How the EFCA’s North Central District is Advising Their Pastors to Self Care During the Stress of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The EFCA’s North Central District counseled and gave advice to their pastors on how to deal with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and engaging in self care. This post looks at the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of the pastor. 

“The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K. That’s when it’s about what you have in your core. You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside of you.  To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.” 

Rob de Castella

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6 NIV


This was emailed out to all EFCA churches in the North Central District of Minnesota on March 31, 2020. It was posted on the district blog the previous day of March 30. This deals with how EFCA pastors should prepare for the stress, strain and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. This explains well how an EFCA district communicates the need for pastors to take care of themself. A healthy organization in my view helps all people when its needed. Its proactive and thinks ahead and is working on what is coming next. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be stressful for many EFCA pastors. Technology problems, distance, concerns about people becoming sick and then how do you help them when they are contagious? This post looks at the COVID-19 crisis from the perspective of the pastor in the church. This blog which writes heavily about the EFCA wants to preserve this perspective in looking at the coronavirus pandemic from all sides. The post at the North Central blog is called, “Self-Care Reflections: This is Not a Sprint! This is a Marathon.”

Covid-19 has hit us like a freight train, knocking us off the tracks. In the last two weeks, ministry leaders have been scrambling and putting in long hours to try to shepherd scattered flocks and do ministry under new restrictions. But at what personal cost? 60, 70, 80-hour weeks are becoming the norm. Expectations, both internal and external, are increasing exponentially. But we need to remember, this is not a sprint where we pour it all out for two weeks and then it’s done. No, this is a marathon with no end in sight, so setting a sustainable pace is vital. To that end, here are a few things to keep in mind for the long haul:

Three Point Contact: In rock climbing, the climber needs to maintain three points of contact to stay fixed to the rock face. To keep our faith strong in uncertain times, we also need three-point contact to stay fixed to the Rock of Ages:

  • Time in Heartfelt Prayer
  • Time in Meditation on the Word
  • Time in Awareness of God’s Presence

Heartfelt prayer is transparent prayer, prayers of open honesty before the Throne of Grace (Heb. 4:16), with the emphasis on the word “Grace.” Meditation on the Word is both reading the Word and then sitting in quiet, listening so we can hear the Spirit’s still, small voice. It is digging into a passage and then letting it tunnel into our hearts. Time in awareness of God’s presence is awakening the mind to the works of God all around us every place, every day, learning to see the fingerprints of God’s hand-work (Ps 8:3), and slowing down long enough to enjoy them.

Lights on the Dashboard: Emotions can be an indicator of what is going on inside our heads and hearts. But we need to remember that emotions can be misleading. Fear and anxiety can leak out as anger, frustration, depression, or paralysis, none of which is the true issue. Getting to the core issue takes time, intentional emotional digging, solitude with God, honesty with self, and input from trusted friends or counselors. Emotion Verses: Joshua 1:9, Ps. 26:2, Pr. 27:17, Isa. 12:2, 41:10, 1 Cor. 16:13, Eph. 4:26, Phil 4:6-7

Rhythms and Routines: When our heart muscles start to beat out of sync because of stress or other health factors, doctors will do everything they can to get it back to “normal rhythm,” those regular, steady beats we need to live. We are creatures of rhythm, be it seasonal cycles, weekly patterns, or daily routines. When these get disrupted it can add to our stress. Our brains, too, are wired to seek patterns and routines, and when those routines are upset, the brain scrambles to find anchor points in our days. Even the simple act of “going to work” and “going home,” something that helps us compartmentalize, has been lost as we work from home offices. Striving to maintain rhythms and routines can provide a stabilizing factor in a shaky time. Daily devotions and quiet times, times of solitude, times of exercise, times of fun and casual interaction, and times of rest can serve as points of consistency in our days. These provide the positive inputs and positive outlets we need in stressful times.

Rest: This is a simple concept that often gets shoved aside in moments like this, but it is something that, if neglected, will come back to hurt. We are commanded to rest (Deut. 5:12-15), we are instructed to rest (Heb. 4:9-11), and we are invited to rest (Matt, 11:28-30), but we often choose to walk away from it (Isaiah 30:15). Why? Fear, pride, arrogance, and expectations are possibilities, but these often boil down to a lack of trust in God. Read the Isaiah passage again…slowly. Four key words jump off the page: Repentance, Rest, Quietness. Trust. These are connected for a reason.

One last thought. We need to remember that self-care is not selfish. It is life sustaining so we can be life giving. Four years ago, Jola and I spent three days at Mayo Clinic learning new ways to live and function with a chronic condition. One of the tools we received is the self-management chart below. We call it the “Wheel of Power,” because it helps us keep life going in a right and upright direction. This has lived on our refrigerator as a reminder for four years and, over time has become a way of life. But in recent days, we have needed a reminder to get back to some of these basic tools again. That is what we hope this article is, a reminded to get back to some basics.

If we can help you on this journey, just give us a call. These basics can help us all stay…

In Humble Service to the King and the Kingdom,

Kelley & Jola Johnson
NCD Pastoral Care