Podcast Episode 004, 57 min
Decision Fatigue, with Ira Antoine, EP 004
Karl Vaters interviews Ira Antoine about Decision Fatigue. You know, that exhaustion you feel when there are Just. Too. Many. Decisions. To. Be. Made.

Ira Antoine: I think now, as best we can, is to start getting into a habit of taking care of our hearts. Taking care of our minds.

Karl Vaters: My guest today is Ira Antoine. And the topic today is decision fatigue. Yes, that exhaustion you feel when there are just too many decisions to be made and no one else to make them. Ira has been the pastor at Minnehulla Baptist Church in Goliad, Texas for 14 years. He is also the Director of Texas Baptists Bivocational Pastors Ministry.

In this conversation, Ira offers a lot of practical help for an issue that every leader will face during seasons of challenge, including asking: what is decision fatigue? Why are we facing it? And what can we do about it?

We recorded this in the middle of the pandemic so you’ll notice that some of the references are a little dated. But the issues that he brings up are evergreen no matter what kind of crisis or series of decisions we may be making in the pastorate. Don’t forget to stick around when the interview is done. I’ll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question “can this work in a small church?”

It is great to be with you or to have you with us today, Ira Antoine. You and I don’t really know each other, we’ve just seen each other through these little boxes on Zoom during the past year, because we’re both part of a ministry where small church pastors and those who work helping small church pastors meet every once in a while to discuss how can we do this better?

So, the last time we met, which was just a week or two ago, we were talking about all kinds of different subjects. And you brought up a subject and you said some things that I thought were so wise and so important about the subject that I thought, you know, this deserves a further conversation and the subject you brought up was—you called it decision fatigue.

Ira Antoine: Yes.

Karl Vaters: Can you tell us what decision fatigue is? Give us a quick outline of what it is so we can begin that conversation. I think it's so important for us.

Ira Antoine: Yeah, so decision fatigue for me over this last 10 months or 11 months almost now, we've had to make decisions on the fly. So, they change. So you make a decision about when are you going when you're going to start up again, or what are you going to do now in light of the pandemic, in light of the restrictions that you have. And as soon as you make that decision, something changed. Some guidelines changed, some new numbers came out and you have to make a change midstream.

So it could be Monday morning, you’re saying, “okay guys, we're going to do it this way.” By Wednesday things have changed, whatever the change is. So now you have to change. It is like calling audibles, all play all along., It's never like going in a huddle and just saying, we're gonna see, it's kinda like when you get to the line, you call an audible, if I could use that kind of metaphor, and it's just hard. It's just hard because you don't know what to do. So, on a Saturday, you’re kind of thinking Sunday's going to be like this, right? Because nothing changed Friday, but then they they changed something Saturday or Sunday morning. And so it becomes—when that's every week and, and three, four times a week—it's a fatigue. It's a constant strain on the mind and the heart, because you don't know, you don't know what to do.

So for instance, we were trying to plan out when we would reopen the church maybe in the summertime. So we took off April, May. We say, “let's try June.” Well, come end of May, June didn't seem like it could be a possibility.

So you push it a couple of weeks into June and then you have to push it a couple of weeks again. We didn't really start reopening until like September. At that point, you’re just fatigued. Your decision making process is fatigued.

Karl Vaters: So just like our bodies can get tired when we're constantly on the go and not getting enough rest, our brains can get fatigued as well. Because there's a big difference between the kinds of decisions that we're used to making—even as pastors, and even as people in leadership where we have a fairly high level of decision-making that, that, you know, affects people—when you've done it a few years, there's a certain pattern to the way we make decisions that become habitual and then take less energy.

Ira Antoine: That's right. It's like a rhythm. You get into a rhythm, you get into a rhythm. Right.

Karl Vaters: So if, you know, at the beginning first year or two in pastoring, every decision is exhausting because you're just not sure. And then you get it wrong. And so it changes, but after a handful of years in ministry, you kind of know how the decision-making process is going to go Sunday to Sunday, season by season, budget seasons coming up, Christmas season's coming up.

And so the first few times you do it, it's all front brain, learning curve exhaustion. Year five, year 10—a lot of that becomes automatic. And so now you only have to dedicate certain small parts of your decision making into thinking up new strategies, wondering, should we adapt this current thing in slight ways?

But now we get into this season. And it's been, you know, it’s been the better part of a year.By the time this podcast actually comes out, it may have been a full year or more of decisions that we didn't expect to be making on a regular basis. And once we make the decision, like you said, we make a decision that we hope to put out, that we would normally put in place for months at a time only to find out two days later, the state regulations have changed.

