmed.
My prescription is this: do less.
Yes, that’s easy for me to say! Yes, I know that your congregation is probably small, not very resourced, and its members are older and not generally all that interested in figuring out live streaming, Facebook, or Zoom.
But reimagining ministry in this new day is an extremely practical endeavor, and it starts with decisions we make - large and small - about what our ministry is, how we serve it, and with whom. So here’s 5 steps to help ease the burden of overwork, with the bonus of helping others claim their own discipleship and ministry.
1. Understand it's not your church
We know this- the church is the body of Christ, and following Jesus is our business. We actually don’t have to do much more than this. The church is also the work of all the people, and although we may be ordained and paid for our ministry, the less we do, the more room there is for others. It's really hard not to feel like it's all up to us, but we truly are in ministry partnership with those we serve.
Use this as your mantra if you need to: 'We're in this together.'
2. Trust the people you lead So many clergy tell me they are the only ones who know how, or have any interest in, setting up online worship, dealing with social media, or updating the website, and they don’t have the money to pay someone else to do it.
But do they know this, or assume it?
Pulling back from some of the work - even from making decisions about what it should be - may give space for someone else to express interest or ability, or to make suggestions or plans for Digital Ministry. It may be that no one has interest in being online, which is also ok. Maybe members have other ideas about how they want to stay in touch, worship and pray together.
Wondering out loud what we should do next, instead of just doing it, helps others find their voice and their vision.
3. Make ministry online and in-person
It can feel like our workload has doubled now that we are figuring out in-person and online worship, prayer, formation, etc. But it is possible to combine tasks so that they work on both platforms. Have a weekly video chat rather than a newsletter, for instance, and send the video link in an email. Record your Zoom Bible study and save it as a teaching series that you can share again. Live stream your sermon and then download the recording to add to Sunday's worship. There are many ways to combine Digital Ministry with what you are used to doing in person.
Consider making half your weekly tasks both in-person and online friendly.
4. Let go of things
One gift of this time of limited in-person gathering is it lets us prioritize what we are truly called to. This year, the Fall Festival may be cancelled, or done in a smaller way. That lets us discern whether it’s something that we still feel called to do, or maybe it can be done in another way (every other year?). There are lots of facets of our life together that have ‘always’ been done, but everything has a season. It may be time for some ministries to end, so others can be born.
If few have energy to do it, maybe it doesn't need to be done.
5. Ask for help
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to, or should. Let others in your congregation (and beyond!) know that you need assistance. Who wants to update the Facebook page? Anyone want to use their phone to live stream the worship? Someone surely knows how to edit video. Even if no members of your congregation have tech skills or the desire to learn them, maybe someone in their lives can give assistance. There are also lots of groups online to support clergy and other leaders in their Digital Ministry.
You are not alone! Christian community and tech community are all around you.
The bottom line is this: Digital Ministry, like all ministry, is about sharing Good News. If it’s making you anxious or overwhelmed, it may be time to think anew about what you are called to do, and what others are. Digital Ministry is ministry - which means learning to set up Zoom is part of sharing God’s love with others, just like putting flowers on the altar or practicing a hymn. Help others grow in their discipleship while you thrive in the parts of ministry you are called to - digitally and in person. It’s reimagining church in a more joyful way.
Free Range Priest can help.