I was in a pastor’s meeting last week. Such gatherings have become rarer since Covid broke in the US two years ago this month. Covid continued its impact by reducing the number of attendees. Some decided just before getting on a plane or even as they were checking into the hotel not to attend because of Covid 19/Omicron exposure or infection.
Such is the nature of life these days. One day it will pass. Soon we all hope.
The conference included helpful information about the status of pastoring these days. Some good. One example, according to good investigation by Lifeway Research, is that the number of pastor resignations is not out of control.
Pastors are struggling like everyone else, but the rates of resignation and total departure from ministry vocations have been pretty stable over the last ten years, including the last two years of the pandemic season.
It was also encouraging to see how many different leaders and ministries are seeking to address the unique needs of ministers across the country. If you’re interested to learn more, you can check out care4pastors.com or contact me by replying to this email.
Of course, there was plenty of conversation about pastor discouragement.
Ministry can be hard, really hard at times. We all know that and live it. The whole focus of the conference was about learning, living, and sharing “whole health discipleship” that includes sustainable pace. It should be the norm that we can be healthy servants who grow healthy disciples and healthy churches.
One pastor at the conference offered a simple insight. Before he explained, he apologized for what he called “the ultimate name drop.” He said that what he was about to share emerged from a conversation he’d had with the late John R. W. Stott, the famous English pastor and prolific theologian.
This pastor once had the opportunity to ask Stott personally if he’d ever gotten downhearted about ministry and, if so, what did he do about it?
Stott said yes.
Discouragement chases all of us down no matter the place or prominence of our work. Stott went on to say that, when that happened to him, he took two initial steps to change the direction of his spirit. The first things he sought were a good night’s rest and something fun!
How simple and clear.
It’s a good reminder of the calling and priority of daily, weekly, and monthly Sabbath experiences. No one, not even pastors, are called to all work and no rest or play. We need to establish daily boundaries where we “spike the ball” and go home after a reasonable day’s work.
We must have a weekly rest where we put ministry down for at least twenty-four hours to rest and play. We must continually pursue hobbies and other life-giving, life-renewing activities that cause us to savor sweet and relaxing times. These times “re-create” us. You know that Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man” as a gift from God.
Another friend said to me a few years ago, “If you labor with your hands, then Sabbath rest with your mind. If you labor with your mind, Sabbath rest by engaging your body in activity.” That’s a good way to think about it. Sabbath is about rest and good sleep. It’s also about meaningful but different activities that bring us joy. Christians, especially pastors, need to have fun, regularly.
We are complex and beautiful creations of God. We are spiritual, physical, mental, relational, and a lot more too. Physically remember this, that the foundations of good health are simple: it’s the dynamic interplay of sleep, nutrition, and activity. Good living is more than that, but it’s not less than that either.
One more good thought from the conference. Never forget this, as my friend Dr. Mark Dance says: “We are to be people who let the Great Commandments of Jesus drive our pursuit of fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus. Never the other way around.”
“‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’” —Mark 12:29–31, NIV
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” —Matthew 28:18–20 NIV
—Dr. Mark Turman