Or the medical situation has changed, or our ability to physically be in the building has changed in ways we never considered before. So all of a sudden we're going from 90% automatic decisions through habit and 10% conscious learning decisions to maybe as much as 50% or more brand new decisions that we never thought we'd have to make. And those are actually physically exhausting on the brain. It actually neurologically to our physical brain causes a greater expenditure of energy.

Ira Antoine: Yes. Exactly. Absolutely. You go to bed tired, you wake up tired. In the middle of the day, you're tired, you know?

Karl Vaters: I’m just glad it’s not just me.

Ira Antoine: It’s more than us, you know? Definitely.

And then for those of us who are, you know, In church situations where you're a small membership church, small staff, a lot of those things, really, you are the person, you are the point person. So you have to make all those decisions, you know, and we haven’t even talked, you know, you mentioned about changing the state regulations or guidelines changing in numbers. We hadn't even mentioned what happens if one or two staff members—volunteers that is—get sick. Now you've got another kind of thing. When you only have three praise leaders and two get COVID, what do you do?

Karl Vaters: And that's in addition to your pastoral concern for their wellbeing, which is a massive burden.

Ira Antoine: That's a burden. I, myself, I contracted the COVID recently. My wife and I are doing great, you know, we’re coming out of it, but again, you have that concern that man, did I hurt anybody? Did I affect anybody along the way? So now you have that concern.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, I'm thinking of the apostle Paul, when he talks about all of the, all of the difficult things that he endured for the sake of the gospel. And then he said, “even more so my concern for you.”

Ira Antoine: Yes, yes, yes. That's right. That's right. Exactly. Yeah. And then on top of that, the burden for you.

Karl Vaters: Exactly. Yeah. So we're under the decision fatigue, and then we have this crisis going on and people who we know and love are getting sick. And in some churches we've lost—I mean, in our church, I lost a dear friend. He passed away from COVID. And their illness and their loss weighs much more heavily on a pastor's heart than the decision fatigue.

But all of it together is an actual—fatigue is the right word because it is an actual expenditure of, of energy from our bodies and from our minds that is not made up. It's not just like, it's not like, oh, you're not strong enough to handle the emotion or whatever it is. It is exactly the same as working eight hours a day in an extremely physically demanding job and going home physically exhausted to make these kinds of decisions in this manner.

The mental and spiritual exhaustion is just as real, just as valid, and needs to be treated with the same level of concern and of care for reenergizing ourselves that we would, if we were exhausted physically, right?

Ira Antoine: Absolutely. You know, if it was a physical job per se, I could give my body rest. I could literally sit down, lay down. I could take some Tylenol or some kind of pain reliever and it's going to ease it. Right? But with the mind, at least my mind, it doesn't shut off. So, although I'm trying to relax and think about, or not think about, some things, it's constantly firing off these neutrons.

It's just constantly going and, and you know, other than it's sedating dating myself, which is the caution that we all have to take. Right? Because we don't want to, we don't want to be usually, you know, be it sleepy time tea or anything, that's not, you know, not of God in our bodies.

And, again, if it was a physical thing, you and I can take a nap or we can go sit down and rest a minute and, and we'll be good. But man, when it's the mind, it's constant.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Plus physical exhaustion doesn't have the stigma that mental and emotional expression carries. Like if I'm tired physically, I don't have a problem admitting to someone, man, I'm really feeling tired, but there's something about the mental and emotional exhaustion that we have a hard time admitting that. We feel like we're admitting to a sin or a weakness that we shouldn't have, that somehow there's something morally wrong with us if we, if we admit who spiritual and emotional exactly.

Ira Antoine: It's like this taboo, right? It's like we should not feel emotionally. And you know, and the truth is in our profession, Karl, that's what people say to us. Why are you tired? You didn't, you didn't, you didn't go work at a place today, 10 hours, you know, bailing hay or tossing any kind of–

No, but it's the, it is the mental anguish. You know, you think about it, it’s like when Paul said to Timothy, he says, you know what? Timothy you're stressing, man. He never mentioned Timothy's physical is issues. He says you're stressing to the point where it's like, it was probably an ulcer also kind of symptoms. Take the wine to kind of settle your stomach. Well, that's an emotional toll of ministry that caused the physiological issue. So, my mental fatigue causes my physical fatigue. I could easily say, man, I'm just wore out And when they say, why you wore out? What did you carry all day long? What blocks did you move around?

Just the block of my thoughts about you all day. And it has that, you know, it has that trickle down effect from the mind to the physiological.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, since this podcast is specifically targeting, helping, pastors of smaller congregations, let's talk about how this specifically takes a toll on the pastor of a smaller congregation. And I'm going to even guess a rural pastor more than an urban or suburban pastor for a couple of reasons.

