by Kevin Conklin
Rest is not something most seminaries and universities teach or train on. The Bible gives some great instruction on it, but the majority of us in full-time vocational ministry find it’s as elusive as just about anything we can think of. Before you read on about why, take a moment and ask yourself if you consider yourself to be rested or restless, refreshed or mostly overwhelmed. If you answered restless and overwhelmed, you’re in the majority, and though that shouldn’t help you feel any better about your lifestyle, there is hope.
It’s probably best to start with the problem rather than the symptom. Many of us come into ministry with a great heart to serve others, but for many it comes out of a deep desire to be admired and to rescue others all in the name of God. We start with great intentions but it’s so easy for the tail to end up wagging the dog. “Did others get moved by my sermon?” “Does my Board really appreciate all I do in leading our church?” “Can I ever get the full support of…?” Because we want peace in the house of the Lord and everyone to get along, many in ministry lose sight of their calling and of taking care of themselves and instead spend way too much trying to please others or thinking about it enough that we’re not living a life of peace.
Learning to build rest into your schedule and into your heart is critical. We have time, but do we make time? We’re called to preach/teach, counsel, lead teams of people, train volunteers, be polite at all times, be administrative while staying focused on vision and people’s needs. And if we’re married and have a family, we also need be very present for our spouse and children, and lead them as well. Who has time for rest? We know that the consequences if we don’t make time are burnout, fatigue, resentment, and poor physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
God rested on the seventh day as we read in Genesis 2:1-3. Jesus found rest all of the time even in the midst of high ministry demands and a much longer day than any of us will ever have. He had no office to hide away in, and no vacation spot to retreat to; people literally followed Him wherever He went. But, as we see in Mark 1:35, He made rest and prayer a priority. If He did, we can. I read years ago that self-help and self-care are not selfish; the best thing we can give others is a healthy us. And we can’t give what we don’t have. We do not have to become martyrs! Often I read of the “famous” pastors of an era gone by who spent many hours a week praying and studying, that’s not necessarily the job description I see today. In fact it’s more CEO than Shepherd. So if you would rather rust out than burn out, keep reading. Let’s run through a checklist:
- Are you sleeping well/deeply/consistently? There’s an app for that. By the way, when you exercise consistently, you’ll sleep better too. But you already knew that.
- Are you mentally fatigued or are you being stimulated on a regular basis by good conversation and reading, or are you filling your free time with TV/Netflix watching?
- Do you have a hobby? This may not seem like rest, but because it’s so different than ministry/people-intensive work, a hobby brings rest/refreshment.
- Do you schedule specific time in your prayer closet? Nothing slows me down like lengthy times of prayer, and it also helps me ensure that I’m “casting all my cares on Him, because He cares for me.”
- Do you schedule time away for personal retreats? I’m not talking “pie in the sky,” anyone can do this. I didn’t have a lot of money early on in ministry, (and I don’t today), and so I would get away for a night of camping. I’d take my journal, my Bible and do some listening to God by quieting my mind. I had a series of questions I would ask myself, and take my time working through them. The next morning after a hike and breakfast, I would seek God for next steps for the next season of ministry. I haven’t always been good at keeping this in my life, but when I did I was so glad that I did.
- You make your schedule; so don’t blame anyone but yourself for a schedule that seems unmanageable. Schedule mental and spiritual rest into your life. You and your congregation cannot afford for you not to. As you can see, this list is doable. As you finish reading, take time to evaluate, but don’t take long, chances are you already know if you need to make adjustments or not. If you do, don’t do anything until you’ve written down what changes you’d like to make and talked to a support person/encourager in your life to hold you accountable. If in fact you need help with this, call Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Care Line at 844-4PASTORS (available weekdays, 9 AM to 4 PM MT) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll be more than glad to pray with you; after all we’re traveling together through this journey.