I did not realize until I arrived just how much I needed it. Pastor, you may need it too.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I left town for a weekend getaway. One of the many advantages of being a part of our local association is access to a retreat center complete with cabins and a lake. Pastors in our association can use this space for up to four nights a year for free, because pastors need respite.
This season has been particularly straining. All good things, but good things also take their emotional toll. At UBA, we are beginning a number of new initiatives to serve our churches. We are leaning hard into replanting and revitalizing churches, an involved ministry to say the least. I can recount stories over the last two years of God doing remarkable things to reclaim glory from dying churches. Churches with barely enough people to fill a minivan are now vibrant again, baptizing new members and reaching their community for the first time in decades.
However, with each of these stories comes the details. Details of conflict or hurt, details of fear and power struggles. Replanting is an involved process. Add to that continued PhD research, ministry in our local church, and my wife and I having our first baby on the way. It's hard to keep the plates spinning, and I know many pastors who can relate.
Last week, a tweet thread hit the nail on the head. Chris gets it right.
A day or two in the life of many pastors I know...— Chris Griggs (@lucha_rev) April 12, 2019
"Hello, pastor, just wanted you to know that nobody has cared for us. Well, a little, but not like we expected. We won't be back."
Hangs up the phone discouraged.
Ministry is time consuming. Ministry is emotionally draining. Ministry requires pastors who truly love their congregation to feel what they feel, hurt when they hurt, and grow weary when they grow weary. Pastors who shepherd well ride into the storms of conflict not away from them. Pastors roll up their sleeves and reach down into the mess. After all, a shepherd should smell like his sheep.
My point here is not to commiserate. The spiritual oversight of souls is tough work, and those of us in ministry aspire to that work. Instead, I simply want to issue a plea: Pastor, seek respite.
Pastor, you can seek respite because God does not.
It is easy for us to forget who ultimately bears the weight of our congregation. Even the phrase "our congregation" is truly a misnomer. Pastor, your church is not yours and that weight ultimately falls on one who can withstand infinitely more. We can seek respite, because God does not.
The Scriptures remind us that God does not sleep or slumber (Psalm 121:4), his eyes are everywhere, watching the evil and good (Proverbs 15:3). He was God before the mountains were born (Psalm 90:2). In him, all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). And he guards your going and your coming (Psalm 121:8).
When we seek respite, we admit that we are not God and that we trust in him and his promises to us, for us and our congregations.
Pastor, disconnect from busyness to connect with God
Your church needs your holiness more than it needs your busyness.
Keeping the plates spinning. Juggling chainsaws. The tyranny of the urgent. There are dozens of ways we talk about the endless stream of tasks that wash over us. In some twisted sense of cultural honor, we even celebrate it. But there is a difference between what is urgent and what is important in ministry. Not only does respite allow pastors to trust in God's sovereignty over his congregation, it provides that precious space for intimacy with the Father.
Don't buy the lie that your strategies and tactics are more significant to your congregation than the overflow of grace that comes from pastoral leadership deeply rooted in the soil of God's word and truly abiding in Christ. Christ himself needed respite, dedicated time to commune with his Heavenly Father, during his earthly ministry. How much more so do you?
Pastor, there are more options than you think.
If you're in need of respite, there are more options out there for ministers than you may realize. Ed Stetzer keeps a fairly updated list here for pastors across the country who are looking for cheap—often free—opportunities for pastors to seek respite.
If you're one of our UBA pastors, we have an easy opportunity for you to find retreat. As I mentioned above, our retreat center offers to our pastors four nights a year on site, often with meals included, for free. All you have to do to is contact them here and schedule a time of rest. Take it by yourself or take it as an opportunity to focus on your family. But pastor, seek respite. It's good for you, and it's good for those you serve.
Keelan Cook serves as Senior Church Consultant for Union Baptist Association and Instructor of North American Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His primary areas of ministry focus include urban missiology, church planting, church revitalization, and unreached people groups.