I Need A Retreat

To retreat is to back up. Sometimes it is to regroup, re-energize, to plan a new attack. I need a retreat regularly, and when I don’t get it often enough my work suffers.

I am not talking aboutCalendar_0 a holiday, though everyone needs a vacation. You need some time to get away from everything with your spouse, with your family – sometimes without your children.

I am not talking about a holiday, but a day or more to get away from phones and from people and from your messy office. We all need to find a place where we can look at how things are going and take some time to look ahead.

This past week I had one day like that. I’m not too far away from the city of Calgary and Ambrose University College. I went to the Ambrose Library and hid there all day in a quiet cubicle surrounded by books. I took a calendar with me. I took my laptop. I took a binder
that is a “collect-all” for articles and plans and dreams I have had over the years. _1 Old Binder

My retreat is usually about what is going on in the church. While I take some time to set some personal goals, my main goal is to come away with a plan for my preaching for the next half a year or more. I want to know when I’m scheduling in a communion celebration. It’s usually the 4th Sunday of the month, but not always. I want to know where I’m planning special prayer times. I check what Sunday Advent starts so I’m ready. I even sometimes figure out what kind of testimony I would like on a certain Sunday. I plan in our Special Days like our Annual Open House & Chili Cook off in September.

I need a retreat because it is too hard for me to get that kind of planning in when I’m sitting in my office surrounded by the mess and a thousand other things to do.

I hope you get some time to retreat this summer – for a vacation, yes – but also for some planning and dreaming about what God might have happen in your area of ministry and influence.

I need a retreat. So do you.

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What a way to Start the New Year!

My wife and I had the most wonderful opportunity as we entered the New Year. My niece got married in Mexico, and someone paid for our trip to go. Wow! An all inclusive paid for Mexico photoholiday in Mexico! After a fairly hectic December, we sure appreciated this wonderful break.

For the first 3 or 4 days we did absolutely nothing besides lounge at the pool and read a book. Drinks were served right to us. Occasionally we got up to enjoy one of the great buffets. What a break! I read 5 books. Three of them were “fluff” books, but two were ones that got my ministry heart going.

It was a time of relaxing and refreshing and re-energizing.

I also had the honor of officiating at the wedding and it was great. A beach wedding with the ocean behind me. I even got in a little bartering as I wanted to buy a few things. I enjoy that.

I hope you are blessed with a vacation like this at some point. Maybe you have the funds to pay for it, or maybe God will use someone else to bless you with a vacation. What a great way to start the new year!

 

Does January Depress You?

It was the first day after the Christmas Holidays, January 2, and I was back at work. As I looked around my office and thought about all the things that needed to get done, I got depressed. I had a good holiday with some time off and good times with family, but somehow, coming back to work overwhelmed me. I mentioned it to my wife. She said that I often feel like this in January. I hadn’t clued in to that.

The next day I was having a meeting with 4 other pastors regarding a church plant we are all involved in. In our prayer time I mentioned how discouraged and depressed I was. Another guy mentioned that he had been feeling the same way. One pastor said that he thought he had heard that there are more suicides in January than the rest of the year.

This all sounds depressing, but I’m wondering if you can relate?

And then I went to my chiropractor for a treatment on my back. In the conversation he mentioned that he knew of two people who had just committed suicide in the last week.

If this doesn’t ring true with you, then great. But if this is what you have been feeling, then make sure you find some way to deal with how you are feeling. I’m doing much better. The prayers of my fellow pastors helped. But so did taking time to organize my month of January commitments and responsibilities. I also made an effort to get back to reading my Bible devotionally as I had been letting that slide for a bit.

I hope your January is going well and that God is filling you with an excitement for the New Year!

Bored? From Blah to Ah-ha!

“There’s nothing to do.” If you are a parent you most likely have heard those words at some time, quite possibly partway through summer holidays.

