A pastor's life is filled with both ups and downs. Sundays can be either. Good attendance, a message well-received and positive people can make it an up day. Low attendance, poor offerings and critical people can make it a down day. However, in my 30-plus years of ministry, whether Sunday is up or down, I've found that most of us pastors often face the Monday morning blues.
What can we do about them? Here are six suggestions I've learned through the crucible of church life.
1. Remind yourself that one down Sunday does not determine destiny. Sometimes my sermon is barely a bunt. Sometimes it seems the harder I preach, the more people's eyes glaze over. Sometimes everybody decides to take their kids to Six Flags on the same Sunday and attendance tanks. Stuff happens. But I've discovered that when I take the long view of ministry, those down Sundays don't loom as large.
2. Refuse to second guess. Sometimes I'm tempted to dwell on how I could have organized my sermon to make it better. Or I wish I had not preached so long. Or I wish I had responded more tactfully to a critic. Potentially, I could rehash the entire day and beat myself up for what might have been. But I've learned that second guessing in that way seldom solves anything. Yet there is value in a healthy review, which leads to my next suggestion.
3. Develop a learning mindset. I've tried to create a learning environment at our church. I encourage staff and volunteers to learn at every turn. If something doesn't go well or fails, I ask the person involved, "What did you learn?" It's just as helpful for us to ask ourselves that same question. Objectively reviewing a Sunday service will yield good learnings. But the purpose is key. Review, not to focus on what went wrong, to then ruminate and regret. Rather, state what went wrong and ask yourself what you can learn from it to make things better next time.
4. Realize it's normal to feel a bit out of sorts. Sundays are usually stress-filled days, and our body turns up the stress hormone cortisol and the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is involved in reward and motivation. Usually Mondays don't offer as much stimulation, so your body is adjusting back to normal levels of these chemicals. As a result, you may feel a bit blue and unmotivated. There's probably nothing wrong with you. Give yourself a day and you'll feel back to normal.
5. Never forget that feelings and thoughts don't really mirror reality. When we feel down and discouraged, it's easier to believe our feelings and the commentary we add to them. I'm a ... I just can't ... I'll never ... Our church will never ... Stepping outside our thought stream and reminding ourselves that our feelings are not reality is easy to do, but hard to remember to do. Yet, so very necessary to keep a healthy emotional life. The next suggestion has helped me do this.
6. Think about what you are thinking about. The term for this skill is called metacognition. In other words, pay attention to your inner chatter that goes on when you daydream and think about what happened on Sunday. Neuroscientists tell us that we have five times more negative networks in our brains than positive ones, so we naturally dwell on the negative. Because of this, they've discovered that a wandering mind tends to make us unhappy. So during the day when you feel blue, periodically listen in to your silent, mental commentary and change it when it turns negative.
As I'm well into my second half of life, I'm realizing that managing the Monday morning blues actually gets easier. Perhaps it's because after so many years of mishandling them, I've finally learning how to deal with them. Perhaps it's because I'm more able to keep a big picture perspective. Perhaps it's simply a result of growing wiser. Whatever the reason, I imagine the same will hold true for you, no matter what stage of ministry you're in.
Remember these words from the writer of Hebrews: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus."
What has helped you deal with the Monday morning blues?