“I’m collateral damage…” 4 Thoughts for Pastor’s Schedules

These three words stopped me in my tracks yesterday and broke my heart.

While on my way to a highly packed and anticipated schedule, the most unexpected moment happened. When I’m in certain a part of our state, I try to frequent a very unique store. Every item sold has a story and a mission. For example, I’ll buy a bracelets hand-made by women who’ve been rescued from human trafficking and the money goes to help the outreach. I love giving them my business and gifting someone so that I can share the story of this organization.

Yesterday, I found a mug with the word, “rest.” Purchasing it was going to provide a weeks worth of water for someone in Ethiopia. I have no problem paying a premium price with a premium mission. On top of that, it’s a message my wife and I love to live out and speak into others. We’ve been casualties of workaholism. We have seen others struggle and break under a lack of margin built into their lives. And we have a passion to see others get control of their schedules before their schedules claim them, their marriage, and their family.

At the checkout, the woman boxing it up was so kind. She complemented me on the choice of mug and reiterated the mission it was going to fund. I shared that I was a pastor and I was planning on gifting it because of the message of “rest.” A bit of my testimony came out about my propensity to not rest. She began to tear up and open her heart.

“I understand what busyness and a lack of rest does. I was a pastor’s wife for twenty years. Please help pastors to know how to rest. Why? I’m collateral damage.

It was as if time froze and my world cease to turn on its axis.

I would have taken a deep breath if I could locate any oxygen in the room. Words in that moment were hard to come by. It wasn’t awkwardness but a mutual understanding of the pain that busyness can lead to.  What I’ve learned early in my marriage claimed hers.  I couldn’t fight my tears at the checkout. Even now, I sit in a coffeehouse with tears streaming down my face.

In the words of James in holy scripture,

“…Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”

I understand the context of this scripture is the instability of having our words containing both curse and blessing. But I wonder if it still fits THIS context. How do we as pastors preach a blessed life but facilitate schedules that curse our marriage and family? I’m not against being busy. The work ethic my parents instilled in me pushes me to be productive. I am not about laziness as I see that as poor stewardship of my time and resources. But the refusal to build healthy margin (rest, relationships, and recreation) is placing a weight upon our spouses and children that is breaking your family speaking a message contrary to what we are preaching.

On top of that, what example are we giving to our congregations to follow? I’m tired of hearing about a pastors getting burned out. If that’s not damaging enough, the next pastor who follows has an expectation built of a pastor schedule looks like. And if he/she isn’t keeping up what was previously modeled, then upheaval happens.

I get seasons of busyness. But there’s a massive difference between a “season” and a “lifestyle.” There are “occasions” and there are ingrained “behaviors.”

The collateral damage is so much deeper that we’ve anticipated. But there is always hope.

Psalms 139 your schedule. 
Read through and pray the entire Psalm through. It’s of my favs. Verse 24 that will stand out as you pray the words, “Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”  Have your schedule in front of you and listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. Schedule margin (rest, relationship, and recreation) into your schedule. You’ll be a better spouse, parent, and pastor if you do. 

Repent to (and with) your family. 
Vulnerability to your spouse and family helps you stay “human.” They not only want to hear that there’s going to be change but they want to be a part of it. Don’t think they’re expecting perfection; your family just wants to see change. It will take time, intentionality, and probably some failure at the attempts. It’s okay. You’re human. I’d rather deal with a pastor “failing” at trying instead of failing to try (you’re probably not “failing” at trying but I get what you’re feeling when things doing feel like their working).

Confront the “feelings of busyness” with healthy productivity. 
I find one of two things happening with busy pastors. First, there’s a propensity to not want to change how you lead as you pastor. We want others to change but don’t enjoy seeing it happen in our lives. Yesterday’s methods and styles may or may not fit today. But if you don’t evaluate effectiveness, then you don’t know if your being productive. Second, if you don’t evaluate “how” you’re spending your time, you can be wasting the “great” moments of your day doing “good” stuff. “Good” isn’t bad. But if there’s no evaluation, then you can fill your schedules doing “good” stuff and not necessarily the “great.”

Get some mentoring. 
There’s a reason I want to be in connection with other pastors from different size congregations and denominations. I want to learn. I want to grow. My introverted nature enjoys working out things on my own. But you and I were designed to work in community. Again, if we’re preaching it, why don’t we live that. Get yourself some good books. Sit with other pastors. Allow some accountability and personal growth goals.