But first of all, one of the reasons this is particularly important and difficult and needs a different approach for a smaller church: if you're in a larger church and you have a staff, as you mentioned earlier, and you have a staff, you just simply have more shoulders who can bear the burden you can get together. If you don't know about a decision, let's pull the team together and let's have a brainstorming session and let's bring people who have executive backgrounds and who are, you know, let's task you with keeping track of the, of the state regulations. And let's task you with keeping track of the medical regulations. And you can check in with the denomination and everybody brings all of their stuff together and you have —it's still challenging—but it is much less fatiguing on the primary leader when they've got other people who can bear some of that emotional and mental weight upon them, so it's shared. But in a smaller congregation, the pastor is dealing with it alone. In a rural congregation, what you just mentioned earlier about people going well, what are you so tired for, you didn't bail hail all day. I have never had one person in my congregation in Orange county, California tell me, why are you so tired? You didn't bail hay all day. Because I live in a predominantly white collar community where we’ve got a lot of graphic designers and so on around us, but there's nobody who knows how to nail two pieces of wood together in my congregation. We're just not blue collar; it's a white collar area. So they have more of an appreciation where I am for the mental fatigue, because that's what they're dealing with in their workplace to a larger degree. But a lot of people—farmers and ranchers and repair people who are doing this, this hard physical labor, and this extremely valuable, obviously, physical labor, it can sometimes be . . . there's a little more of an understanding gap between those who do physical labor and those who do mental labor.

So I know you're bi-vocational as well as working for a denomination. So you do, you, you kind of have, you have two ministry hats that are distinct and you work with a lot of smaller congregations.

So, what are some ways that you've seen that this particularly affects the smaller congregation pastor, and maybe even specifically the rural pastor? First of all, as a guy from Orange County, California, is what I stated about rural pastors somewhat in the ballpark of reality, or am I just missing it because I'm so distant?

Ira Antoine: No, I think you're right. To your point, you do have in those, in the rural context—and let me just say, you could also have that in your urban context as well—but specifically, you know, because the church that I serve is in a rural context and so you're going to have those blue collar workers, those laborers, and actually those professionals and white collar workers, but vast majority in those type of communities, you are going to have, the blue collar workers. And so, what they're facing and what they see again, this was pre-pandemic: how was your week? What did you do all week? You know, I prayed and I prepared for lessons and, oh, you know, as a bi-vocational pastor, I had many meetings with other pastors and it’s oh, so you didn't do much.

Yeah. So, when you asked, what did you do? And they're like, oh man, you know, I did the first a hundred acres Monday through Thursday and then I just did the back half or I worked at a particular refinery or something like that in our context now for those pastors, you know?

So they don't necessarily have those, all those staff runners. And the staff we do have maybe volunteer staff, who by the way are also working. They could be blue collar, white collar, or no collar. You know, the tech guy who sits at his house. There's the no collar guy like you guys in Orange County,

Karl Vaters: Or backwards collar.

Ira Antoine: Oh, I liked that one. Yeah. So, we have to lean upon those volunteers who themselves can have a pulse of the community, cause they're right there, which is an advantage. It's good because they are working alongside people and they can report back to me. The other side of that is that man, there arein no throes of it. They're just as tired. They're just as concerned. But at the end of the day it’s going to be on that single person, that single staff person to come in and say, okay, what are we going to do this week? How's this going to happen? Even if you had one or two people that you can lean on.

Karl Vaters: And now a short break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First forward this podcast to a friend. Second, consider becoming a Patreon partner. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need it the most. Our Patreon link is in the show notes.

Let's pivot then from—understand the concern. We understand that it is even more severe in a smaller congregation and often even a different type of challenge within a rural congregation. Let's talk about some of the solutions. What would be some of the things that you would recommend to smaller church pastors to do as we navigate our way through decision fatigue, and even as. Yyu know, hopefully very soon the pandemic comes to an end. I think once the pandemic is over, we're still gonna have a couple years of, decision-making that we've never had before, as we start to see some of the fallout from it. And as people start to go back to work or can't go back to work because their jobs don't exist or are dealing with just the emotional and mental strain that all of this has born in us.

I used the illustration when I wrote The Church Recovery Guide about this. I said, closing the church buildings and going into pandemic was like turning off a light switch. It happened almost immediately. Coming back will not be like flipping that light switch back on again. It's going to be more like going to physical therapy. We're going to have to learn to use the muscles that have atrophied, and we're going to find ourselves in a different sort of decision stress.

But as we do come out of that, what would be some of your thoughts and ideas for our fellow pastors to help maintain our physical and emotional health and balance as we're battling for decisions?

