By Ken Braddy
Merriam-Webster defines dysphoria as “a state of feeling very unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied.” Does this possibly describe the way you’re feeling these days?
For many Americans, it does. Today there’s dysphoria during and in the wake of COVID-19, and there’s a need for teacher-shepherds throughout our Sunday School ministries.
A few years ago I co-authored a booklet titled 3 Roles for Guiding Groups. One of the three roles group leaders have is Shepherd (the other two are Teacher and Leader). The Shepherding role has to do with the way a teacher goes about caring for the people in his or her group.
Today, because of the dysphoria that’s prevalent in our country, the church needs group leaders to take their shepherding role to a new level. Along with the privilege of teaching God’s Word is the equal privilege of caring for God’s sheep, His people.
The people in our Bible study groups are experiencing new kinds and levels of dysphoria. While our groups are still not meeting for the most part, this is the perfect time for teacher-shepherds to step up their ministry to group members.
Some groups are organized into care groups, and that time-honored way of organizing people can be a tremendous advantage in caring for your flock. People in our Bible study groups are experiencing four kinds of dysphoria, and we have an opportunity to help them.
1. People are experiencing career dysphoria.
Millions of Americans are without jobs because of COVID-19’s effects on the economy. Layoffs, furloughs, and reorganizations have placed many people on the list of the unemployed.
There’s a good chance someone in your group—certainly your church—has experienced this, or that they sometimes experience overwhelming feelings of despair as they anticipate it happening to them in the very near future.
These people need reassurance that God is their provider and that if they lose a job, He will continue to care for them as He always has.
2. People are experiencing relational dysphoria.
The Bible tells us we were made for relationships. “It is not good that the man is alone…” is said early on (Genesis 2). The seemingly never-ending social distancing guidelines have kept us away from family and friends for an extended period of time.
My wife’s father is in a care facility back in Dallas-Fort Worth, and she’s been unable to contact him for weeks. We used to take part in a Friday night supper club with 8-10 friends weekly, but that’s gone by the wayside. Our Sunday School group is meeting online, not in person.
And in addition to these things, I haven’t been around co-workers for 10-plus weeks. Relational dysphoria happens when our normal interactions are interrupted, and they absolutely have been.
People in our groups are experiencing very similar feelings of being disconnected to loved ones, co-workers, friends, and family. They need a teacher-shepherd to check on them, reassure them, and keep them connected to the group.
3. People are experiencing spiritual dysphoria.
If your church has begun having on-campus worship services again, you’re blessed. I’ve spoken with people in the northwest part of our country, and the picture isn’t so rosy out there. Many churches haven’t begun meeting, and there’s no thought of Bible study groups meeting yet.
Left to worship online, or to experience Bible study online through a tool like Zoom, churchgoers are experiencing spiritual dysphoria. And when we do come back to the campus, that’s not quite the fix for the problem. Why?
Because we’ve come back to our worship centers wearing masks, sitting on every-other pew, placing our offerings in a plate or a box (no more passing around items), and with a loss of handshakes and hugs for the time being.
And then there’s the ugly but documented trend that churchgoing Americans are choosing to attend less frequently. This doesn’t help them combat spiritual dysphoria nor relational dysphoria.
4. People are experiencing racial dysphoria.
As if we didn’t have enough to deal with right now, the tragic death/murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has elevated an ongoing issue about racial injustice. Riots, looting, and protests are now part of the national landscape as the country calls for much needed reforms.
To say that we have unrest, dissatisfaction, and uneasiness is an understatement. COVID-19 has almost disappeared from the national and local news in light of the new emphasis on race relations. People in our groups may experience anger, fear, frustration, and hopelessness as they view the road ahead.
All this to say, there’s great opportunity for teacher-shepherds to minister in new ways to their group members. We’re all experiencing some or all of the kinds of dysphoria mentioned above. How will you help your group members? Here are a few ideas:
- Call them. Even though you may not be able to meet in person, a phone call is still a great way to connect. They’ll appreciate the extra effort.
- Encourage them to talk openly and honestly as a group. Hearing that others are experiencing similar feelings of dysphoria can help group members realize they’re not alone in this.
- Pray for them. This goes without saying, but let your group members know you’re praying for them.
- Be vulnerable in front of them. To help your people open up, share your own anxieties and feelings, and ask them to pray for you. They may view you as a rock, but sometimes they need to be reminded that you’re human and a fellow pilgrim on a spiritual journey with them.
Even through most churches aren’t back to “normal” (and probably won’t be for some time), we have an opportunity to be used to deepen the faith of those in our spiritual care. Let’s not miss it.
KEN BRADDY (@kenbraddy) is the director of Sunday School at LifeWay and disciples a group of adults at his church in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including Breathing Life Into Sunday School. He blogs regularly about Sunday school and groups at kenbraddy.com (where this post first appeared) and is host of The Sunday School Guy podcast.