Recharging Our Deep Wells

by | Sep 8, 2017 | Reflections Blog | 0 comments

Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath holy (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

Welcome back from summer! I hope you had a little time to rest before your fall programs resume. I did, sort of. I took a week’s vacation in order to attend four funeral-related events and hang out with my father-in-law while my wife attended a radiology reading with her mom.

I am notoriously bad at stopping work. I am fine enough about not showing up at the office each Friday. But for all my good theology about Sabbath rest, my vacations usually consist of family events or catching up on paperwork. In theory, I believe God “builds the house” (Ps. 127:1). In practice, I often “eat the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2).

I don’t think I am alone among pastors. Recently a colleague told me that he and his wife had taken their first vacation in five years. His wife was very happy.

With a few relatively obvious exceptions, most pastors I know work extremely hard. They want their congregations to flourish. They want their parishioners to grow in Christ. And they tend to think that the harder the work, the more likely their efforts will succeed.

Yet even assembly line workers lose productivity at a certain point. And pastors are hardly assembly line workers. Effective pastoral leadership requires emotional engagement, intellectual creativity, and spiritual insight. But such resources are not self-replenishing. Time away is essential for recharging our deep wells.

Management theory is beginning to recognize this fact.

– Stefan Sagmeister takes no new work for an entire year every seven years. He uses the time to visit new places and see the world afresh. He returns overflowing with ideas for his design group to implement

– A ten-person aviation company chose to require that its employees take one week off every seven weeks. Creativity, happiness, and productivity all rose significantly.

– More organizations are making a point of giving their employees sabbaticals. People function better at work when they take deliberate time off. And groups that learn to get by even when key leaders are absent grow more resilient.

Even a lunch break can make a critical difference.

Tim Kreider summed up the wisdom of rest in his op-ed piece to the New York Times a few years ago:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

If management theory is beginning to recognize the importance of rest for effective work, would we not be wise to listen? Especially when it is telling us what we should have known all along—that holy rest is part of God’s good design for our lives?

Churches need pastors who will honor the Fourth Commandment on a weekly basis. Churches need pastors who will stop work for an extended period each year to remember the One who called them to live in freedom (cf. the Passover celebration). And churches need pastors who will walk away from work once every seven years to think deeply about how God’s call to them in the beginning relates to the work they are doing now.

So how might you help ensure that your pastor’s ministry might bear good fruit, and might bear it abundantly? I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few ideas:

– Urge your pastor to use all of their vacation and study leave time. If you are on Session, help establish an arrangement that holds them accountable to being away. Threatening pay cuts will probably not work. But some other consequence might. Perhaps you could bar them from one worship planning meeting for each day they work while on vacation!

– Establish a sabbatical plan for your pastor’s seventh year. Los Ranchos doesn’t require sabbaticals. But remember: you are doing this for your congregation’s benefit, not because the union has required it. If you have your doubts about a sabbatical’s effectiveness, interview people who have experienced one—both on the pastor’s side and the congregation’s.

– If your congregation cannot afford a full-time pastor, make sure the pastor’s part-time status is reflected in their Sunday attendance. Unless your pastor has a second part-time job (which ensures that the part-time call will remain part-time), arrange for them to lead worship only on the number of Sundays proportionate to their pay.

Do not do it to do your pastor a favor. Do it as a favor to your congregation. Over time, your pastor will grow spiritually, creatively and emotionally because of the time away. They will become more effective servants of Christ in your midst, and your congregation will benefit.

I am trying to practice what I preach. Over Thanksgiving, my wife and will take two weeks to visit New Zealand. We will ride trains through the Southern Alps and across the north island. And since I am committed to seeing New Zealand’s beauty, I will not have my eyes on a screen.

I didn’t promise to leave my laptop at home, but I will restrain myself. I will finish preparing for the November Presbytery meeting before I leave. Then I will watch the scenery go by. And who knows what insights God will give while I’m busy doing nothing?

Somewhere along the Way—