I know there’s a question looming: Why haven’t I given you the name of the business I was at? Because it’s here in west Michigan and I’m more concerned for protecting the identity of this wonderful, yet hurting, individual I encountered. Message me if you want to know the name if you’re desire to give them your business. I’m just trying to be cautious.

I love you pastors. This systemic issue isn’t exclusive to our vocation. But if we can get a hold of this heart for health, work to practice it, perhaps it’ll give us a platform to perpetuate it in our congregations.

I love you all. Praying for you.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

Bieber Wisdom: 6 Thoughts on the Reality of Rest

I’ll be upfront about my taste in music: I’m eclectic. I enjoy a variety of styles and artists.

Lately, I’ve been indulging in Mozart and Bach while reading and writing. When studying, it’s all about Elevation, River Valley, and Hillsong. My driving music is usually jamming 80’s tunes. Yet, when the family is in the car, the radio is on a local station as to either fill in the silence or to drown out my random singing (usually the latter).

Every once in a while, a song by Justin Bieber will come on. Honestly, I don’t mind him. The songs are a catchy but I can’t say I’m always looking forward to a new Bieber album (I may have someone in my family who feels a bit more enthusiasm toward his music but my wife will remain nameless #ShesABelieber).

Today came an announcement that shocked the Beliebers world-wide: He cancelled the rest of his tour.

I don’t necessarily keep track of these things. My phone doesn’t get Bieber notifications. But  it caused enough of a stir that took over my twitter feed and began to appear on Facebook. You may say, “who cares?” I do. Why? Whether you like him or not, you have to admit that he is an influencer. And what I like to do is to learn from influencers of our culture. As a pastor, I want to grow and I believe that there is much to learn in the church world as well as outside of it. So when these cultural moments happen, I always ask the question, “is there something that I need to learn?”

The Canadian musician has been on tour for the last 18 months and has performed more than 150 shows on six continents. While Twitter began to rant and whine, John Mayer tweeted out a couple of thoughts of perspective:

Though I don’t see exactly why the cancellation, I think the stats hint what has happened.  In the last 78 weeks, he’s performed 150 times on every continent (with the exception of Antarctica). This doesn’t even include interviews and rehearsals. This doesn’t include any commitments to any appearances. I look at the few stats and see a larger issue that every single one of us are susceptible to.

What have I learned (or re-learned)? If we don’t claim the pace of our lives, our pace of life will claim us. 

Fatigue has a price
Ironically, yesterday I had a conversation about this subject with a recent retired man on the golf course. He talked about how he’d be contracted to work during the day and another company would hire him at triple-time to work through the evenings on other projects. “Pastor Dave, I may have made a lot of money but it cost me my family.” My heart broke as I saw a side of this man I’ve never seen. There was something in his tone and his eyes as if to say, “Dave, please learn from my failure.”

Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many striving to “provide for the marriage and/or family” that they miss out on providing what is truly needed for their marriage and/or family.  As a spouse and parent, your presence trumps any present you can offer. You’re focused attention and affection is needed more than you know. Fatigue has a price. And it will cost you the energy, vision, and determination you need to find health personally, maritally, and in our family.

In the story of Sampson, Delilah didn’t take him down. Fatigue did. He could have handled what he was facing if he had guarded himself. But the weariness wore him down cost him his strength and role. We can learn from this.  We must do better.

Fatigue creates vulnerability.
I’m not saying fatigue is sinful. We all get tired. But know, when you get worn down, you become vulnerable on every level: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Personally, when I go through times of depression, my wife will immediately check my work schedule. 100% of the time, she’ll see that my pace set me up for the crash. It may have been an email or comment to trigger the funk, but the routine I was living created a vulnerability.

This thought makes me think of Matthew 4:2-3. When Jesus had been in the wilderness, the “tempter” came, not at the beginning, but after 40 days of fasting. When we are worn down, there must be a realization of our vulnerability and a recognition that healthy actions must be taken to position us to healthy outcomes.

Rest is best
So often, I speak to pastors about the issue of rest. I’m a very driven person; by nature a workaholic. I want to be productive and effective and I have to constantly remind myself: One of the most productive things I can do is rest. I’ve learned that lesson all to well from other areas of my life. The best athletes know how to work their bodies to peak performance and for their bodies to work well, they must rest well. Even our electronics work better when they’ve been shut off and allowed to “rest/reset.”  I’ve heard people say, “I can’t afford to rest.” I’d submit to you: You can’t afford to NOT rest.

