To bless our ministers and promote their health and well-being, we should encourage our pastor and ministerial staff to take at least one extra day off this week.
Ministry is a unique vocation wherein most pastors are “on call” 24/7. I loved serving as a pastor, but the personal investment of time, thought and energy required to do ministry well is off the charts, even on normal weeks.
When you factor in a holiday week like Easter that involves additional worship services and requires extra preparation, a pastor’s mental and physical capacity can become depleted quickly, no matter how deeply spiritual they are.
How can a minister maintain a vibrant and energized ministry? In addition to nurturing their own walk of faith, effective ministers must intentionally set aside time for rest and revitalization.
As ministers, there are times we are caught up in the joy and enthusiasm of high and holy days like Easter and Christmas, and the rush of adrenaline can lead us to the false assumption that we are exempt from the need for Sabbath rejuvenation.
Rest, recuperation and rejuvenation are crucial to every sport and every vocation, and ministry is no exception.
You never see a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball pitch in consecutive games, save for the most extreme circumstances in a playoff game. They need to rest their arms.
Your favorite college football team never plays more than one game in a week. They need to mend and heal.
A truck driver is limited by law to driving no more than eight hours without a 30-minute break, and no more than 11 hours per day followed by a 10-hour mandatory rest.
Who wants a pilot flying their plane without adequate rest? Who wants a surgeon to perform surgery without first having a good night’s sleep? Who wants a pastor who is depleted and fatigued attending to the matters of their soul?
Several years ago, at a conference in Gadsden, Alabama, the popular preacher and author, Vance Havner, challenged each of the participating pastors to prioritize rest.
He reminded us that, “The pastor who is always available isn’t worth much when he is available.” It’s true for both men and women who serve in a ministerial role.
Back in the 1980s, I was in a group of young pastors who had the privilege of spending a couple of hours with Charles Stanley, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, in a hotel lobby after a church growth conference.
As Stanley fielded our questions, one young pastor asked, “Dr. Stanley, what is the best advice you can give a young pastor?”
I expected that Stanley would comment on the importance of “preparing yourself before you preach to others” or making good eye contact during the sermon or that he would encourage us to “lead like Moses.”
Therefore, I was surprised when he replied, “Always remember, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is rest.”
Through the years, I’ve never forgotten his advice. Rest is imperative for ministers, especially after a busy season like Easter. Pastors need rest for their voices, minds, bodies and spirits.
Just as a lack of rest can contribute to underperformance, mood changes, depression, burnout and a general decline in health, so recuperative sleep and rejuvenating rest have many positive benefits that enrich a pastor’s ministry:
- Refreshes the mind, body and spirit.
- Enriches our relationships.
- Restores our joy.
- Sharpens our memory.
- Makes us more pleasant to be around.
- Improves our overall health.
- Stimulates creativity and innovation.
- Promotes a healthy life-work balance.
- Maximizes our capacity to serve effectively.
- Enhances our love for doing ministry.
A cumulative overview of the ministerial responsibilities this past week would look something like this:
- Leading Holy Week services on consecutive days.
- Countless hours in the study writing devotionals and preparing sermons.
- Multiple planning sessions to make sure that parking, security and hospitality concerns are covered.
- Nights of mulling over messages as you try to sleep.
- Making hospital visits on Good Friday.
- Doing an unexpected funeral on Silent Saturday.
- Proofreading the bulletin for the third time.
- Attending the children’s annual Easter egg hunt.
- Pouring yourself into the preaching of one, two, three or more services on Easter weekend.
Perhaps the most spiritual thing your ministers can do is rest.
One of our responsibilities as church members is to encourage, or better yet to insist, that our ministers take time to rest. And that may mean giving them our blessing to take an extra day off this week.
Barry Howard serves as pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta, and as a leadership coach / consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches. He served previously as an EthicsDaily.com board member.