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 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 week’s 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 complimented me on the choice of the 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 ceased 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 on 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 pastors getting burned out. If that’s not damaging enough, the next pastor who follows has an expectation built on what 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 than we’ve anticipated. But there is always hope.
Psalms 139 your schedule.
Read through and pray the entire Psalm through. It’s one 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 a 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 you’re 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.