10 components of resilience in ministry as we face COVID19

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Following are 10 components of resilience with development strategies for times of adversity like COVID-19.    

What we are experiencing with COVID-19 and its implications for community life is not just higher stress, it is unusual adversity.  This requires more than simply up-scaling normal self-care practices.  Self-care is critical and remains needed, however in times of adversity a different capacity we refer to as resilience is required for the length of time the adversity impacts us.  

Reminding ourselves of our call to ministry and leadership
One of the primary elements of resilience is for a person to maintain a deep sense of identity and purpose when this is challenged by adversity.  For pastors, this is to hold to a clear sense of call.  Significant adversity may change external aspects of life and ministry, but the call to ‘be a servant of others’ holds a person steady.   The call is to trust in God and to partner with God in serving him, his kingdom and his people through ministry and leadership even though lots of the context for this might be in flux or under threat.     

This is a great time to reflect on and document the call to ministry.  Re-write this in a journal or personal charter.  Re-commit to responding to the call of God afresh in this current context. 

Share your call with someone you trust; a mentor, peer, retreat group member, supervisor and reflect with them about what it means to affirm this in the current situation. 

Leaning into a deeper relationship with God
Research indicates that resilience is significantly correlated with a maturing personal relationship with God in prayer, contemplation and the Word[1].  People of faith find meditation, reading Scripture and prayer deeply nurturing and a source of strength in the midst of unusual adversity.  Personal worship realigns the spirit and soul to the reality of God’s love and care[2]. Thanksgiving to God, even in the most difficult circumstances, is soul restoring.  Intercession and supplication bring the needs of others and our own concerns before God in an act of trust.

When adversity strikes, prayer and scripture, which are always essentials, become even more significant.  Increase commitment to time with God. Focus on tried spiritual disciplines that you know personally work for you to bring you into personal engagement with God.  To change the metaphor; adversity requires us to drop anchor, batten the hatches and ride out the storm.  We do this by going deeper into what we know and holding steady to it through the uncertainty. 

If you have a spiritual director, mentor or are part of a peer support group, become accountable around the time you spend with God in prayer.  Share your reflections, encouragements and challenges with your director, peer or mentor.  Increase the contact over this period – shorter catchups over the phone or online and more frequently.   

Share personal devotional insights appropriately with church members by phone, skype, zoom or email.  This is time for a different way of teaching and sharing; shorter, more personal, more often.    

Developing disciplined mental focus – mental self-control – mindfulness
One of the capacities resilient people is focus and disciplined thinking.  Adversity often unsettles thinking, creates confusion and causes mental disorder.  The ability to bring the mind under control through making choices about thinking is important in resilience.  Focus is related to mindfulness – the capacity to keep attention on the present, to appreciate and welcome the gifts of the moment in what we sense and feel.  It involves choosing good thoughts and putting aside poor or unhelpful ruminations on the past or anxieties about the future.  This is what Paul is referring to in Philippians 4:8, where he instructs the believers in the focus and content of their thoughts.  Learning to still our minds, to focus our thoughts and make good mental choices is critical in adversity.  All of these processes remind us that we are not the thoughts that enter our minds and that our will can learn to have mastery over thinking processes. 

Read and reflect on a good article about mindfulness[1] and journal some practical steps you can take to acquire or develop this skill and to learn mental focus.

Develop your own personal mind focus repertoire: passages of scripture, music, works of art, photographs, passages of good books, quotes, activities, reflections that meet the Philippians 4:8 criteria.  Use these intentionally to focus mentally when needed. 

Cultivate gratitude – the capacity to notice what is wonderful, good, whole, beautiful and awesome.  Practice seeing and giving thanks to God for these things.  Keep a gratitude journal and share your thoughts with others.  Again, remember gratitude is known to be correlated with resilience[2].   