Some days I feel like that – especially in the summer. Most of the year, as a pastor, I have no problem finding enough things to keep me busy. There are usually plenty of things on the schedule that I purposely put there or that others did by asking of my time for some purpose. But there are seasons of the church where there is less expected and demanded of the pastor. Summer, for me, is one of those times. So what does one do with the slow times?

Here are some of my suggestions of how to enjoy the slow times instead of feeling bored.

1. PLAN AHEAD

Because there are less weekly commitments, I actually have time to look ahead to the next church season. I love to take a day or two to get out of the office with my laptop and my binder of all my dreams and wishes and go somewhere quiet and dream of the next year. Sometimes I end up at Ambrose College where I use the Library, other times I end up in a coffee shop somewhere where no one will recognize me. I want to get away from everything else and focus on dreams and plans for the next year.

I plan out my preaching schedule. I like to have the whole year planned out. I try to get a theme and scripture for each Sunday. I like to preach a book of the Bible at a time, so that means figuring out how many sermons it will take to get through the book I’m working on, and then scheduling that in appropriately. If I can fill in a few basic ideas as I go along, that helps. I even try to think of some special things to include on the special days of Christmas and Easter and so on.

I plan out special events. I do some initial dreaming on some of the special days and what could be included in the service to make that Sunday special. I plan when to speak about things like baptism, membership, finances, etc. And if I plan those things in I know when to start advertising for those who need to be baptized or want to become members. If I can, I figure out when I need to recruit a few people to team up with me to make some of my dreams for a special day come into reality.

I dream of new things. Maybe there is a new idea I came up with or can steal from someone else. I don’t do this completely on my own. I try to have at least one or more “vision retreats” with my Elders so that we have worked through some of the big picture items before I even get to my dreaming time.

2. PRAY

I know I don’t do this enough. But if your bored, why not take time for a personal prayer retreat? Go for a walk and pray. Talk with God. Bring your bible along and read scripture and pray.

3. READ

I always have another book or two waiting on my desk. I love to read, why not take the summer to work through a few books?

4. VISIT

This may not be as easy as it may sound. Some of us have congregations that disappear all summer whenever they can, so it’s not always the easiest to connect with people personally. But I guess sending a few extra emails or texts would be meaningful too.

5. TAKE A BREAK

Go take in the Stampede or whatever is in your area. If you are like most pastors, you have no problem putting in plenty of hours during the busy season. Maybe one of the best things you could do for yourself, your family, even for your church, is to just get away for the afternoon. Take the slow times to refresh. And make sure you take your holiday time.

BORED? Find a way to turn you Blah into a meaningful Ah-Ha!

Longevity #4: Remember the Sabbath

I just received the following in an email from Nelson Searcy at churchleaderinsights.com.

 

I recently read a New York Times article that really disturbed me…

“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.

In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.

Many would change jobs if they could.”

Now, I read a lot of untruths about churches and pastors in “secular” news, but this one bothered me tremendously because, well, I KNOW it’s true!

In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a room large enough to seat all of the pastors I’ve talked to in the last few years who shared a similarly negative experience.

Here are a few statistics I found online at Pastor Burnout (just the fact that there’s a website about this should be a red flag):

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
  • Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

How can this be?

As church leaders, you and I have the unique opportunity to cooperate with God to transform people’s lives and make a difference for eternity…

So why are you so tired, stressed and unfulfilled?

Sure, God never promised that ministry would be easy, but you probably didn’t think it would be miserable either!

What if your obedience in one specific Biblical command holds the key to reduced stress, increased efficiency and renewed enjoyment of your life and ministry?

Over the years, working with thousands of pastors, I’ve uncovered one recurring sin issue in those who are on the brink of depression, burnout and/or ministry failure:

They are disobedient to God’s command to honor the Sabbath!

Whether it’s a prideful choice or by simple misunderstanding, the sin of breaking the Sabbath has painful consequences to you, your family, your church and your contribution to God’s Kingdom.

