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Well, summer is upon us! School is out, kids are ready for extra activities and crazy events, and you’re dreaming dreams of camp registration forms and late nights on an air mattress during missions week. My back hurts just thinking about it. So the question is: when and how do YOU find rest in the busy months of summer?
I Once read a book called “Your Right To Rest” by Wayne Oates. Oates wrote in the early eighties that western people were so busy and plugged into technology that they hardly have time for rest. Ironic. I wonder what he would say if he could see our world today. The truth is, even when I have time to rest I have a hard time unplugging. Here are a few tips that have been helpful to me this summer:
- Go to bed early when you can. Your body was made for sleep and rest just as much as productivity. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.” Did you catch that last word, epidemic. I think about lots of things when I hear the word epidemic, like Aids, Malaria, malnutrition/hunger, Flu, but sleep?!? Apparently so few adults (or teens for that matter) get enough sleep, that the use of a word like epidemic is warranted. So what are some cold hard facts? According to the CDC, ”Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.” At the end of the day, the quality of your life and the quality of your ability to faithfully perform the ministry you are called to depends on your ability to get enough sleep. To learn more about the CDC’s incredible findings click here.
- Unplug from technology. If like me you’re a tech junkie, then its crucial to unwind from looking at a screen all day. I have a dual-monitor setup in my office with my iPad on one side of my laptop and my iPhone on the other. That’s four screens on my desk at any given time, and three of them come home with me! When I get home I have a TV in the living room that makes it tempting to enter into a vegetative state, especially after my toddler is asleep. Finding time to unplug can be hard when you’re plugged in all the time. My unplugged time is in the mornings when I take our son to a local park. Chasing him around is tiring, but the time away from a screen is refreshing in its own way. Try and find time this week to unplug. Some suggestions… 1) Many phones today have settings for “quite hours” when you do not want to receive calls of notifications. Certain numbers may also be allowed through in case of an emergency. Set your quite hours and stick to them. Just because students may want to text you at all hours doesn’t mean you need to respond. 2) Get outdoors before it gets too hot outside and enjoy God’s creation. In the Houston area this is often before 9:00am. Yes I’m up by 9:00am. Remember that whole go to bed early thing? 3) Spend some time on a desert island. Seriously that’s about the only place where there’s no cellular coverage!
- Realize that you can’t do it all. The day it occurred to me that I could never DO all the ministry that needed to be done was overwhelmingly stressful. The day I let go of my need to DO everything was overwhelmingly freeing. During the summer, we youth ministers get so busy that some things may just fall through the cracks. Sure your church should hire you a secretary. Sure you wish you had more interns. Sure none of the parents realize the work involved in successful camps and mission trips. There comes a point in ministry where you can either burn, out or trust that God will work in spite of all the things we wish we could accomplish. It sounds cliché, but “let go and let God” is a great motto for minister in desperate need of rest. God was working long before you came into the picture, and will be working long after you leave.
- Explore the idea of Compensatory time (comp-time) with your personnel team. Some senior pastors may read this and laugh out loud. Chances are they’ve never done youth ministry. Maybe you have never heard of comp-time. Until I worked at a church that had it in their personnel policy neither had I. Here’s how it works. You go out of town for seven days on a youth trip. While you are gone you miss your day/days off for the week because you are taking care of teenagers 24/7. A church could set it up so that when you miss your day off due to a youth trip, you get it back as a day off at a later time. Alison Doyle, a well known employment and HR expert defines comp time as this: ”Rather than paying employees time and a half in overtime pay, a company which has a comp time policy gives paid time off from work, for the equivalent amount of time to the extra hours worked.” If churches value healthy employees who are functioning at their peak levels of capability, then comp-time should be part of the policy manual. Each state has different laws about comp-time so learn the laws of your state before taking this great new idea to your next staff meeting.
My hope and prayer for you is that this summer, you find ways to find rest in midst of your hectic student ministry schedule. On the seventh day God rested. Rest is part of the cycle of the created order. Its part of the nature of who God is. I hope that you can make rest part of your life’s rhythm as well.
