Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “You must make time to come apart before you fall apart.”
It refers to Mark 6:31 where Jesus told his disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.”
What is almost humorous about this passage is that, busy and as greatly in need of rest as Jesus and His disciples were, they didn’t get it—even in the desert place where they went specifically for rest. People saw them leaving and raced ahead to meet them there! (See Mark 6:32–34.)
Sometimes that’s the way pastors feel when they carve out time to rest. Not always, but on any given day off or couple-day rest period, urgent matters can come up in the life of a church family, and the rest time can easily dissipate.
I suppose this is why many churches have policies that a pastor would take a sabbatical every seven or eight years. It’s especially helpful for a long-term pastor, and in some case staff members or associate pastors, to have times like this.
Even Jesus, while He only had about three years of public ministry, did create times when he drew apart from others for prayer and communion with the Father. (See Mark 1:35–37.) There was something about that time with the Father that gave Christ, not only the spiritual fellowship He needed, but also perspective and direction for ministry.
The longer a pastor is in one church, the more important this kind of time is. I’m so thankful that the deacons of our church insist that Terrie and I get away for some weeks each summer for rest and study. This past summer, Terrie and I took our vacation along with an additional study week after.
The Lord blessed our time away, and we came back refreshed and ready for a new season of ministry. I hope that sharing these thoughts may be helpful for other pastors to get an anatomy of what we did during this time and the stages through which the Lord renewed us. And I hope it may be helpful for deacons and members of other churches to hear how the Lord could use a few weeks away to help and encourage your pastor.
This is not a description of a sabbatical; it was shorter than that. Also, I would not have needed nor been able to take several weeks out of the office in the early years of our ministry. I’m writing from the perspective of thirty-two years pastoring the same church and overseeing a large ministry. For us, this is not merely a family vacation (although it is that as well). There is so much more.
1. Time for Physical Rest
By the time our vacation rolled around, we had come through the spring outreach program, building fundraisers, hosting Spiritual Leadership Conference Asia, West Coast Baptist College graduation week, and Spiritual Leadership Conference here in California. And all of that in less than four months, while at the same time preaching for our church family and traveling to preach for Monday–Tuesday conferences almost weekly.
Sometimes, you just need to actually sleep.
2. Time for Mental Distraction
If you’ve been in high gear for too long, your mind needs a chance to refocus. Obviously, a huge component of this is focusing on the Lord, which we’ll look at more in a moment. But there is also something to be said for a change of surroundings and just a mental shift. It may be just being around God’s creation, going to a museum, or seeing a change of scenery.
3. Time to Focus on the People You Love
As much as we pastors try to not allow the ministry to push our family to second place, it happens. We strive for balance and work to include our family in the ministry, all of which helps. But sometimes it’s good to just pull aside and give our family some undivided attention.
It was so good for us this summer to have focused one-on-one time with our grandchildren—teaching them to fish, to play a game, paint, or to just tell them a story. Even having time to just sit and talk with our adult children about their families and life aspirations was a blessing.
4. Time for Deep Soul Searching with the Lord
We were able to take the first three sections of time early in our time away. We had a few days to catch up on sleep and renew our mental focus, and then we had time with all of our children and grandchildren.
After they left, during the middle of our time away, Terrie and I found a place to get away that was quiet. I didn’t have my phone with me and unplugged from social media (except for some prescheduled posts). I didn’t try to call everyone and solve everything. We took long walks together every morning. We had extended hours to spend with the Lord individually or with each other.
During this time, we weren’t trying to plan the church calendar or upcoming sermons, but we were just stilling our hearts before the Lord. For me, it really takes those days previous of unwinding to get to this place. I’m such a Type-A that I can’t walk out of the office on a Monday and settle into this kind of extended soul searching with the Lord that afternoon. So the timing of spending time with the grandchildren first was really helpful.
5. Time for Planning and Looking Ahead
After several days to rest in the Lord, your ministry heart begins to reawaken. It’s as if you leave with a kind of frantic energy, go through a process of unwinding, and then suddenly have this energy again—but it’s a quiet, focused energy. Fresh sermon ideas and plans for church programs flood your heart.
At this point, I begin doing extensive reading and journaling and planning. In the last half of our time away, I read over a dozen books. (I’ll list some that I found most helpful below.) I started writing out lessons the Lord was teaching me during the days of immersing myself in His Word and prayer.
6. Time to Continue in Rest and Memory Making
We were able to see our children and grandchildren again a couple times before we came back. We also pulled out our calendars and wrote out plans and scheduled the next several months together. We looked at how we’ll do things differently in the way of delegation, training, preaching, family events, and more. I wrote out decisions and plans that I’ll refer back to throughout the year to be sure I’m actually following through on what the Lord put on my heart.
7. Time to Reengage
As helpful as it was to get away, there is truly no place like home and like our church family.
In the few days preceding getting back, I began to be more in contact with our church office to have my mind around what would be on the horizon as we came back into town. I had prepared my Sunday messages over the past couple weeks and was hoping I wouldn’t blow it after several weeks out of the pulpit.
Reengaging is the time when you must work to keep pace so you don’t go right back to the state of depletion before you left. It’s also a time when you get to retackle some of the same problems but with a fresh perspective.
All in all, I’m grateful for how the Lord blessed our time away and how we came back refreshed and ready for a new season of ministry.
Summer 2018 Reading List
Below is a list of some of the more helpful books I read this summer. I usually try to read over a wide range of theology, history, ministry help, and health. Obviously, I would encourage you to read with discernment and to know that you won’t fully agree with every author.
I am also adding these books to my longer list of recommended reading. I hope these are a help to you!
- 10 Power Principles for Christian Service by Warren W. Wiersbe and David W. Wiersbe
- End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reserve Cognitive Decline by Dale Bredesen
- Grace Gone Wild: Getting a Grip on God’s Amazing Gift by Robert Jeffress
- The Indwelling Life of Christ: All of Him in All of Me by Ian Thomas
- Mastering Life Before It’s Too Late: 10 Biblical Strategies for a Lifetime of Purpose by Robert Morgan
- One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
- Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation by Erwin W. Lutzer
- Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murrary
- The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain by Steven R. Gundry
- The Revival Journey: Experiencing God’s Reviving Presence by John Van Gelderen
- We Would See Jesus: Discovering God’s Provision for You in Christ by Roy Hession and Revel Hession