As many of you know, I wear three ministry hats. I am the Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church, the founder and ministry director of Practical Shepherding, and now run the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at SBTS. The rigors of this juggling act had left me deeply weary with a fatigue that I realized would not be remedied by a few days off.
I needed to step away completely for the purpose of rest and a needed “gut check” in several areas of my life. I took the entire month of July off. Unplugged from all ministry, including all social media. This was not a sabbatical, but pure vacation for a whole month. We just stayed home. Here are 10 areas I felt I needed to address during this time off:
1) Extended rest: As I have learned to rest better and more efficiently, I need extended time to do so. I also found that leaving the church for a week just allowed the other 2 hats to eat up my time. I needed an extended time of rest from all 3 areas of my ministry. When I realized the month of July was the best time in each area for me to step away, I took it.
2) Family: The month of July was the best opportunity to see my wife and kids and spend extended time with them that I would not get if I took it during the school year. It has been a lot of fun hanging out with them this month, being around to help my wife juggle family life, and having some quality time with her.
3) Personal soul work: When a pastor’s soul is weary, he is not as effective in his ministry. He also lives in a dangerous place in this weariness to fall into destructive patterns and decisions in his life. I felt this fatigue and vulnerably and experienced an urgency to step away. I needed to do whatever necessary to embrace my identity in Christ, just sit in his grace, and be reminded that he is enough for me. I have done some very focused, intentional soul work this month that has proven very helpful to prepare me to come back and walk with Jesus more closely as I seek to serve Jesus in my ministry.
4) Food: Busyness and stress is a brutal combination to cause me to slide into bad eating habits. I realized I needed a gut check in this area to regroup how I was eating, why I was eating what I was, and how it was causing me to be stuck in my efforts to reach a more ideal weight I have been working towards for quite some time.
5) Exercise: I am committed to exercise and getting to the gym, but what I was doing in the gym and why needed to be evaluated. This month allowed me to ramp up my consistency and evaluate how I continue in it once I step back into my labors.
6) Social Media: Just because social media is a part of your ministry, doesn’t mean we are exempt from developing bad, unhealthy habits and patterns with social media. I unplugged from Twitter, Facebook, and all other social media venues for the month. I learned of some bad habits. It was an important gut check that has left me with a greater awareness of limits I need to place in my life as I enter into this realm upon my return.
7) Reading for enjoyment: So much of what I do now is studying, reading, writing, and reading other books to give endorsements and feedback. I enjoy this part of my ministry, but it leaves me with little time and mental energy to read for fun and enjoyment at night. I was able to read quite a bit this month, all for fun and enjoyment. It sharpened my mind and stirred my soul. I was reminded how much I missed it and how I need to figure out how to work this into my daily routine. It had been lost in my busyness.
8) Fun: I need to have fun. I need to laugh and enjoy others outside a ministry context. I did. I played golf and tennis. Enjoyed sitting in the sun at the pool with my wife. Hung out with some friends who have nothing to do with my ministry. I watched all 3 Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies with my middle daughter because…because I could, she wanted to, and I had the time to do so. Enjoyed times with my wife eating out and hanging out with my kids. We went to a couple of movies on $5 day. I was reminded how doing fun things in life and having them present in my life is very life-giving and a source of joy for me.
9) Ministry evaluation: The best way to evaluate our ministries is not to consider them while intensely laboring in the middle of them, but to do so when we can step away from them, emotionally and mentally detach a bit, to see what is truly going on. I enter back into my ministry world with a better perspective on where I am in each of them, how I need to grow, how I need to better lead, and how I need to move forward in faithfulness.
10) Silence: Silence used to torment me over previous pain in my life. After some important soul work and healing these last few years, silence is now life-giving. I need it daily. A pastor’s life is full of people and problems to solve and silence gets easily squeezed out. I made sure I had times of silence in nature all alone. Silence sitting on my back deck with a cup of coffee listening to all the different birds talking. Silence to pray. Silence to listen. Silence to read God’s word, and experience God’s grace.
Pastors, I share all this first for my own personal benefit as I evaluate my time off. But I also write with the hope to move you to see your own need as a pastor for this kind of extended time where you can step away from all the consuming pressures of ministry. Remember, you must be proactive and assertive to take this time to care well for yourself. Others will not fight for this time for you. You will need to fight for it. I did. I needed it. I can tell you as I leave this last month behind me, it was worth fighting for.