Recognize the cost of rest
Rest has a cost. I’m not trying to set up Justin Bieber as the model of perfection. But I see a young man who made a difficult decision to “pull the plug” on the pace and refund thousands of fans. I see something that I can understand as an important step towards a healthy pace in life. If you want healthy margin, it’s going to have a cost. I meet far too many men and women in their 50’s and 60’s who voice their regrets as spouses and parents. What do I hear? I don’t hear, “I wish I put in more overtime” or “I wish I would’ve been busier.” I hear,

  • “I wish I would have spent more time with him/her/them.”
  • “I should’ve been at their ballgame/recital/ceremony.”
  • “I wish I would have been around more.”
  • “I wish I would have taken my spouse and kids to church instead of sending them.”

If you are going to develop a good healthy margin of rest, you need to know what to lay down. You’ve only got 24 hours in a day. Adding “rest” doesn’t work; Rest will cost you something that needs to be laid aside. In the words of another man I encountered, “My family needed a healthy home more than they needed a nice house.”

Rest is intentional. 
We’ve got to recognize that rest can be different for everyone. That’s okay. But instead of making excuses of why you can’t find some rest, take opportunities and risk to discover it. For you, rest may be a hammock with a good book. To some, being creative (painting, carving, building, etc) is relaxing. Regardless, rest doesn’t happen by accident. You need to be intentional about scheduling and engaging in it. Rest is meant to realign and refocus your life. It gives you a chance to reconnect with the people and the things that are truly important and critical to your life. Like a car when the alignment off, you can only drive that way for so long before something has deteriorated enough to keep you from moving forward.

Rest is trust
The idea/concept of sabbath is something we don’t talk about enough. Sabbath wasn’t for God, it was a gift to us. The Lord knows how much we can take AND the cost of an unhealthy pace. We need to catch His sabbath heart for us and embrace what He’s given.

Rest is revolution. Rest is a statement against that which wants to rule over us. Rest says, “I sabbath from my pace because I trust God and not myself as my provider.” Perhaps THIS is our ultimate struggle as a rest-less culture; we trust ourselves more than we trust God. For this reason, we need to trust God more. And, perhaps one of the best ways to combat “self” and trust God is to step back and rest.

As a person with the tendency to work non-stop, I speak out of the heart conveyed by the Apostle Paul who said,

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. Philippians 3:12

I love you all. Don’t think rest will come accidentally. Make rest happen.

Praying for ya Justin!!

 

…thanks for letting me ramble.

 

 

 

Pastor to Pastor: Master the Mundane

Every day I get to wake up and do my dream job. It’s not necessarily how I envisioned my life as a child (or a teenager for that matter), but it has become what feeds the passion of my soul. I think that’s really what the “dream job” looks like. It’s that fit, that situation, where you are where you are (1) passionate about where you are at , and (2) that place challenges you, on a daily basis, to grow on every level.

Within this vocation, I’ve discovered that many, if not most, pastors don’t feel the way I do. Instead of a calling, you feel sentenced. And to leave what you do leaves feelings of disobedience and failure. So you endure what should be a joy.

I hope I can help in some way today.

I’m a pastor who has a burden for pastors. I think that burden has been birthed in large part to my own pastoral hurts, struggles, and (even more so) mistakes. You and I may be in different church scenarios, size, and/or surroundings.  And because of that, you may feel isolated in what you’re dealing with.

I understand the weight of expectation (and, consequently, wish I handled it better).
I understand being in the hospital over anxiety and/or chest pains.
I understand the feeling of letting down your congregation, staff, and family.
I understand emotional breakdowns that debilitate you on every level.
I understand the how 1 critical comment/letter can devastate you in the midst of a plethora of encouraging words.
I understand what it’s like to resign because of frustration.
I understand when people are hearing what you are saying but they miss your heart.
I understand not being able to shut down your mind so you can sleep.
I understand what it’s like to be accused of something I’m not guilty of.
I understand what it feels like to hear your kids say they miss you (and you haven’t traveled anywhere).
I understand pouring into someone only to see them destroy their life.
I know what it’s like to stare at a blank page not knowing what to preach.

As therapeutic as it is making this list (kinda wanted to write more), there’s a point to all of it. It’s to let you know…

You’re not alone.

But amidst of all of the flurry of everything that encapsulates ministry, there’s one significant lesson (of MANY lessons) I’ve come to understand. It has been a guide to help get some sanity (mentally, emotionally, and spiritually)

Master the mundane.

