Self-Care for Leaders Who are Barely Holding On


This is harder than I expected.

All of it. From the lockdown to this weird middle ground, to whatever’s coming next, the sense of constant uncertainty is wearing on me.

No, I’m not sick. And none of my loved ones are. For those of you who are sick or who are dealing with the illness or the death of a loved one, I cannot imagine your burden. But even for those of us who were simply asked to stay home, then walk through the phased steps to return to something close to normal, this is proving hard in some unexpected ways.

If you’re in a position of leadership, your feelings may be very confusing right now. Even erratic. After all, we’re used to knowing what to do. And we usually have a clear idea of how to help others know what to do. But not now. Even as I’m writing this book, I feel very unqualified to do so. Most days I feel more in need of comfort than qualified to give it.

Yet, at the same time as I’m working through my emotional issues, I feel a responsibility to lead. To help. To bless others. In fact, I don’t just feel that responsibility, I have that responsibility.

How do we lead others when each day feels like it runs past us in bits and pieces, and we’re barely able to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time?

Give yourself a break.

Slow down.

Don’t push.


Stay healthy first.

It’s okay if you don’t have the answers right now. None of us have clear answers at the moment.

But we know the one who does. So lean on Jesus. Lean on each other. And let yourself grieve, mourn, or just feel blahfor a while.

As I write this, we’re in the third month of lockdown, and we’re hearing there may be several months more of it in some form. So I have no idea where you (or I) will be when you read this. But here’s how I’m feeling at the moment:

In the middle of a lockdown, during a pandemic, it’s hard to remember what day it is. Without the usual markers, one day blends into the other in a confusing emotional haze. My sleep is off too. And with my sleep goes my ability to think and lead clearly.

You too? Yes, me too.

It’s hard to feel smart, brave, or faith-filled right now. Which means it’s hard to lead others right now. But what do you do when you’re in a position of leadership and you want to step up and lead, but you’re not feeling smart, brave, or filled with faith?

Years ago, I read a quote that has helped me in so many moments of low faith, energy, and courage. I wish I could remember who wrote or said it so I could credit them. But here’s my paraphrase of it:

When I’m feeling smart and brave, I write everything down. I don’t worry about details, grammar, or spelling. I just get it written down in list format. Then, when I’m not feeling smart or brave, I work the list. I edit the language. I schedule the meetings. In short, I do what I can. When I’m not feeling smart or brave, I work on the list I wrote when I was feeling smart and brave.

What does this look like in my own life? In this time of crisis, my moments of faith, courage, and insight are feeling fewer and fewer. So it matters more than ever that I don’t squander them.

For me, I feel at my smartest, bravest, and most faith-filled in the morning. As the day moves on, I wear down. So I use my mornings to their best advantage. I write then. I ponder, I pray, I create. As much as I can, I don’t schedule meetings for early mornings. I hold them later in the day.

As the day moves along and I feel less smart, creative, and faith-filled, I don’t just give up. I work the list. I go back and see what I wrote that morning, then I follow through with the necessary meetings, editing, and whatever else is needed to move those ideas forward.

We’re all in a similar place, to one degree or another. Our moments of faith, lucidity, and courage may be very rare. That makes them more valuable. Your highs and lows won’t be the same as mine, but we all have them. And if we understand and use them well, we can leverage those rare, precious moments of faith, courage, and creativity for the glory of God and the blessing of others.

If we use our creative moments well, we can give ourselves plenty of productive tasks to do, even during the low-energy times. Then we can truly lead others, because we’ll be allowing Jesus to lead us first.


Adapted from The Church Recovery Guide: How Your Congregation Can Adapt and Thrive After a Crisis by Karl Vaters (©2020). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.


KARL VATERS has been a small church pastor for thirty years, and is currently the teaching pastor at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California. He is author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches, and the Small Thinking that Divides Us and Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250. You can learn more about Karl at Karl and his wife, Shelley, have three kids (Veronica, Matt, and Phil) and one son-in-law (Sam).


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