Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Pastor at Rest

Though there are some who seem to believe that pastors only work about one day a week, pastoring can in fact be a tough, demanding job. This week I find myself teaching four different lessons, counseling several couples, arranging work on the church’s septic and lawn equipment, visiting a few members in their homes, and of course, keeping up with my personal evangelism schedule. Needless to say, my plate is full, and I know for a fact that there are many more pastors juggling many more projects every week. So, how do we cope with the fact that we have much to do and little time to do it? Well, most pastors decide to just work as long as it takes to get the job done, even if that means an 80 hour work week that leaves little time for our families, and even less time for ourselves. But this pace of life is very unhealthy, and will lead to diminished results of our work and, if we’re not careful, an early grave.

My solution to the many tasks ahead of me is not an 80-hour workweek; it is better time management. I have found that I can get more quality work done in 40 hours than I can in 60 or 70, if I just take a few minutes to plan out how I’m going to tackle the week’s workload. By planning my work, this allows me to plan the most important aspects of my week – rest and relaxation.

At least once a week I make it a point to get out of the house alone to do something I enjoy. I’ll go for a hike on one of Missouri’s great conservation areas, I’ll go fishing at a local lake, I’ll take the canoe out on the river, or go shooting at a local range, anything to help me get my mind off of the week’s craziness. I’ll have to admit, this idea of getting away is not new with me, it has been around for quite some time. One could say that it started with God taking a rest after creation. But admittedly, I first got the idea from Jonathan Edwards, who use to love taking long horse rides at the end of the day to unwind from his work. While describing the do’s and don’ts of ministry, Criswell tells us to make every effort to spend quality time with your family, and take a little time off each week to recuperate and recharge you mental, emotional, and spiritual strength.

Why is a day off so important?

1 – It renews your emotional strength.

As a pastor, you take on the problems and difficulties that people in your congregation are facing. Their problems and pains become your problems and pains. And yes, that is very emotionally draining. Taking a day away from these problems helps you see the bigger picture of life and forget about these problems. Putting a certain amount of enjoyment into your life will counter act the pain and sorrow you deal with through the week.

2 – It renews your physical strength.

Stress saps your strength and leads to all kinds of physical ailments. I know of one gentleman ministering nearby in particular who works all day everyday. Yes, his ministry is fruitful, yes he is well known, yes it is taking a toll on him physically. He is in his mid 40’s & looks like he is in his 60’s, and if he doesn’t slow down, he will likely not live to see retirement. I am surrounded by retired pastors, who all have serious physical problems right now because they did not take care of themselves when they were pastors. Getting out and doing something keeps the stress down, and encourages fitness.

3 – It keeps you grounded in real life.

Getting out gives you life experiences and helps you better understand what is going on in the world. Some of the best sermon illustrations I have ever used have come from experiences on family vacations, campouts, and hunting trips with friends. If I want to keep having illustrations like that, then I need to keep going on family vacations, campouts, and hunting trips. The best sermon illustrations come from real life.

4 – It is God honoring.

This is the most important reason. Yes, God wants us to work hard, and be diligent towards the tasks given to us. But, work is not all there is, God does want us to take time to enjoy what He has created and the life He has given to us. Exodus 23:12 says:
"Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.

What are some ways to relax?

I realize that a pastor’s time and resources are usually limited – mine are too, but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying life. I focus on day activities that are fairly cheap. Usually I just go to a park or something and do something for free. When I’m feeling more outgoing, I’ll go to a golf course or drive to one of Missouri’s trout parks for man’s greatest pastime – fly-fishing. Going to high school, college, or professional games are fun, but more expensive. One fun and cheap activity my wife and I did in seminary was going to a glass blowing shop to make our own Christmas ornaments ($80 for the both of us). Also, consider renting a car and going on a day trip. One valentines weekend, Andrea and I rented a new model Ford Mustang from Hertz for $110 + gas for three days. You can also go to Harley dealerships to rent a bike, or find specialty agencies like in St. Louis for something really fun.

Hobbies are also a good and (sometimes) cheap form of entertainment. Have you ever wondered how to do wood carving? Go to the local library, check out a book, and get started. Myself, I have more hobbies than I really know what to do with. When I was younger, I use to do a lot of blacksmithing, but since dad’s shop is so far away I haven’t done much of it lately. I tinker around the house, work on our cars, and anything else that I want to do. One of my favorite hobbies is custom fly rod building. I’ve fly fished my entire life, but didn’t start building rods until college. My grandfather passed away, leaving a lot of broken and half-finished rods. This got me curious about how to build rods, so I started buying books on the subject, and after a little practice have become fairly proficient at it.

Finally, your church should give you a few weeks of vacation every year. Take them – and not just to go to convention meetings – take real vacations with your family. Go where your family wants to go, don’t think that you have to stay close by because "I might be needed." Train your deacons and lay leaders to handle the small stuff themselves, get your DOM or another close pastor friend to help them with the bigger stuff – there are very few things in life that should lead you to cancel a family vacation.


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