Merriam-Webster defines dysphoria as “a state of feeling very unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied.” Does this possibly describe the way you are feeling these days? For many Americans, it does. Today there is dysphoria during COVID-19, and there is 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 that 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 is 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 a group can be a tremendous advantage in caring for people. People in our Bible study groups are experiencing four kinds of dysphoria, and we have an opportunity to help them.
- 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 is a good chance that someone in your group has experienced this, or feels the sometimes overwhelming feelings of despair as they anticipate this 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.
- 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 has 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 has gone by the wayside. Our Sunday School group is meeting online, not in person. And in addition to these things, I have not been around co-workers for 10+ 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.
- People are experiencing spiritual dysphoria. If your church has begun having on-campus worship services again, you’re blessed. I have spoken with people in the northwest part of our country, and the picture isn’t so rosy out west. Many churches have not begun meeting, and there is 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 we need. Why? Because we have 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 a loss of handshakes and hugs for the time being. And then there is 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.
- 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, MN., 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 is great opportunity for teacher-shepherds to minister in new ways to their group members. We are 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 are not alone in this.
- Pray for them. This goes without saying, but let your group members know that you are 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 are human and a fellow pilgrim on a spiritual journey with them.