Rest With Jesus
As we approach Memorial Day weekend the summer vacation season begins and many of our congregations’ families will be headed to the beach or some other destination. Yet what about your pastor? The summer gets busy with VBS, conventions, confirmations, and a whole host of other events that happen in the church. Is your pastor getting a break? Many pastors feel guilty taking time off or going on vacation. For a profession that has become increasingly more focused on pastoral care and support that doesn’t seem to be all that surprising. Most in the ministry feel so tightly connected to their ministries, and especially the people they serve, that they don’t want to miss a moment where they could have been helpful. This can all slide into a very dangerous and unhealthy pattern.
I can relate and I can see this pattern happening in my own ministry. Most people don’t care if the pastor takes a vacation but, as is often the case, a very vocal and misguided few may disagree. Thus the feeling of being chained to the desk arises and while many would want their pastor to take a vacation he feels that it just isn’t possible; there is too much work to be done. There are at least two areas where this mindset can give way to sin: thinking life revolves around you, and that you are the only one who can help.
Certainly pastors are trained well to help those in spiritual and other needs (that is what we spend years learning at seminary and in continuing education). Personally, I prefer to take care of these matters myself and I try very hard to be present when one of my people is facing a difficult time or God forbid there is a death or some other trauma. Yet while my presence is helpful, I am not the only one who can be present. Congregations have a whole host of people who can be there for the hurting Christian and if the pastor can’t get to the person in need and add their own expertise it isn’t the end of the world. God is present in the Church and near the suffering even if the pastor is away.
Far more seriously is the temptation to think we are the only ones who can help and we are the only ones the congregation depends on. That can become a source of idolatry and the guilt we feel from taking time off could stem from a deep-seated notion that we are indispensable and the most important people in our communities. All of us should feel a strong sense of care for our people and a need to be present, but if it becomes an obsessive pattern that effects mental and physical health it is a problem itself. This can lead to a lack of effectiveness and perhaps begin self-destructive behaviors as a way of escape (Lutherans love to look to alcohol as a quick way out for instance). Time for self-care is absolutely important and if you feel a bit guilty reading this—or even thinking about it—consider what Jesus did.
When Jesus and his disciples were ministering to the people it became rather hectic as St. Mark notes, “And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves” (Mark 6:31-32 ESV). When the business of ministry became too much to the point where the disciples and Jesus had no time to even sit and eat Jesus made them go away. It is part of the ministry to rest, Jesus did it, the disciples did it; it is absolutely necessary. The reason Jesus did this is to show the disciples their lives were to conform to his life. Jesus went away by himself into the wilderness to get away from the crowds, he most famously did this after his baptism. If the disciples were to be more like Christ, they were to rest like he did.
If pastors are to be effective they need to rest like Christ rested. If we begin to think everything depends on us and we are not allowed to rest then what does that say about how we understand the ministry of Jesus? Are we so important that we cannot even rest like Jesus did? Certainly he didn’t have it this rough! If we honestly think we are more important than our Lord himself then we have a serious problem. And if our people think that our congregations have a serious problem that needs healing. We all are not greater than our master (John 13:16), we are not more indispensable than the head of the Church. If we do not let ourselves rest (our very human, broken bodies and minds) then we will not be our best self to serve our people and we will certainly decline to a place where if we do not take the rest we need it may be forced upon us.
It is my hope that you plan a time to be more like Jesus and get away this summer. If not this summer then hopefully you have some time carved on your schedule to get away and take care of yourself and your family. You may feel you don’t deserve it, you might think you haven’t earned it, but it doesn’t matter because if you want to be a better pastor and more like Jesus you need to do it. It is completely biblical to take time for yourself, and it is certainly unhelpful and unnecessary to feel guilty about it. If you have a hard time finding a place to go may I suggest Tennessee? Come by for a visit with people who know how to have a good time and people who know how important it is for a pastor to have some rest. If nothing else, there’s an idea.