Sixteen years ago, my family and I moved to Waco, Texas, to begin working with the Crestview church. Our children were young and were fascinated by the notion of moving. I still remember their glee when we flew into the Waco airport and were greeted by some members of what would become our new church. These people did so much to help us feel welcome. They sent us notes and cards, invited us into their homes for meals, and were very kind to our two little girls.
Yet, in spite of those kind gestures, it would be a hard move. Our prior church situation had been very, very difficult. In fact, after almost three years there, I began to wonder if I wanted to remain in “full-time ministry” any longer. I was burned out — completely. In fact, it was with some hesitation that I agreed to come work with the church in Waco. I was hesitant to trust again and experience deep disappointment all over again.
However, what happened in those early discussions regarding the possibility of our move has turned out to be highly significant to my staying there for sixteen years of ministry.
From the beginning, we (the elders of this church and I) agreed that I would be away each July. Two of these weeks are vacation. They really are vacation. I don’t do e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The remaining two weeks in July would be for study. These two weeks would be a time to prepare for messages for the following year. It would be a time to read and think without the pressure of everyday ministry responsibilities.
So for sixteen years, I have been away each July. When I return, I usually feel rejuvenated and refreshed, with new energy and perspective. I really believe the primary reason for my being at this church for that many years has been the opportunity to check out each July.
What do I do during those two weeks? I have done a variety of things. For several years, I have gone to Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. There, I am in a different culture, hearing different concerns, and have the opportunity to listen to good lectures. One year I spent the week in Memphis while another year, I spent part of a week in Birmingham. Some years, I have read heavily, covering a variety of issues. Other years I have focused on one topic or issue. Some years, I have spent much time in libraries. Other years, I did not ever enter a library.
One year I simply focused on what I was hearing from people around me. I spent lots of time in Starbucks and various other coffee shops. I made notes of most every conversation that I participated in or that I overheard. I browsed through magazines, newspapers, etc. looking for common themes and threads. During that time, I was also in the middle of preparation for a new message series on Sunday mornings. So what I heard from others connected with the preparation of these messages.
In a few days, I will return to work after another July. I remain thankful to this church that provides this opportunity for me each year. I only wish that more and more of my friends who are in a similar role had such an arrangement with their churches. I think these churches would quickly see that they are making a wise, long-term investment in their minister that benefits the congregation greatly.
Have you ever experienced anything close to burnout? What practices or habits have you built into your life that have helped to energize and provide renewal?