“Pastor, do you have a minute?”
Famous last words…
Both of you know it’s not just one minute.
Soon enough, you start working on the body language to indicate that the convo needs to come to a close.
After all it’s Sunday and after service is not the time or place for the conversation.
But they continue.
Not aware of the people standing within earshot of the unedited and uncensored version of their struggles.
The story goes on.
But you try to hint that you need to move on.
Unsure how to equally support and redirect the vulnerable person, the tension grows.
You eventually cut them off or someone interrupts.
Either way, you already know next week you will face the same dilemma.
There’s got to be a better way.
How do you manage those in crisis, struggling with mental health and disabilities when they take-up all your time after a Sunday service?
The struggle can happen week after week or even years.
Supporting individuals struggling with their mental health seeking out support after Sunday service can be very challenging.
As a leader, you may have found yourself jaded, annoyed and frustrated.
The intention is to support. However, the problems, desperate need to talk and the lack of social awareness can wear down your empathy towards the struggling individual.
You could adjust your time to ensure you include these conversations. This would accommodate the person’s needs but would sacrifice yours and others who may want to talk to you.
Or you could establish a strong boundary where hallway or aisle conversations don’t happen after Sunday. This meets your needs and allows you to connect with others, but some could feel rejected, disconnected and isolated.
But how about a solution that offers you guilt-free boundaries AND still allows people to feel supported because, after all, these people are children of God and are clearly in need of support and reassurance.
The bible speaks of the need for relationship (Gen. 2:8, Prov. 18:24, Prov. 27:17). It is a basic human need to be in a relationship and feel connected to others.
As a leader, you are in front of people and trust is built.
People can easily get the sense that they know you, even though you have had very little to no one-to-one conversations.
So when someone is looking for reassurance, hope, validation and support they are naturally going to go to a person that they know and trust.
You. The leader.
When someone is distressed and heightened emotionally the ability to process can be limited and their awareness of what is happening around narrows.
Also, some disabilities and serious mental health issues can impact the executive functioning of the brain.
The person does not have the full ability to assess social situations and determine what is appropriate.
Combine the human need for connection and validation with a potentially limited capacity to assess what is appropriate and you have very well-intentioned people with high needs who will consistently seek out the leader whom they know and trust to receive connection and support.
How do you maintain guilt-free boundaries while people feel supported?
Help the distressed person build a connection with a different person or team of people, not the leader.
But don’t stop there because although this relieves the leader, it is simply passing the challenge to another person; who will eventually struggle with the same feelings of resentment and frustrations.
Encourage the supporter to setup a regular face-to-face or phone appointment with the distressed person.
This appointment can be once every few weeks and the expectations of the appointment should be 100% clear.
It is a 20-minute one-on-one time when they can talk about what they are experiencing. Good, bad and everything in-between.
This appointment validates the individuals needs and expressed love and value, but also allows the support to be done with boundaries.
Each time the person approaches you on Sunday you are able to greet and exchange pleasantries, just as you do with others.
But if they want to talk further you have a supportive way to redirect the person: “I appreciate you sharing that with me, but let’s save the details for when we talk next week. This isn’t the best time.”
It is key to ensure the meeting time limit so the distressed person understands that it ends after 20 minutes or the designated time.
If I had to sum it up: ensure boundaries and limit overwhelm.
The person who is distressed is able to be supported and the leader is able to guilt-free redirect them to a more appropriate time.
People are looking for connection and relationship. God built that into each one of us.
By applying this simple tool you will no longer dread the phrase “Do you have a minute?”