I have just completed a four-week break from the daily responsibilities of ministry. Several people have asked me what I did during this time. Since this wasn't my first extended break and it won’t be my last, I thought I would answer that question.
1. Rest and Renew.
I realize everyone has stress because life is challenging. But if you ever talk to a social worker, police officer, counselor, or pastor, you’ll find that those who work with high needs people often exert great amounts of emotional energy. This emotional drain is hard to measure and often doesn’t manifest itself immediately. There is a lag effect that generally leads to physical, mental, and even spiritual depletion. In many ways, exerting emotional energy is much more draining than physical or mental activity, and unless you experience it on a regular basis, it’s hard to explain.
Jesus understood this, which is why He told the disciples on one of their busiest days of ministry to dismiss the crowds, get on the boat, and get some rest. The Bible tells us Jesus looked into their eyes and saw their fatigue, so He told them to withdraw, rest, and renew. Not everyone had been healed. Not everyone had been saved. But Jesus saw the weariness of the disciples, so He shut down the gathering.
To be completely honest, much like the disciples, this spring I felt burned out and completely exhausted. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. I was trying to make some tweaks but just couldn’t get on top of it. So, on my extended break, I got lots of sleep and took lots of naps. The first week I felt like a bear in hibernation, but each week I felt more and more renewed. I was also freed up to spend quality time with my family. Having this extended time has energized me and recharged my batteries for this next season of ministry.
2. Read and Reflect.
A second thing I do on an extended break is spend time reading books, blogs, and articles I have not been able to get to. I always have more to read than I have time or energy for, so I used some time on my break to read material that was important for the church and for me but that I had simply had no time for in my day-to-day schedule. I am 100% convinced the extra time I had to do this will pay dividends for me, the church, and the work we do through the 95network coaching and consulting other churches. Without an extended break, many of the resources I was blessed and challenged by would still be stacked in the corner of my office.
3. Retreat and Receive.
We find several examples in the Bible where God takes spiritual leaders and directs them to pull away from the daily demands of their calling in order to spend time in solitude and reflection. It is often in these times that God speaks directly to His prophets, pastors, and priests.
In the Old Testament, the Lord called Moses to go up on the mountain for 40 days, and there God spoke to him face-to-face. Scripture tells us that it was during this time that God gave Moses the Commandments and the big picture direction Israel needed for its future. People on the ground level didn't understand what Moses was doing or why it took so long. But God knew. And Moses knew.
During my mini-break, I was able to step back from the daily details of ministry, draw near to God, and seek direction for the church. Every time I’ve taken a break such as this, God has given me some form of clarity about what should or should not be done in my life personally and for the church. This latest break was no different.
I feel privileged and blessed by the church, and specifically the leadership of Richwoods, for enabling me to do this. I also feel energized because I’m rested and renewed. I am more equipped because I have been able to read and reflect. And I have a sense of clarity for the church in this next season of ministry because I was able to retreat and receive from God.
So, the next time you wonder what happens when a pastor takes a mini-sabbatical, these are the kind of things that occur. And even though sometimes I’m embarrassed to say I’m out of the office for several weeks, I know this is necessary for effective spiritual leadership to occur. There are secondary blessings that come out of it as well. I will write about those next week.