Ira Antoine: No, I think, I think you're right. It's definitely a light switch that went on, but it's going to be physical therapy over some seasons, over some time frame.

I think now is best we can, is to start getting into a habit of, you know, taking care of our hearts, taking care of our minds. Spiritual disciplines. I know that sounds cliche or just like a spiritual answer, but I think that's the answer.

I think the answer is going to be that you have to stay physically fit. You have to stay mentally fit, emotionally, all those things are going to have to be our imperatives and it must start now. We can't wait until—okay the pandemic is over. Cause I, I suspect, Karl here's what's going to happen. I suspect that we are going to have some folks who, after the pandemic, when you know, when this is just like when there's no restrictions and again, when that is going to be is in question.

You're going to have folks who are going to basically say, look, I'm out. I'm tapping out. I stayed the long haul. I wasn't going to quit in the middle of it ‘cause I would want to abandon anyone, but there are some who have, but now they're going to just be tired, man, because they not gonna know what to do.

So what's going to add on top of that fatigue is going to be, how do I keep or how do I get this congregation back? How do I get that again? That apathy you call it. So, now I'm having conversations with our, with our, with our church members every week in some way or another, I'm saying to them, listen, y'all, we cannot get comfortable being at home. We cannot get comfortable being at home. We gotta figure out, you know slowly, come back, numbers are up and down. That's fine, but, but do not get comfortable. So that's a constant encouragement on my part for the membership. I had one of my key leaders asked me, so pastor, how are you going to pull this church back together? What are you going to do?

And I'm gonna tell you, Karl, in the spirit of transparency, I went into depression just by that question.

Karl Vaters: That’s a heavy.

Ira Antoine: It was a heavy. I just kind of shut down for a day and a half, almost two days, literally. ‘Cause like, I don't know. So, and they didn't mean it in a malicious way. They were just asking, astor, what are you going to do? So you know that burden is on that leader. What are you going to do now? How are we going to get the people motivated again?

So I had to motivate myself, you know, I got to have conversations as iron sharpens iron. I got to have a conversation, you know, hey man, let me just talk through this. Or even, you know, even talk to some professionals. Listen, here's where I am.

Karl Vaters: I'm going to tell you right now, I've been to therapy. Not during this season, but during the season when I almost left ministry, was really burned out, all kinds of things. And I found a Christian counselor and I sat down with him and I paid him 75 bucks an hour and it was money we could not afford. But I couldn't afford not to. I had put myself in a situation where I didn't have close friends, that I could just sit down and talk to for free. So I had to pay somebody. Now I've got friends and I don't need to pay for things because I've actually developed friendships where I can actually sit down and just have healthy conversations with friends who understand enough about ministry, but have enough distance from my particular situation to give me some objectivity and so that I can be bluntly honest with them because I'm not betraying confidences. And most pastors—we're far too isolated in our relationships to be able to do that.

So we need to, first of all, I think a lot of us, we need to take a nap. We don't do Sabbath well. Pastors do not do Sabbath well. We do the worship part of Sabbath well. We don't do the rest part of Sabbath well,. I think it is just as dishonoring to Sabbath and to God. We get upset at people who rest on Sabbath, but don't worship on Sabbath, but we worship on Sabbath and don't rest on Sabbath. And that's just as dishonoring to God as the other way, worship and rest, both need to be a part of that. So we can't do it on a Sunday. Then we need to have a Sabbath that we take for rest. And if we don't do that, we're not honoring God or our own bodies, our own mental health or our families or anything.

So we need to rest. We need to understand that mental exhaustion affects, as you said, already, physical exhaustion. So we need to keep ourselves in physical shape. I put on my COVID-19. I'll confess it, you know, there've been times where, you know, right now, ice cream, just as going to make me feel good for a bit. And for a little bit, I need to feel ice cream good.

There comes a season where you're going to, at a certain point, it just becomes bad, bad, bad. So, we've got to take a nap. We've got to get up and we've got to move. You've already talked about already bringing people in besides you as a team in the congregation itself so that there are other shoulders for us to lean on, especially in small churches.

The question you had that, boy, that was such a heavy—too many small church, pastors respond to that question by just working hard. And they're already working at a hundred percent and you can't work harder than a hundred percent, no matter how guilty that question makes you feel. So you're going to have to recalibrate and figure, okay, if we're going to do this, we got to do it together. And we're going to have to start relying on a team. Even if that means we're gonna have to start putting a team together.