I would like to propose that ministers are the most effective when they are spiritually renewed and refreshed. Anyone disagree with that premise? Didn’t think so. The question then is what practices bring spiritual renewal to those in ministerial leadership? Providing care for others is imperative in ministry but unless we care for ourselves, both spiritually and physically, the well from which we draw on to offer care grows dry. Methodist minister and educator Edward P. Wimberly’s book “Recalling Our Own Stories-Spiritual Renewal for Religious Caregivers,” gives three big ideas on spiritual renewal for ministers. To Wimberly, spiritual renewal is not an emotional high at a retreat weekend, or a renewed committment to personal holiness, or a fresh commitment to read the Bible more often (although each of these certainly brings renewal in their own way). The renewal Wimberly speaks of is much deeper and cuts to the core of the psychological self. Here are the ways Wimberly says we can find spiritual renewal as ministers.
- Remember Your Call: God calls men and women every day to ministry of various types. Student ministers, deacons and elders, Sunday-school teachers, and even occasional volunteers should be able to name how they felt called to the ministry they do. When did God call you to ministry? How did you hear God’s voice? What were your original motivations for getting into ministry? These are all questions Wimberly suggests we ask ourselves in seeking spiritual renewal. Remembering and reflecting on why we got into ministry in the first place is spiritually renewing because it takes us back to a place where God lit a passion in our hearts to serve. Have you ever attempted to identify your call story with the call story of someone in scripture? Moses had no sense of personal identity until he met God on a mountainside. Paul had the wrong sense of call until blinded by God’s light in an earth-shattering encounter. Samuel didn’t recognize God’s voice until a mentor helped him identify it. Esther had no sense of her unique gifts until a relative told her how she could serve God’s people. The list goes on of characters in scripture who God called in unique ways. Feeling burnt out? Frustrated with a situation in your ministry context? Take some time to reflect on God’s call in your life. Remember how you felt when God called you initially. Be renewed through allowing God to affirm your call again each day. A high sense of call is vital to spiritual health for ministers.
- Explore Your Life Story: We all have a unique story that contributes to how we care for others. What’s your story? Pastors, youth ministers, camp counselors, and other types of ministers are given countless opportunities to provide pastoral care for those in the flock. It becomes important over time to periodically reflect on our ways of providing care, and acknowledge our own weaknesses and strengths in care giving. We are unable to effectively care for others without a strong sense of where we’ve come from and who we are. Consider your family story. Are there overarching narratives in your life that contribute to how you relate to others? Do you always act like a victim at church because you have always been the victim in your family? Do you feel obligated to please everyone all the time? Perhaps you had to play the peacemaker among siblings growing up and it is now rubbing off on how you deal with the parents of your youth group. Identifying our stories and the themes they contain is crucial to renewal both personally and spiritually. According to Wimberly, some common issues ministers deal with include perfectionism, workaholism, feeling a deep need not to repeat the mistakes of a past generation, too much self-sufficiency, and the need to control everything. Do any of these speak to you? Exploring our own stories helps us identify our weaknesses so that we can begin working on them.
- Be Accountable To Others: I recently learned that a colleague of mine had a father who was in ministry. The man would meet once a month with other ministers in the area for accountability. The conversation wasn’t anything you normally hear at a minister’s shindig. No one discussed how many butts were in seats last Sunday, how the weather was, or even how the local sports team was doing. The collegiality that these pastors had was MUCH deeper than these superficial topics. According to my colleague, “When they gathered, they focused on two things: (1) what are you celebrating (i.e. what’s going well)? and (2) what are you up against (what challenges are you facing)?” We should all find a small group or even a single friend that we can make ourselves vulnerable to. It is rare that I share my weaknesses with anyone in ministry, whether they are at my local church or not. This may be a personal flaw, but I believe that most of us are guilty of trying to be lone-rangers when it comes to our own spiritual health. Who is holding you accountable to live out your call? Who is holding you accountable to working on personal weaknesses and character flaws?
What would spiritual renewal look like in your life? In your ministry? In your community? Ministry is about bringing restoration to a broken world desperately in need of God’s love. Evangelism is about the restoration of sinful humanity to a right relationship with a forgiving God. Social-justice ministry is about the restoration of God’s justice and reign in our present time. Worship on Sundays is about restoring our view of God’s honor and glory and rightly giving thanks for all God has done. Ministry is restorative to souls, to families, to entire cities. There is a caveat though. Ministers cannot effectively bring renewal to others and be the ”salt of the earth“ without first being renewed themselves by God’s grace and love. Remember how God called you to ministry. Explore your own story and learn from it. Make yourself vulnerable and accountable to other ministry professionals. In doing these things, I pray God gives you a fresh sense of spiritual renewal.