I don’t remember where I first saw the term or where I heard it, but it resonated with me the first time I came across it: Decision Fatigue. Decision Fatigue is a condition leaders of all sorts have had to face over the last couple of years. It is not a new condition. Leaders in combat have to make to decisions constantly often at the cost of lives. That’s not where we are at, but for leaders outside of the armed forces and perhaps in some cases Law Enforcement making constant decisions about fluid situations is challenging and novel in many ways. This is especially true in the church. My predecessors in the pastorate often served for a long time in stable parishes that changed little from year to year in how operations and mission were carried out. We now find ourselves in an environment where leaders in the church are called upon to make all sorts of decisions that will inevitably make this group or that group angry or upset. Consequently, most churches in America have experienced a loss and gain of members. We may call it the great “reshuffle” of members. With each decision the church has had to make, there will be “blowback” and departure.
As troubling as “Decision Fatigue” has been on the church and its leaders another aspect of life for pastors in 2021 and 22 is simply physical and spiritual exhaustion. In the second half of 2020 and leading into 2021 pastors (especially in smaller churches which are the majority of churches in America) were forced to take on all sorts of new duties due to the fact that there was great uncertainty about who would be present and who would not be in church. Moreover, with the “great reshuffle” there were departures that left roles and duties unfilled. It fell to pastors (especially in small churches) to take up those positions in order to keep things moving forward. In addition to that, new roles began to emerge such as technology management (with streaming, audio and video technology) and even increased visitation of members because there was reluctance by many to go out and visit. With all of that considered it was not surprising that in the fall of 2021 Barna released a survey that indicated that 38% of all pastors were considering leaving the ministry and in the “oldline” churches (of which the ELCA is a part) 51% of pastors considered leaving the ministry.
Going forward it will be imperative for the church to gather together and to be intentional about building relationships. We are the body of Christ and we are bound to one another in Christ. We are not a loose gathering of pals. If you want that go join a civic club. In 2022 we must see ourselves as akin to a military unit in a fight. We are called upon to have each other’s backs. To look out for one another. When one person falls, we help them up. When one person fails, we deliver forgiveness in the name of Christ who has forgiven us. St. Paul gives us a picture of this in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31. This is what we are called to. We are the church of Jesus Christ. Together “Let us be on our way...” and leave behind the “Decision Fatigue” and the exhaustion to find our common rest in Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God.