Ira Antoine: I totally agree. And so let me add other elements of that. Not only in a small church, But what about the, you know, the bivocational pastor? So, you know, we'd say take a Sabbath.So, you know, we work on Sunday. So let's say for instance, you use Thursday as your Sabbath day,. Justs pick a day. A bivocational pastor does not, he cannot, or she cannot, say “Thursday is going to be my Sabbath day.” Saturday may be their Sabbath. Saturday is also the day you catch up on all the yards, and the housework and time with family. So, you know, my heart goes out to those as a bivocational pastor, because you're trying to figure out what day, what day you really going to do sabbath? Because I tell people “I work on Sunday.” Sunday is a work day for me, even in a pandemic, even if I prerecord my sermon and put it out there. Guess what? I still have to monitor when it goes out and I'm interacting with people. So did I take off? Mot really. I recorded, I made sure it got put up, but I'm also interacting as though I would on a Sunday.

But to your point, we've gotta be able to get them in sync. And the family has to get involved in that. So for some of us, it may be where it's half of a Saturday is your Sabbath So you say to the family, “I need from six in the morning to two in the afternoon. And then I give the family the rest of the day.” Or you flip it. You pick one, but that's going to have to happen.

And you brought up a good point, Karl and that is friendships. Man, relationship. Finding those guys for us male pastors and female pastors finding those persons that you can surround yourself with a small number that you can share with and they can share with you. It's a safe place.

It's kinda like, you know, kinda those sayings what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? That’s what happens in this group. Back in early April 2020, I started a Zoom group of rural pastors. It's like eight of us. And every Monday we meet. It's like our fellowship time. There’s nothing deep and heavy. It’s how you're doing? How was your week? How was your weekend?

And we just share, you know, and how can we pray for each other? That has been a tremendous help throughout the pandemic. We’re all bivocational, small membership churches, we're in a rural context. So all that commonality helped us and it was organic. Now that was the other side of it.

It was organic. So it was a few of us just saying, hey man, let’s just start chatting on Monday night. And before, you know, it's like it's a standing meeting, but it was organic. It wasn't something that you just force. But it has been helpful. I've heard from those guys a number of times saying, “man, I needed this.”

And here’s the deal I mean, I've been in ministry over 30 years. Another guy has been in ministry or a couple of guys, like one other guy, 30 years. We have one young man, he’s just barely made it to his thirties. And, so we've been in ministry longer than you've been living, but he's new to pastorate though. This is like his fifth year. And he said, “I needed this. I needed to see guys who have been in ministry for 30 years saying, ‘I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do.’” He said, “that was refreshing for me”. And we said, “well, you know, technology, we don't know that. You’re a millennial, so we need you to give us all your…” So it's been helpful, but to your point, we need to have those friendships. Those groups around you, man. It helps.

Karl Vaters: It helps a whole lot. I always want to find, even in a difficult situation, I want to find somethin, I can learn. Some value that I can take from it. So even in this horrible time of pandemic and all of the difficulties of it, if we come out of it and we don't take something of value out of it, then it's all a loss.

And it seems to me that one of the things we can take out of it is what you just mentioned before the pandemic began. I'd never heard of Zoom. We had Skype and for some reason it fell off the face of the earth and all of a sudden it's Zoom. But if this pandemic had hit even five years ago, we would not have been able to do what you and I are doing right now, which is a video conference for free. That was not available, not widely enough for us to utilize in our churches and among pastors, even five years ago. Now, we have that technology. It has been hyper sped up in its advancement because of the pandemic, which now means for the first time ever rural pastors who would say, “I don't have any other pastors nearby me. How can I have relationships with other pastors? I'm by myself, out in this little town disconnected from other towns.” And that is a very real sense of isolation that I do not diminish at all, but right now we have an opportunity to connect with other people electronically that don't have to be physically near us.

So when we are able to be physically near each other, if you're in an area where you’ve got local pastors—physically get together. There's an aspect of that that cannot be duplicated online. But if you are in a place of isolation, continue to utilize the technology that allows you to create and maintain relationships with other pastors who don't have to physically geographically be near you anymore because we have the technology to do it.

Don't abandon that technology after this is done and go back to your self-geographical isolation because it isn't necessary anymore. And I'm not saying that in any way to challenge, but to encourage the rural pastor, you don't have to feel as alone as you felt anymore. Let's use the technology to make those connections.

Ira Antoine: I totally agree. I think we have to take advantage of the pandemic and learn from it. And, and, and, and that was one of the things that I learned, what you just said, that it made the world smaller and more accessible, you know? Because I'll say to you not only from a rural connection of those guys every Monday or how you and I are meeting now across the country, but globally speaking it’s the same thing where, where I've conducted trainings for pastors in Africa and in Mexico via Zoom. Didn't cost, you know? But stay with that connection, those persons in those remote villages in Africa that I would visit with in person a couple of years ago, we met by Zoom.

