Have you ever had a “Holy Hangover?” “What is it?” you ask? Well, it’s a numb euphoria mixed with exhaustion and shepherding stress.
For years, as a senior pastor, I used to hate Easter. Part of it was because every year our church would experience record lows in attendance on Easter – partly because 70% of our church was under 34 years old. And because they weren’t the “matriarch or patriarch,” they’d all run off to Mom or Dad’s church… & post their family pics from the “church photo booth” down the street. So when all my friends were tweeting out their record numbers, we’d be scratching our heads in defeat.
But keep in mind… a lot of pastors post numbers that are totally inflated (and if you want a good cynical laugh, see footnote 1 below).1
Of course, our Easter numbers are completely different now. We now have become a “holiday destination church” over the years. And, yes, we’re NOW breaking records each year. However, (1). I don’t post them on social media; & (2). If I could be really vulnerable… these numbers don’t actually “fulfill me” anymore. And honestly, they’ve never actually fulfilled me.
For example, I remember about eight years ago, when we first broke 5000 at a holiday service. It was fun. But within a short time all I could think about was: How can we break that on a normal Sunday? Or, I remember when my first book Pharisectomy hit an Amazon best-seller list, you think I would’ve just stopped and celebrated for a good year. But, all I could think about is… how can I get the message out more?
“WHAT?!” You say. “How can those numbers not move you!?” YES, I love seeing lost people find Jesus; and YES, success always brings a brief boost to my mood. But despite these wins, guess what: “[my] soul finds rest in God alone” (Psm 62:1). And yours does too! God never intended our ministry accomplishments to fill us (which is why we’re always panting after the next level 🙂
Having preached over 19 Easter Sundays in two different senior pastorates, allow me to describe my typical week following Easter: Once the adrenaline wears off, there’s a tidal wave of questions that follow: “What do these numbers mean?” And some years you’ll ask: “Did our growth gimmick just temporarily suck a bunch of transfers out of ANOTHER church?” And other years you’ll ask: “Did the other churches’ gimmicks just temporarily suck a bunch of transfers out of OUR church?” (If you pastor long enough, it will go both ways 🙂
The NEXT question: Will any of these people even show up next week? The NEXT question: Are we even remotely prepared to handle any of these people? (Usually not 🙂 Then the NEXT question: When am I going to solve my leadership pipeline problems? The NEXT question: “God, why don’t I have better resources / staff / [fill-in-the-blank]!?” (And that last question is usually more of a whiney exclamation than a real question.)
So, dearest pastor / leader / random-weird-person who’s interested in pastoral mindsets… allow me to give you some advice:
(1). Shut up and Rest: Never analyze your church the week after Easter. If you continue to break the Sabbath commandment, you will soon break the other nine. Pastors that get addicted to holiday-highs usually get addicted to other silly things.
(2). Don’t Compare Your Numbers with other Churches: You’ll either over-inflate your successes or cheapen your victories – neither of which are good for you. Besides, we all tend to compare numbers without comparing back-stories. Substance’s greatest growth years often happened during the years when our holiday numbers were low. And our plateau years, ironically, often immediately followed our “record-setting” service years. So, really, if you’re trying to derive a lot of meaning from your Easter numbers, once again, refer to point #1. Shut up and Rest.
(3). Savor “the One” Story: Every Easter you’ll have that “one person” who turned their life around. It’s easy to forget: that person is someone’s sister / brother / mom or dad. As a pastor, I believe that gratitude is God’s favorite form of worship after Easter. So, ponder this: “Those who lead many to righteousness [will shine] like the stars forever” (Dan. 12:2).
And let’s pray this out together: “Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your great end-time harvest. Every weekend that we get to serve you is a treasure. And it’s amazing that you’d reward us for this! So as we rest, fill us with a renewed sense of hope and encouragement. We love you.” Amen?
Footnote 1: How pastor exaggerate their numbers: (Step One). Have all of your kids workers do a super hard-sell for salvation. Then count all of these “kid-decisions” into your total. Then you ALWAYS look like you had huge numbers. (Which, by the way, we never include kid-decisions… only adult decisions); (Step Two). To inflate your numbers, add all of your Good Friday Service attendance numbers to your Easter Sunday numbers (even though a huge number of these people are duplicates); (Step 3). When you add extra services for Easter, count all of your volunteers and repeat attendees in the total (i.e., you have a huge number of hardcore people who’ve attended two, sometimes 4 services). (Step 4). When you give your salvation call… have people simply raise their hands and count them. If you force people to fill out a card, or even more… do a text-number for salvation, it will decrease the number.
Now, obviously… I’m joking about the four steps above. We don’t do ANY of these things. And we certainly don’t publish our numbers online. YES, it’s O.K. to celebrate wins with your volunteers. But, I try to do that in ways that avoid social media.