Working on emotional self-awareness and regulation
Similarly, maintaining emotional self-control is vital in highly stressful situations.   Resilient people work out how to prevent their emotions from taking over their functioning and responses.  They take a deep breath, recognise and then take concrete steps to regulate their emotional reactions.  Emotions are energy and resilient people recognise that this energy can be applied creatively.  They learn the actions, practices or steps which steady their emotions and apply these. While mind and emotions interact, they are separate processes.  Our thinking impacts our feelings and our emotional states impact the way we reflect on issues.  Managing emotion well can also help our capacity to think.     

Develop your own emotional awareness and sensitivity.  Particularly in times of challenge, stress and change, take a moment several times a day to do an emotional check-in.  Ask “what am I feeling and how I am managing this feeling?”  Also do a quick social emotional check-in, “what are others who I am in close contact (isolated with me) with feeling and how are they managing their emotions?”

Develop a tried and practised repertoire of ways to regulate various emotions.  Have a plan of what to do when you feel you might be overcome by anger, fear, anxiety, stress, or sadness.  E.g. Physical exercise, hobbies, gardening, etc.   

There is an important difference between healthy and wholesome regulatory processes and unhelpful escapist strategies such as alcohol abuse, and some immersive ‘entertainment’ or ‘adrenaline’ options.  Some of these escapes are addictive and potentially damaging – choose healthy and wholesome options.

Cultivating a positive challenge orientation
Resilience can be developed by learning to see difficulty and adversity as challenges to be welcomed.  In every problem, there is a potential gift of new insight, learning and growth.  They are opportunities to discover more about the nature of the role, project or task that is under pressure. Adversity also provides unexpected personal insight. We learn more of ourselves. There are usually ways over, around or through problems when they are tackled with prayer, thought and commitment.  Resilient people have confidence that with God’s help and guidance obstacles and blockages in ministry and leadership can be faced and overcome.

Name each of the challenges and obstacles before God in prayer and seek wisdom in how to see and reflect on them in fresh and different ways.

Name three unexpected positives that have come from the current crisis and what can be gained in the long term from embracing these.

In adversity, bigger plans and objectives usually need to be broken down to short term achievable goals.  These are best planned day by day as situations sometimes change quickly and dramatically.  Set two or three challenging but realistic goals for each day and steadily work through them.  Remember normal capacities are often reduced in adversity as simply living takes more energy and fatigue is common. 

Adversity is a good time for creativity, adaption and innovation.  Are there new or different ways to respond to the issues that have arisen?    

Being clear on personal and ministry strengths, capacities and boundaries
The counter-balance that sits alongside positive hope and confidence is hard headed practical realism.  Realists have a clear sense of what is possible and could or should be tried and what actually cannot be achieved and should not be pursued.  The need for this clear thinking applies generally to any situation one faces and also individually to a person’s own role in the crisis.  Resilient people have a healthy sense of where their strengths are and they work to maximise these in a crisis.  They know what they can do competently and well, and also, when to draw on the strengths or assistance of others.  Resilient leaders have a good sense of how far they can go and do not overextend themselves, especially when the stakes are high.  E.g. If you are not a simmer, it is not the best move to attempt to rescue someone else by swimming, find another way.  Resilient people create appropriate boundaries and also maintain a margin that allows them to absorb unexpected extra stresses which are often present in critical situations.   

Realistic assessment requires intelligent analysis of a crisis and the capacity to gather and organise information so that wise but courageous choices can be made.  Are you accessing accurate, intelligent and reliable information on the adversity being faced? 

What strengths do you have which should to be leveraged in the current crisis?  Where is your most helpful contribution?  What things might it be best not to do and to encourage others to pick up?

In what areas of life, leadership and ministry do you need to create and maintain some margin so you can absorb unexpected demands?

Re-establishing structure, careful planning and implementation processes
Unsurprisingly, resilience is associated with the ability to establish structure, systematically plan and execute a course of action.  While this capacity tends to be associated with some personality traits, it can be learned.  A structured approach to problems is related to the elements of mental focus, confidence and realistic assessment.  Resilient people look at situations and understand which aspects are within their locus of control (i.e. they can do something about this aspect).  They then plan what to do, organise what they need and implement their plan to a schedule. 