I don’t know what you think about honoring the Sabbath. Maybe like me you are convinced that the Sabbath is Saturday and as evangelicals, we don’t set a day to worship on Saturday anymore, it is Sunday that we worship.

But this is more about taking a time to “break” from everything else and to focus on slowing down, resting, and allowing time to recuperate. God set aside the seventh day of the week for a rest. “On the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2: 2) And if you are a pastor like me, you know that Sunday isn’t often much of a time to rest. It can be a very busy day. Saturday is often a day to finalize all preparations for Sunday.

I don’t know that taking a Sabbath will make it so that you will be able to continue long term as a pastor, or even long term in the same church. What I do know is that the less time you take to rest and slow down, the less chance there is that you will be able to serve long term. You will burn out and you will get depressed and you will get into trouble.

For me, I have done my best to have a day off most weeks. I try to limit my evening commitment to 2-3 evenings most weeks. I even often take a Tuesday off if Monday was a holiday. I do my best to get away for holidays for the number of weeks I’m allowed. And I try to make at least some of this time just my family doing something special together. I know it’s cheaper to go visit family, but that isn’t always restful either.

I want to be clear – I work hard. But I also protect my time. We need to learn to pace ourselves. Taking a Sabbath for rest, for a break, and for a time to refocus is not only valuable to you but to the church you serve as you come back refreshed and ready to go.

Remember to remember the Sabbath.

Taking A Break is Not a Sign of Weakness

Being a pastor is a full time job. Sometimes it is more than a full time job. And we need to know when we need to slow down and take time for a break and to re-energize.

It’s very important to take a day off. You need one day each week at least. And you should try to be consistent about that day. Make it a day that’s away from all the activities of the church. I don’t even answer the phone on Mondays, my day off, unless absolute necessary. The answering machine can screen the calls. Take time to slow down. Read a book -that has nothing to do with work. Watch a movie. Take your wife on a date.

Sometimes it doesn’t work though. This next Monday I have to do a funeral. It’s Valentines day and I’m doing a funeral. I think my wife and I will be able to fit in an early Valentines lunch, but then it’s off to work. That happens, but then look for a way to make up that time somewhere else.

I’ve had just about every night busy along with two full Saturdays this last while. I’m hoping to find a bit of time somewhere but its hard. It’s okay if you don’t go into the office every day. Sometimes you need to take the time to care for yourself because no one else will.

So my encouragement is to respect your own needs for a little time to care for your own health and take a break when necessary.

The Importance of Withdrawing

To retreat in battle may seem like a bad way to win a war, yet to retreat to Hawaii or to Banff, Alberta may seem pretty enticing!

Sometimes withdrawing gives opportunity to recharge, to refocus, and to strategize about the best way to move forward.

The denomination I pastor in has an annual retreat to Banff. Watching the glacial-green Bow River flowing through town or looking at the majestic mountains that seem to rise up to the heavens makes me think about God. And sometimes I need that! I can get so busy doing things “for” God that I forget to just enjoy him. The beauty of nature sure helps. So does the great worship and the wonderful teaching of the retreat. It give opportunity to go home refreshed.

The other day I had to withdraw from my office in order to do some planning. I was starting a new sermon series in 1 Thessalonians and wanted time to, not just work on the next sermon, but think through the whole series. I also wanted to work through taking notes and figuring out how to apply some things I had been reading lately. I knew that there were too many  distractions in my office. There were emails, and books to read, and lists of things to work on. And like any small town pastor I have an open door. I don’t have a large church building to hide in or layers of secretaries and staff to hide me. When people come, they expect to see me, and I want that. It just means that whether they are church members, a salesman, or members of the community wanting to talk with me about my community involvements, most likely I will have people popping in to see me. Thus the importance of with drawing from distractions for a time and for a specific purpose.

I would really encourage every pastor to retreat and withdraw without guilt. This is an important part of planning and leading well.