Now they have some challenges of their own. I got that, but here's the questions they’re asking. They're saying, how do we continue this? Okay. Zoom is here to stay now. It's not going to go away. We got it. Something may be improved on it, but we've got it. And so it's, it's really shrunk the world. I mean, it's made us more accessible.

And I totally agree, once this is over, I think our Zoom calls on Mondays, we'll probably continue. My prayer is that others can start, but here's what's going to happen when we are able to meet. We will say something like this. “Hey guys this month has a fifth Sunday, in it. What are you guys doing the Saturday before? Is there any way that we can meet and have dinner together and break bread?”

Four times a year you can bring those folks together if nothing else, just like that. Just say we don't have to just do Zoom, but now we've incorporated our families in there and so forth.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, that's great. And another, you know, silver lining to the difficulty is not only technologically, are we able to do the video conference, but now we have developed an emotional . . . we're emotionally okay with it. A couple of years ago, if somebody had said to me, “Hey, we'd like you to do a video conference seminar for us.” There would've been, there would have been a whole lot of people that said, “well, it's not a real seminar if it'a s video conference, it's only a real seminar. if you're physically in the room.” We now recognize, no, it's a real seminar.

Yeah, we'd prefer to be in the room, but being via Zoom does not make it not real and it’s the same way with personal connection. Yes, it would be better to physically be in the room, but there is now an emotional acceptance of this that allows for relationships that could not have happened before the pandemic forced us to realize we can make these connections.

We can overcome the technological difficulties and we can actually get to know people through these strange little screens. So, let's use the fact that one, the technology has advanced, and two, there's an emotional acceptance of it to actually utilize it to develop the relationships that we need.

Ira Antoine: I like that term emotional acceptance. You know, pre-COVID, you had guys who were saying, “I'm not going to do a Facebook live. I'm not going to use social media for ministry.” And now they're the guys calling me going, “Ira, dude what’s the convention recommendation? And do I have any kind of special deals?” I say, “yeah, everybody gets a deal. It’s free. You just get you an account, dude.”

But I love it. It's an emotional acceptance and that's where it is now. Some of our memories haven’t grasped that emotional acceptance, especially when it comes to small membership churches in the rural community, because it's all about relationship. It's all about touching and feeling. And I say to you, some of the pastors that I talk to in the rural context, that's some of the feedback or the pushback, let me use that phrase, that they're getting from some of their members, especially those that are in the boomer age group.

You know, they're like, “look, pastor, I got you, man. Um, I understand we can't meet, but I'm not logging in. I'm just, I'm not feeling it. And can you just have a service and just have doors in the room, you know?” And the pastors like, no, we all have underlying issues guys. I mean, c’mon!

So we as leaders, church leaders, yes, we've got that emotional acceptance. But we do recognize that some of our members still do not have that emotional acceptance there. And again, that's what that question from my church member was to me, my key leader said, “pastor, what are you going to do? Because you know, some of those folks are just not…”

And these are faithful members, Karl. These folks love the Lord. They loved the ministry. They love their local church. They're going to give to it. So now you ask the question, what’s the pastor going to do? Getting ready. I got to get those folks back in and comfortable into the building while I maintain us while I maintain a virtual presence.

And those in those small communities they’ll be like, so you still doing that Facebook? We're back! and I'm like, yeah, but we built an audience now. And so now that pastor in the small church is going to go, I got to have the camera running. And I got to make sure that sister Mary gets her whole worship time because she doesn't want an abbreviated Facebook version of this thing.

Karl Vaters: There we go. Yeah. Especially in the smaller membership church and especially in the rural church and especially in the older membership church. And as many of those, as many of those three things that you have piled up, the more we are going to have to exercise patience with those who simply aren't—many of them will never be emotionally ready to accept this as a part of the way they do church. And that's okay. Not everybody's going to get to that place. So we can't dismiss them. We have to serve them, but we can't also allow their lack of emotional acceptance to limit the fact that we're going to continue to move forward. So, patience while adapting to the new stuff as well.

And that's—talk about exhaustion right there. That's an exhausting, emotional thing, to be able to do all of those things at the same time, be patient with the senior saint who doesn't want to be online while leaning more to the online things so that people see us and hear us and can come in. And so that I can even make the connections that I need to make with other pastors.

So all of that is challenging, but all of that is doable if we continue to take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, as we're doing it, but the smaller the church, the more important it is for us to take care of our own spirits and hearts and emotions and bodies.

Ira Antoine: Totally agree. Absolutely.