What elements of the current crisis are within your locus of control and which elements are outside your control?  Take two elements over which you have some control, plan and implement some responsive action which makes a difference.

Adversity disrupts normal life.  Re-develop a daily and weekly routine that provides some structure to life in the midst of crisis and adversity. 

Training in some grit, determination and commitment
Resilience is obviously connected to good old-fashioned perseverance, endurance and gutsy grit.  This is the capacity to push on through, not give up and not lose heart when things don’t go quite right.  Resilient people are not side-tracked, distracted or lazy, they see a commitment through even though it costs some pain and sweat.  Physical fitness, adequate sleep and good nutrition all play important roles in the capacity for ‘grit’ along with the mental and emotional focus referred to above. 

Reflect on an important task which you have struggled to complete.  Identify the distractions or obstacles and deal with them clearly so that the task is completed on a schedule you set.  Reflect on what thinking and abilities help you persevere. 

Find an activity in which it is physically appropriate and safe to push yourself beyond your normal limits and extend your ability to persevere.  Do this regularly so you build capacity for ‘grit’ and determination. 

Keeping up with key supportive relationships
Problems shared are problems halved.  Adversity is always easier to face if there are supportive relationships in which people feel loved and cared for.  It is a Hollywood myth that resilient people tough it through alone.  One of the clearly established aspects of resilience is that people gain emotional support and valuable ideas from discussing and reflecting with others.  Resilient people seek support and are happy to be accountable to others. They have good friends, active mentors and understanding peers.  Resilience is also significantly increased by having a loving and caring spouse and family who listen, support and encourage when things are difficult.  

Family relationships are important in times of adversity and stress, but they often suffer under adversity rather than remain a source of support.  What are you doing to increase the practical and personal support you give and receive from spouse and family at present? 

Peers who understand your particular challenges in ministry are an important source of support.  Who are your peers and how can you engage with them in a two-way relationship at the moment? Is it time to increase the frequency of contact and enable this to be two way.     

Friends who just like and care for you, with whom you share a common interest outside ministry (and have no real idea or concern about what you do) are an important connection especially when ministry is under pressure.  How do you connect to some of these while everything is changing? 

If you have a mentor, spiritual director or supervisor, keeping up appointments via skype, zoom or phone is an important source of support while ministry and leadership are being redefined.  Have you arranged for your next appointment?  

Gathering a range of external resources
The capacity to access and marshal a wide range of external resources for assistance in times of adversity is part of resilience.  These may be finances, materials, supplies, advice or ideas.  There are many sources of information, resource, ideas and even support available via the internet.  Resilient leaders make the most of what is available and leverage these for assistance.  Denominational networks, Government agencies and other networks provide assistance and support in crises.  Learn where and how to access the information you need.  Tune in to the best of these and draw on the expertise of others.  Some pastors have found they are inundated with emails, offers of support and assistance, resources for all kinds of situations.  If you are inundated learn how to tune in to the best and jettison the rest.  If you lack access to resources talk with others about their favourite or most helpful hubs of information. 

List the most reliable and helpful resources and networks which you are a part of.  Create a ‘suppliers’ list of those who provide the most important assistance,

Take charge of working out when and how you will access what you need.  Don’t wait for things to appear in your social media feeds or email.  Become proactive by scheduling time to research and check your best resources. 

Are there key resources which you are struggling to find or access?  Ask for help from people you trust to point you in the right direction.

Tim Dyer

Developed from a range of resilience models and resources, revised 2020 for COVID-19 Pandemic.

[1] https://christiansimplicity.com/christian-mindfulness/

[2] https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude

[1] Southwick, S and Charney, D, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s greatest Challenges

[2] Think Paul and Silas singing in prison in Philippi (Acts 16)

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