Almost a dozen years ago, I was talking on the telephone with a good friend. My friend serves as a consultant and friend to many churches. He also knows many, many ministers who serve in a variety of roles. My friend said, "What churches need are ministers who are normal, healthy, genuine people who are willing to deal with their own stuff."
Now that was not meant to be an exhaustive description of a good minister. If you were to continue on in conversation with my friend, you would learn of the value he places on ministers being persons who are godly and who have good character. My friend, however, was trying to make a point. Far too often, ministers in churches model a lifestyle that is not healthy.
Many ministers and many churches place an inordinate value on busyness, activity, and noise. I’m not talking about working hard. That is a good thing! No, I am talking about a lifestyle that places little value on rest.
Ruth Haley Barton in Leadership Journal (Winter 2007, pp. 101-103) writes:
When we keep pushing forward without taking adequate time for rest, our way of life may seem heroic, but there is a frenetic quality to our work that lacks true effectiveness because we lost the ability to be fully present. Present to God and present to other people. And we lost the ability to discern what is really needed in our situation.
The result can be ‘sloppy desperation,’ a mental and spiritual state in which we are just trying to get it all done. And this prevents us from the quality of presence that delivers true insight and spiritual leadership.
How important! For too many years, I thought in terms of just trying to get it done. More to do? Work harder and longer! Some of this no doubt was centered in my own ego. After all, we often value and stroke people who are enormously busy. Yet, I don’t know that we are doing people a favor when what we model is a perpetual state of exhaustion. (Do you relate to this? I suspect that far too many of us are on this merry-go-round only to realize that we can’t find the "off" switch.)
Barton goes on to say:
One of the most important rhythms for those of us in ministry is to establish a constant back-and-forth motion between engagement and retreat. We need regular times to engage in the battle, giving our best energy to the task. Then we need regular times when we step back to gain perspective, re-strategize, and tend our wounds — an inevitability of life in ministry.
An occupational hazard for us in Christian ministry is that it can be hard to distinguish between the times we are "on," working for God, and times when we can just be with God to replenish our own soul….