What I'm about to write, I write in the hopes that it helps keep someone else from going through what I'm going through right now. I'm not complaining. I'm not whining. This is not some, "Poor me," kind of deal. This is real life stuff. These words come from the heart. I've written about this before, but I'm starting to think that, at least for my own sanity, this is something I need to do a couple times a year.
I sent an email today.
"Big deal," you say, "I send emails every day." As do I. This one was different. I wrote this email at least a dozen times in my head before I actually typed it out, set my target audience, and hit send. In my 45 years, I can remember one conversation that was tougher for me to construct than was this one. That being the night I called my dad from my dorm room at the University of Kentucky and told him I was coming home.
This email was going to my leadership team at church.
I'm finishing up my fifth year as lead pastor at Grace Church in Ballard County, KY. We're a rural bunch, in a rural setting, 20 minutes from the closest city. Still, we're a growing bunch, both in numbers and in spirit. We've seen our average attendance increase 150% in five years. We've added programming that covers almost the entire monthly calendar. We've gone from 2 small groups meeting during the week, to 24 meeting throughout the month. Finances...they're better than they've ever been. We're dreaming big dreams and making bold plans, plans that we know without a doubt we can't accomplish. Construction was just completed on a 4.25 acre lake on the property as Phase One of a camp where we will get to watch God reach the youth of the county before the drugs do. There are a lot of great things going on in this little section of the world, and most days, I can't believe that I even get to be a part of it.
I love my job. Let me say that again. I love my job. Pastoring a church is not something you get into for the money, it's a passion...a God given passion. I love my people. I love to be with them during their times of celebration and their times of struggle. I had one call me just today and say, "I needed to talk to someone and I couldn't get hold of my momma." I was next on the list. That was after taking care of business in the office this morning, and pastoral calls in two different hospitals. It's a sacred work that we are called to...a holy work...a work that can make a real difference in someone's life. We get to be with our people when their lives can't possibly seem to get any better, and when they can't possibly seem to get any worse.
They, whoever they are, say that if you love your job, you never work a day in your life. I believe that. But I still had to send the email today.
See, Monday night I led a devotional for a group of folks who were gearing up for a youth retreat this summer, and my text was from Mark's gospel...you know, the no frills...just the facts, ma'am...gospel. Mark doesn't waste a lot of words on fluff. Mark tells it pretty much like it is. My text for that devotional was Mark 6.
In Mark 6, just before Jesus takes a few fish and a few pieces of bread and feeds thousands with them, the disciples are all running up to him because he had sent them out on an errand in an earlier story, and they couldn't wait to tell him about all of the great stuff they had done. Mark doesn't say, (because no frills, remember) but I can imagine they had been out healing folks, and talking about all of the great things that were going to happen when the Kingdom broke out and God got God's way. I figure they probably wanted to tell him about all of the folks they had talked to who had decided to follow "The Way." Great stuff. I mean, this is Kingdom kind of stuff. Sacred work. Holy work.
Yet, Jesus, in his Christly wisdom, stops them mid conversation and says what...do you remember? "Come away with me, by yourselves, to a quiet place and get some rest." He completely cut them off. Mark doesn't even record one single story that Jesus let them tell. It was almost rude...at least from our viewpoint.
That story has haunted me for two weeks. Here's why...
I've noticed, of late, that my patience is much thinner than it used to be. I've noticed that I don't have a level of tolerance that I once had. I've noticed that I'm getting short with folks who just want to talk, or tell me about something that's going on. I'm forgetting stuff more than I used to, and it's not just because I'm getting older. I had a complete meltdown yesterday over a few things, that in the big picture, were nothing.
Why? Because I've ignored what Jesus said to the disciples...for years. I have not taken the time I needed to go away to a quiet place and rest. So...I sent my leadership team an email today, told them what was going on, and asked for their blessings for a week off next week. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Pastors...listen to this, and I mean listen good... Lay servants...listen to this. Church volunteers...hear what I'm about to say.
