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Is Time Away, Time Well Spent?

In 2017, published the results of a pastoral survey they had done. Here are two of the questions, along with the responses from that survey.

Do you feel overworked? 64% of pastors replied yes.

Do you feel you are unable to meet the demands of ministry? 86% of respondents answered yes.

These results aren’t surprising. They are unfortunately, sadly predictable.

I wonder how much higher those number would be for pastors after 15 months of trying to navigate the changing COVID restrictions?

It’s quite likely these pastors and maybe yourself are experiencing what the Koreans call, “Gwarosa”, and what the Japanese call “Karōshi” (過労死). The English translation is, “death by overwork!”

It is not easy to manage all of the demands of life and ministry.

As a pastor for over 35 years, I understand the challenge of being called to vocational ministry. We start full of enthusiasm and we’re determined that everything we do with be for that “Audience of One.” Oh, that works for a while but then life shifts, stuff happens, and people need us! Staff and Boards need us! Our family, they really need us! And we’re left trying to figure out how to stay focused on pleasing the Audience of ONE when dozens, if not hundreds are clamouring for our attention. The plates we’ve been, to this point successfully spinning, come crashing down. Sometimes one at a time, sometimes all at once.

Dallas Willard was prophetic when he wrote, “If you don’t come apart for a while, you will come apart after a while.”

In the largest study done on evangelical pastors (McMinn Study) the evidence is quite clear that people in ministry need time away. One of the hopes of the study was to find out what pastors were doing that allowed them to manage all the demands, so the plates didn’t fall nor did they die from overwork. Here are the top seven indicators which produce sustainable or resilience in ministry.

1. Intentional separation between personal and work environments

2. Intentional connections, especially with spouse and also with trusted friends

3. Self awareness of limitations

4. Spiritual devotions for one’s own soul

5. Hobbies

6. Exercise

7. Time away – daily, weekly, yearly

Ponder Willard’s statement. Now look again at the list. Notice that the vast majority of the seven indicators are related to “coming a part for a while”. Personally, I see a correlation between Willard’s comment, the study results and this command of Jesus to his disciples, “come aside and rest”.

Rest, is a concept the world is catching on to. Nap cafes have opened in major cities around the globe. People are taking power naps from 15-60 minutes. According to an article at, “power naps give people the chance to recharge. Daytime napping reduces feelings of anxiety and stress, while boosting alertness.”

As well more is being written these days about getting proper rest through sleep and via time away from the office.

So if the world’s comprehension of downtime even through napping is deemed essential, then those in ministry need to incorporate time away into their regiments.

Ruth Haley Barton writes.

“No matter how far along we are in the spiritual life, there is no time when retreat, or strategic withdrawal ceases to be an essential practise. Without it we lose our way.”

Sadly pastors who lose their way self medicate in a variety of sinful practices. Practices which will destroy their relationship with God, their spouses, family, friends and in some cases their church.

Someone years ago said, “If the devil can’t make you sin, he will make you busy and either way your soul shrivels!” Not a pretty picture is it?

If an old and what should really be a worn-out phrase, “I’d rather burnout than rust out”, comes to mind, let me provide the rest of the story. When the British pastor some 70 years ago said “I’d rather burn out than rust out” to another British pastor, the second minister replied, “I’ve heard that before and never seen the glory in it’!

Life in the ministry shouldn’t be about rusting out, or burning out, but finishing out. This only happens when we engage in self care that establishes rest and time away as key rhythms in life.

Here are some benefits when downtime becomes a key component in life;

1. A change of place, plus a change of space leads to a change in perspective

2. A time of rest, recalibrates the mind, will and emotions, leading to being re-energized

3. A Biblical imperative “come aside and rest,” becomes the path to long term sustainable ministry

I close with Jeremiah 6:16

“This is what the Lord says, Stand at the crossroads and look;

Ask for the ancient paths, Ask where the good way is and walk in it,

And you will find rest for your souls.”

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