Find/discover a routine that will facilitate health and well-being for you and your family. It’s hard to expect the church you lead to be healthy when you, the pastor, refuse to be healthy. And health, in large part, comes about when you master the mundane. I’m not talking about throwing some kale into your lunch every now and then. I’m talking about strategically shifting the “mundane” (schedule, routine) to a place where it facilitates productive pastoring instead of it mastering you into a place of ministry monotony.

Here are some thoughts to help take ownership over the mundane/routine/schedule…

Please be a spouse. You married a human; you didn’t marry a ministry.  In efforts to build a great ministry, far too many pastors have chosen to sacrifice the most important relationship outside of their relationship with Jesus. Connect daily. Date often. Laugh together as much as possible. Be intimate consistently. Pray endlessly.

Be a parent. Some of the most sobering words I have heard over and over from older ministers regarding lost time with their children: “Someone else could’ve led the meeting/preached the message/counseled the person…being on the sideline was more important than being in the pulpit.”  Don’t get me wrong, this is my vocation, but the heart behind the comments to me was a matter of priority that was missed. You’re kids need to see that they are the most important children in your congregation. It’s not about showing favoritism (as in spoiling them with entitlement). It is about making sure they know they are a priority to you.

Set a pace. Take care of yourself. Build both rest and exercise into your schedule. We have far too many ministers harping on congregations about inner and outer health when they refuse to practice what they’re preaching. Because of so many evening appointments, almost daily, I will build a run into my schedule. It gives a good break PLUS I use it as time to spend in prayer. I can put more, but I’ll let you read the blog I wrote for Converge Coaching on the subject.

Be in the community. Have a presence and connection in the community where you live. It’s way more simple than you realize. Frequent the same venues and develop relationships without wearing your sandwich-board sign that says, “I’m a pastor.” (Note: if you ask for a pastoral discount ANYWHERE…turn in your credentials.) I’m in the same coffeehouse every morning (on my day off, I still stop in). I go to the same person to cut my hair. I have a favorite place for lunch. Relationships in the community is currency and far too many pastors are relationally bankrupt. Jesus only had a bit more than 3 years of ministry, yet he spent much of that sitting at tables with people who were not welcome in church. That should challenge us all.

Have a social network presence. This is where most of your congregation lives and connects, why not have an online presence? But here’s what i’ll say about it: Have fun and don’t be “that person” who people groan at when they see your name in their feed because of the negativity. My social network philosophy: encouragement and amusement. Look for the fun and inspirational. Let your congregation know your human and have a life AND you have fun. Use social network to pray over people. Send messages of encouragement when you see people come across your feed. Just don’t add to the mess by being that snarky pastor who post more critical blogs from Christians about Christians so that we can be “better Christians.” Be a breath of fresh air to the social media feeds of the people you are connected to.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Don’t be a slave to a schedule of ministry no one can live up to. Master the mundane. Get control over your schedule and breathe a breath of health into your routine. Get a healthy grip of what your calendar looks like and watch your, your home, and your ministry transform.

Love ya pastor!! I believe in you because I believe in the One who called ya. 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Pastor Burnout Prevention: 6 Ideas to help you find rest.

(Please note: What you are about to read is more than a pastoral issue.  It plagues far too many homes so please read in the context of your vocation.)

Something has been burning in my heart a lot lately.  Between conversations with pastors and parishioners, and speaking on this subject yesterday at Northpoint Bible College, I felt the need to blog about something so essential that it’s being missed by our pastors…

…and that something is destroying their lives, marriages, families, and churches.

Rest.

I’ve been told that when you are thirsty, it’s a sign you are presently dehydrated. So, in essence, when you feel you need a drink, it’s not to prevent dehydration.  It’s because you are already at the place of depletion. For some reason, we treat rest the same way.  We don’t take it till we feel the “need” for it.  Perhaps it’s the same concept. Maybe, just maybe, the feeling of needing rest isn’t the sign our bodies are ready for it.  Perhaps it the sign it is already at the place of depletion.

Whenever I talk with pastors about it, I often hear them say, “Ha. Rest? What’s that?” It makes me cringe every time. We don’t model rest and it’s no wonder why we don’t see it in our congregations. Rest is seen as such a non-essential yet it’s becoming the slow death people don’t see coming.  I’ve heard leaders challenge pastors about “burning out for Jesus.”  I think (hope) they’re message is trying to challenge us to be passionate, innovative, and hard-working.  But I’ve seen burnt out pastors.  I’ve seen congregations burnt out from volunteering.   Ministry burn out doesn’t shine with the glory of God.  It illuminates the fading glow of our pride.  It leaves broken men/women, fractured marriages, wayward children, and unhealthy churches.

