Thursday, August 28, 2014

Take time to refresh yourself

A few days ago I shared an article on Twitter that looked at the need for pastors to take time to pause and refresh themselves.  A FB friend pointed out that may be the toughest thing for a bivocational pastor.  There is often little time to pause between the ministry requirements we need to meet and the demands of our other jobs.  Of course, he was right.  It is tough, but that doesn't make it any less necessary.

In a recent blog post I shared an experience I had in the mid-1980s with clinical depression.  The cause of that depression was that I had over-extended myself.  I won't go into the details for the sake of time, but for four years I had lived with little sleep and lots of adrenaline.  Eventually, that adrenaline wears out and depression is often the result.  To say I was busy would be an understatement, and I accomplished a lot during that time, but it was at a great personal cost.  I was not responding to demands the church was making.  The church I served for two decades was always good about respecting my personal time.  My over-extension was due to choices I made.

I went from one activity to another with little time in between.  We seldom went anywhere on vacation or even took little day trips to get away.  The church provided me with two weeks vacation, but I seldom took more than one week.  Eventually, it caught up with me as it will anyone who abuses themselves as I was doing.

My book, The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry, includes many of the things I learned in the process of healing.  One of those learnings is that you must take responsibility to care for yourself.  For bivocational ministers, the first of the four spiritual laws is that "God loves you, and everybody has a wonderful plan for your life."  If you don't control your schedule somebody else will, and I can almost assure you they will not have the same priorities for your life that you have.

After the depression I began taking both weeks of vacation from church.  A few years later they increased that to four weeks, and I took all of them.  We bought a bass boat and my wife and I began spending some evenings and Saturdays fishing.  We scheduled a regular weekly date night to get away from town.  These dates were written on my calendar just like any other appointment, and if someone asked me to do something when we had a date scheduled I just explained that I had another appointment at that time and could not do it.

I also learned the value of blocking out periods of time for important tasks.  When I began my doctoral studies I went through my calendar and blocked out 2-3 hour periods of time a couple of time a week for uninterrupted reading.  I was surprised how seldom other things interfered with that schedule, but I know without doing that other "important" things would have demanded my attention and kept me from doing the reading that was required.

As I wrote earlier, the church I served was very understanding and even protective of my time.  Not every church is like that, however.  You may need to do some training to help them understand your need to refresh yourself.  Dr. Phil says that we teach people how to treat us, and I think too many ministers have taught their congregations over the years that it is OK to demand their pastors to be available to them 24/7/365 for whatever reason.  If you are in such a church you may need to train them that it is not OK.

Sometimes, like in my earlier ministry, we ministers put these unrealistic expectations on ourselves.  Some people go into the ministry because they need to be needed, and they teach people to become dependent upon them.  Some seem to believe that they must be constantly present or things won't get done.  Maybe they even think God can't do it if they aren't there to help.  I would encourage such persons to drive through the nearest cemetery.  It's full of indispensable people.  They died, and the world continues on just fine in their absence.  Take time to rest and refresh yourself so you don't join them before your time.

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