Your God, the one who spoke the world into creation, the one who breathed life into you, the one who ordered everything we see, is the very same God who commanded us to take time away. It's that important.
I don't care how fast your church is growing. I don't care what cool programming you have. I don't care what your numbers look like. If you (we) are not taking care of yourself (ourselves), you (we) are going to crash and burn. Who's going to suffer for it? Your church for one. The kingdom. Your family and friends. And finally, yourself.
I'm writing this because, right now I'm sitting in the ashes of my own damned arrogance. And do you know what? It's nobody's fault but mine. My leadership tried to tell me a few years ago. They saw the signs way back then, but we had so much to do, and things were going so well, and the schedule was so tight, and my God, look at how the numbers are coming up. One of them even called me into MY office and said, "You need to take some time away."
Believe it or not, and I didn't until today, the church you serve will not implode if you take time for Sabbath, and if it does, you haven't done your job. Our job is to equip leaders in the church who can do the work of ministry, share the load, and generate other leaders. It is not, and I'm learning this the hard way, to do it all ourselves.
"But I want to make sure it's done right." I get that, honestly. I'm a perfectionist and a control freak. I have 4 years' worth of blue chips, and 30 day chips, and so on from Celebrate Recovery for those very things.
"But my last church always said I never did enough, and always wanted to know how I spent my time." I get that. Trust me. I served four years in the pits of hell, dealing with the exact same thing...which, I believe, led me to becoming a workaholic out of pure guilt.
"But I've been called by God to do the work of the church, and I'm going to give it everything I have." Kudos. Let me know how that's going in five years. You'll be right where I'm at.
Hey, I've said all of those things, too. But the fact remains that I ignored the command from God to take Sabbath, AND the call from Christ to come away to a quiet place and rest, and because I did...because I felt like I had to be everything and do everything...I'm empty.
Let me tell you, empty sucks.
So, if you want to play the hero, knock yourself out. Folks will let you. They'll even pat you on the back for it. You may get promoted, may get a bigger church, may get a nicer desk...you may even get called to lead conferences and tell folks about all of the great things that you're doing. You may get bragged on because you're always at the office. (That happened to me yesterday.) Your folks may tell other folks about how they can call you at any time, day or night, and you'll drop whatever you're doing and go.
In our world, those things are what success looks like. But do you know what? We don't only live and/or work in our world. We operate in and for another plane, another dimension, another level...and when we forget that our success is measured in a different way...and when we keep pushing when we should rest...and when we think that we're the only one who can do something right...this is where we wind up...sitting in the ashes of our own arrogance.
So...my email...it was hard to write, and I hesitated before I hit send. But my people know that if I'm going to be of any good to them, I have to take care of myself. They were ordained at their baptisms to do the work of the church, and by dang, they do it well. They've been given the gifts that are needed to keep Grace Church going while I do exactly what I should have been doing all along.
I don't have any plans. I may work in my garden. I may read. I might go hiking, or trim some trees, but here's what I'm not going to do...I'm not going to worry about that church coming apart at the seams because I'm not there for a few days.
Brothers and sisters, it doesn't matter if you are clergy or laity, our work is too important to ignore the call to rest. Our people depend on us. They need us to be at our best. On Sunday morning, they expect us to bring our A game, and rightly so. If we're strung out because our ego tells us that we don't need to rest, we can't do those things.
Now, I'm going to ask you the question my leadership team asked me, "When is your day off?" Please understand that I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad, or feel guilty. Please know that I understand that things just happen sometimes and setting a regular day every week is next to impossible. There are emergencies, meetings, special events that happen all of the time. But...I think I may have finally learned just how important it is to take some time, maybe a different day each week, but take a day to just rest. Hopefully, this will help decrease the number of folks who feel like I've felt the last few days.
If you work with the Church in any way, you are in prayers, and so is your Sabbath time.