Ladies and gentlemen, something needs to change.

I believe EVERYTHING we receive from God we are called to be stewards of.  In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is dealing with the church on the issue of being a steward of our lives.  In the context of sexuality, he makes the statement, “for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” The message surpasses the context. You are a steward of the gift you have been given: your body/life.  Honor God with.  Please note: Using “rest” as an excuse to be lazy isn’t being a steward is just as egregious as burnout. If things are not getting done, either that’s lack of planning or you’ve taken on too much. Also, using “rest” as an excuse to procrastinate is manipulation. Be a better planner and organizer. Stewardship is about properly using a gift.  And squandering ministry with laziness or burning it out doesn’t honor God.

I even have mixed feelings about Sabbaticals.  I’m not against them.  But I often wonder: would the frequency of them and/or the length of them be needed if ministers knew how to rest properly?  And when they are taken, is time on them being wasted trying to rest because we were not a steward before them?

You need some margin built-in.  You need some rest. Pastors (and parishioners for that matter), I’ve got a few ideas for you to consider:

  1. Get a healthy inputs. Not saying you need to live off of quinoa and kale, but eating properly and getting appropriate sleep can go a long way. This was transformational for me and has aided me to better rest and recoup because I got healthier.  It’s not about being a certain size/shape.  It’s about inputting health into your life. My story of getting healthy can be read here.
  2. Get healthy activities.  You don’t need to be a runner. But you do need to get out of the office.  I start work early mornings and, frequently, have evening appointments.  It cannot be an excuse for not getting in some type of healthy activity.  Walk run, bike, or whatever.  Running has been the best time for me to pray as well as to get into some podcasts I really enjoy.   NOTE: Anne and I walk most evenings for a couple of miles.  It’s good exercise and we get to talk through our days/weeks.
  3. Date your spouse.  You wanna suck the fun out of your marriage, don’t date your spouse.  You’re not married to your ministry; you’re married to your spouse. And he/she shouldn’t feel like they’re second place to your ministry.  Anne and I, almost weekly, have a date.  It’s transformed us and brought us closer.
  4. Have fun…guilt free. I’ve met too many pastors and missionaries who feel guilty having fun/leisure.  First of all, we should be passionate about our calling and the place God has us (I have fun being a Lead Pastor). Secondly, we need to get out of our heads that fun is a waste of time or that fun isn’t a Godly thing to do (obviously there are ungodly activities).  Recover your joy by having fun and rediscovering the joy of ministry. PREACHING NOTE: Do you know why most  of your illustrations come from a book, it’s because you don’t have any fun and/or you take life too serious.  Lighten up and enjoy what God has given!
  5. Realize that the Kingdom solely doesn’t rise and fall upon your shoulders.  The church was here before you.  If it failed because you disengaged with it, then you are doing far too much. Delegate and empower leaders.  Mentor people.  Let go of frivolous ministries that are not productive. Pride is keeping you juggling. Humility releases the superfluous and embraces the necessary.  Build ministry that will outlast you and outshine your pride.
  6. Get a proper schedule. I understand busy seasons. For example, Christmas is pretty hectic in the ministry world. But it shouldn’t be an excuse to not strive to balance our schedules.  A little thing that I do is built into my schedule exercise, dates, family time, rest, etc. and title them appointments. Why? It protects me from my natural workaholic tendencies.  To leave things “open” is to leave them optional to get more “work” done with little to no regard for getting proper down time and recreation.

If you’ve burnt out, this blog isn’t written to guilt you.  It’s meant to steer you toward health. This article is the alarm clock to wake you up and realize that life does not have to be like this.

But…If you’re hearing “I miss you” from your spouse…your kids feel less of a priority than meetings…if you’ve lost your passion for your calling…

…then it’s time to get refreshed in the presence of Holy Spirit and invest in rest.

I believe in what Jesus has called you into.  I believe greater things are in store for you.  Marriages and families can be healed in Jesus’ name. Joy in ministry can be found.  Schedules can be fixed. Callings can be rediscovered.

It just takes a bit of humility and trust.  You are not your own.  Honor God.

…thanks for letting me ramble.