Karl Vaters: Well, this is great. We can go on with this forever. There's good stuff here, but I got a lightning round series that I want to get to with you, Ira. Let's see here. First of all, what do you like most about small church minutes?

Ira Antoine: It's the family connection.

It's the sense of everyone really knows everybody. And it really is just one large family, you know, at least at my congregation in particular, it's just, it's a family oriented kind of thing. And it really makes you have to do the Ephesians 4, 4:11, you know, equip the saints for works of service.

So you can't just, you know, you can't put it off on a staff. You've gotta help him work together. So it’s the family in the small church. It's the family.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Wonderful. What are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years? And how have you adapted?

Ira Antoine: Some of the biggest things have been just a change in—it’s generational changes. So, and what I mean by that is where, you know, we talk about the subjective and objective truth and, and folks are just saying, you know, well, you just took things for granted. I mean, you just accepted it as true. Well, that was 30 years ago when I started, that was 20 years ago. Last 10 years or so you're seeing this shift, this we're going to call it a post-modern, and I've seen our membership adapted, you know, our younger, our young adults are like, wait a minute. I heard you say that, but you know, I need some, I’m not going to just accept it as such, which makes me have to make sure that when I'm sharing and teaching and preaching, I've gotta hit both one who will accept it just because the pastor said it and another who says, “yeah, you said it did, but you are one of my references, you’re not even one of my authorities, you’re one of my references.”

I'm an authority to one group. I'm the authority. To another group, I'm a reference. You know and so that's been a change within ministry, and I'll say this, especially in an African-American context—I mean, in case you didn't notice that's what I was, that's what I am. The lighting is a little off. But, for the black church, you know, the pastor is the point man. He's the resident theologian. That's it.

Now we get into a generation now where it’s like pastor I heard other people say this. Or, I learned on...and their sources are, again, on the internet. Or the YouTube teachers and preachers. And I'm having to adjust to that.

That's been one of the greatest adaptions or changes that I've seen, and challenges.

Karl Vaters: That's great insight—that the different generations processes what you say through two different filters, one as an authority and one as just another reference point. That's a huge takeaway. Thank you for that. I love that.

Third one, what free resource, like an app or a website or something like that, has helped you lately that you would recommend for small church ministry?

Ira Antoine: So I use this, this software called StreamYard. What it does is it helps me get stuff out on Facebook and on YouTube at the same time. There's a free component to it. But I went on ahead and I got the page because I wanted to be able to do multiple things.

But things like that, you know, those are the resources. And then, you know, I mean, this is a shameless plug, you know, but your materials,, the things that you put out, have been helpful and others, you know, that you can just kind of—it's out there now. So I don't think it's this one thing in particular.

Our conventions, Texas Baptists, have free materials that I can go and I could pick up and I could share with our membership. One that helps me, but the other one is I can give it to the membership and say, “listen, I need you guys to be reading this. You an intellectual level that you can grasp this, it’s written and designed, you know, for a broad band of intellect. So I don't have to be a scholar to read it.”

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Great. I appreciate that. So, StreamYard.com. And so what it does is it takes you, like what we're doing now a video conference or whatever on StreamYard. And it makes it easy to send it to YouTube, to Facebook, to Instagram or whatever too, is that what it does? It kind of curates that and it makes it easier to send and share another place.

Ira Antoine: Right. So, basically, I create a broadcast. So I would say for instance, like my Bible studies, I would send it out and I would set up, basically a broadcast. It will send it to YouTube and to Facebook and say at this time, at 6:30 on Wednesday, Pastor Antoine is going to be sharing in Bible study and it automatically puts it, so I don't have to learn any kind of coding. So as a single staff pastor, I could do that myself. I don't have people, my technology team, to put that off on.

So so that's one of the things that I felt a shift with some more small membership church pastors, get StreamYard, you could pay for it to be expanded, but, but a lot of it is free. And I can even invite a guest. Or, like if they're having it on Zoom, I can invite a guest on and we can have a split screen just like Zoom and has just little nuances to it. But again, it's easy to use. It's a self learning kind of thing. So I don't have a stack of manuals or anything like that. There's no learning curve.

Karl Vaters: Awesome. I'll take a look at that myself

What's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received. Or a top 10, it's hard to pick.

Ira Antoine: So I think as of late . . . That's a lot.Wow.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. What would be a recent one?

Ira Antoine: So I was going to give you something one of my mentors gave me when I was young to minister.

Karl Vaters: That’s good!

Ira Antoine: Okay. So when I first started in ministry, first started in pastoring, the late Dr. Caesar Clark. He was the pastor at the Good Street Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, you look him up, he's just a legend among African-American pastors. So this was back when he was in his eighties, you know? And I said, “Pastor, any advice that you can give to a young pastor?”

