Sunday was a good day for the congregation that I lead. It was the first time I told them I had nothing to give them. I was wrung out from the events of last week and I needed to hear from God that day. In my 20’s I wouldn’t have even been aware I was worn out. In my 30’s I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know I was worn out. In my early 40’s I wouldn’t have let myself take the time off. But Sunday, during the welcome, I opened my heart and exposed its emptiness without apology. It has taken 27 years in ministry for me to think that’s normal.
What’s normal for many (if not most) pastors is very different.
Yesterday a friend and I had a conversation about that. She asked me, “Why are pastors the only ones who feel bad about taking a day off, apologize for going on vacation and feel like they need to explain purchases and how they use their leisure time?” My response: “I don’t know.” But since then I’ve had time to think about it….
- I thought I was supposed to be on duty 24/7 365. Not true. Not biblical. We have it completely backwards. We’re not on 24/7 but God has commanded we be off 24 hours out of every 7 days. There are rare times when tragedy strikes but these are the exception rather than the rule.
- I thought I was supposed to be all things to all people and our church was supposed to provide all things to all people. Not true. Not possible. In the often misquoted reference to 1 Corinthians 9, Paul was talking about finding common ground with people not being the answer to their every need.
- I thought everyone in the congregation had a say. Not true. Not realistic. While pastors are responsible and accountable to the congregation, most structures employ a leadership team that gives direction. They are to live in the tension and work for the health of both the pastor and the church.
- I feared people’s disapproval. Ouch. Most of us in ministry really want to be liked and want others to be happy. We sometimes confuse the role of consensus and think our job is to keep everyone playing nice in the sandbox. Often we’ll sacrifice time for us and our families just to avoid disappointing someone else.
- I didn’t trust God to be God. Double ouch. Many of us forget the Kingdom was doing just fine before we arrived and will keep on going when we depart. It is God’s church and His people and He is capable of handling it.
If you’re a pastor…Take your day off every week. Go on vacation and use all the time you are granted. Turn your phone off periodically throughout the week. Stop apologizing about following the 4th commandment. Listen to your spouse…if they think you’re spending too much time at work you probably are.
If you’re a congregant…Talk to God before you call your pastor. Respect her/his time off. Be careful how you talk at the dinner table so you don’t instill unreal expectations in the next generation. Invite me in to give your pastor a break and help your church better understand the need for this.
Most of this disfunction comes from a neglect of true Sabbath. If I’ve learned one thing over the years it’s “Abuse of Sabbath is cumulative.” Things may seem fine now but at some point the wheels are going to come off because we weren’t created to live at the pace many of us our living.