And he said, “yes.” And he talked very slow and methodical. He says, “don't fleece the sheep. Don’t fuss with the sheep. Don’t fool with the sheep. And don’t flog the sheep.” He says, if you cut them, if you shear them one week, you can't go to the next week and do it again.

The wool is not there. You're gonna cut into skin. And so. He said to me, “there’s times when you're going to have to bring a hard word, it's going to be uncomfortable, but you can't do that every week to the sheep. They cannot bear it,” he said, and I took that.

You know, one of my mentors, Pastor George Brook, retired, pastor emeritus of the Mount Zion Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, he said to me, he said, “Antoine, humility is good. Humility and nobility is good,” he said, “but don't be stupid.”

He said, “at one point in my first pastorate, finances had gotten low. And I just told them, ‘don't worry about giving me a salary.’ Don’t pay me.’” He says, “yeah, those first couple of weeks, that's noble. Weeks four through 10, that’s stupidity dude.”

And you need mentors like that, right? He says, “nobility is good. Nobility is good, but there's a thin line between nobility and stupidity. And you got to figure out where that line is. And he said, you know, “rally those men of your church and let them know what's going on. This is as noble thing that you’re keeping it to yourself, but some of those men don’t even know that you're doing that. You're doing it in private and they need to know it. And I tell you, I pull some men together. I share this, they ‘pastor. We didn't know.’ And they, they caught up all of my back pay and they made sure that we were good.”

And then as of recent man, it would be, it would be this. And you said it earlier: rest. Really rest. It’s Mark 6 you know, come apart and rest awhile. To the point where I conduct conferences, for pastors and their wives, I call them a Mark 6 conference when you come apart for the weekend. And you just rest. No training, no sales pitch, no denominational hype man or nothing. Just have dinner at a local restaurant. Go to the movie. Y'all rest. Go sit by the pool.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, I heard an old pastor a few years ago, referring to that specific verse, say “come apart and rest or you'll fall apart without rest.”

Ira Antoine: I love that. I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. All right. Last one.

What's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

Ira Antoine: So, again, it goes back to my heritage. So you know, in the black Baptist church, you know, some of those sisters can get real fiery, man. We had a revivalist one time. And man, he was going after it. This guy was preaching the paint off the walls.

And this one senior saint got real happy. And she grabbed her purse and, and that's, that's in the days where they had those large, heavy purses man, and she's, she's getting ready to chuck it at the guy, right? And he goes, “whoa, sister!” And someone had to catch the purse in mid air and put it back. ‘Cause she was throwing it. And so, the next night of revival, they made sure that she didn't bring a purse to the sanctuary.

That's a true story. I can't make this kind of stuff up. It's amazing. So yeah, I said, well, purses!

Karl Vaters: A purse as a deadly weapon.

Ira Antoine: It wasn't a gun in the purse they were afraid of, she was just throwing it and she just ran and they caught it in and, yeah, it was in one of those small churches.

Karl Vaters: Oh, that's great. Hey, thanks for your time today. I really appreciate your wisdom and your heart for pastors very, very much. Thanks.

Ira Antoine: Good to see you, man.

Karl Vaters: Thanks so much to Ira Antoine for such great wisdom and helping us understand what decision fatigue is, why it's important to acknowledge it, how it affects our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our relationships, and how to deal with it properly.

So the question in the title, can this work in a small church? Can a small church pastor overcome decision fatigue? The answer today is yes, if we do these four things. First of all, we have to recognize that we're dealing with it. You can't address something when you don't know what you're dealing with. Secondly, we have to find regular ways to rest and to re-energize, especially through the spiritual disciplines and especially through the specific spiritual discipline of Sabbath.

Third, we have to de-stigmatize the reality of spiritual and emotional exhaustion. It's not wrong. It's not sinful. It's not weak to be tired emotionally, spiritually, and physically. And then fourth, we have to reach out and talk to people that we trust, even if it's through a Zoom meeting, even if it's electronically, but especially if we can get into the same room with people we love and we can trust and we can pour our hearts out to.

We have to do that.

Well, if you'd like to become a Patreon and partner for as little as $3 a month and help put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need it the most, check out our Patreon link in the show notes. And would you like a transcript of this episode? It will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at Christianitytoday.com/Karl-Vaters.

You can find that link in the show notes. This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver and edited by Jack Wilkins. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of JackWilkinsMusic.com. The podcast logo was made by Solomon Joy at joyetic.com. And me? I'm Karl Vaters, and I’m a small church pastor.

Pivot is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

July 15, 2021

Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Recent Posts

Read More from Karl

Follow Christianity Today

Free Newsletters