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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes



As an "achiever" (see Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath for explanation of the Clifton Strength Finder inventory), I've always been more than a little sensitive when others joked about my personal work habits. For the first six years after college I worked for a large commercial bank and had to endure constant ribbing about bankers hours. After seminary and then thirty five years as pastor of four local churhces, the humor about working one hour a week got just as thin. Even more, when I discovered that many people view pastor's as essentially lazy, I became not just sensitive, but down right defensive. There's not a lazy bone in my sixty-five year old body. Nor, in the worn bodies of most of my ministry colleagues. The fact is that most ministers I know are tired. And, as the t-shirt says, tired = uninspired.

Thom Rainer did a great blog last December titled Seven Myths about a Pastor's Workweek. His blogs are always on point and I appreciate his thoughts because they are always grounded in great research. If you're interested in the details of his post and the conclusions about it, check it out at Its good stuff.

Yes, Christian ministry provides opportunities for laziness. Most pastors and church staff keep autonomous hours, many without an office at the church, and have a good bit of personal influence over when and where they spend their work hours. There are some less motivated people in ministry. At the same time, Thom Rainer discovered that there are more workaholics in ministry than slackers. It's a truth. Slugs typically slip out of the mainstream of mission. I mean, read the Proverbs for a tutorial in being lazy.

In most of my thirty five years I kept rigid office hours, worked for forty to sixty hours every week, and fulfilled my position description 110%. That's the "achiever" in me, and a reflection of the work ethic modeled by my mother and father. My usual work week dedicated 30% of my time in preparaton to preach and teach, 30% of my time pastoring the congregation, and 30% of my time fulfilling administrative duties. It was a work scheme devised by Dr. Bob Dale in his book about church administration. The "achiever" in me liked a solid blueprint. So, OK. Touch me. This doesn't mean I got it right even most of the time. But, it defies the lazy label some people were so quick to apply to me and our entire cohort.

During time as Director of Pastoral Ministries of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, I found that most pastor's, church staff, and convention/association ministers were more often tired than bored. Their fatigue was physical, emotional, and spiritual, the outcome of God having connected the knee-bone to the thigh-bone, right on up to the head, right on through to the heart. It was often difficult to separate the stress points, so total they were to the output of the minister. Whether from long hours, late night calls, emergencies, the high expectations of the church family, or seeking to please the Lord God of the Universe in everything, this tiredness reflected in every aspect of their lives.

Weariness kills. Hundreds of studies support the contention that being tired robs us of drive, creativity, people skills, talent, vision, endurance, patience, steadfastness, and all of the stuff of mission. This may be the very reason Jesus invited his disciples to step aside and rest. After they had learned of John the Baptists beheading and had served in an emotionally draining time, they returned to Jesus and told him about what they had been doing. Evidently he saw the weariness in them, the weight and stress of somethign so horrible and momentous. He said, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while" (Mark 6:31). He knew the debilitating effects of their fatigue.

There's something odd about his invitation. And, it was an invitation, not merely instruction. He invited them to "come", meaning by implication that he would be with them. It's a word he used often, "come". He extended it to those who labor and are heavey laden, as the old versions say, with the promise of rest that only he could give. So, he took them aside to a desolate place so they could recover, refresh, and restore from the rigorous demands of ministering to people who were most often like sheep with no shepherd. He himself knew the strategic necessity for a desoloate place, where he often went to pray and find some reelief from the pressing crowds. Even the Son of Man knew the destructive potential of humans being stretched to the limit physically, and therefore emotionally and spiritually.

How can we find this rest and restoration is a world where work defines us? Here are a couple of ways that he's guided the refreshment of this "achiever"---

(1) In discussions with the four churches I have served I insisted on a day off, specified holidays and vacation times, and the responsibility for supervising the staff, our office hours, and their times of recovery too. This was done in the process of being called to the church, not as an afterthought when one of us was getting ready to crash. Negotiations about a possible church call are the proper venue for setting these boundaries.

(2) We always publicized the days off for myself and the staff. It drives me crazy when I see ministers apologizing for theri times away, or seeking to justify them. It should be part of the process that defines our service to the church when they call us. Worn out people do shoddy, uninspired work. Re-creation is part of the deal.

(3) Except in rare times of emergency did we alter the announced times off.

(4) Our deacons and church staff always stood in for one another when crises occured duing vacations, days off, or other times away from the church.

(5) Sermon or teaching preparation was rarely done on my day off. Once again, there were times when we had to change the regular schedule or make adjustments because of special events or circumstances. Legitimate emergencies occasionally demanded some flexibility in planning times away.

Legenday coach Vince Lombardi said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all". There's more to that than being in top shape or mustering the courage to stand toe-to-toe with a monster lineman. Being tired and worn removes our edge, dulls our senses, makes us slow and unresponsive. When anyone is on the margins of exhaustion he or she is less bold, more uncertain, and positioned to be less influence. Mission in a world moving at the speed of thought isn't for sluggards.

Perhaps the inverse in true as well. Rest makes brave soldiers of us all. Napoleon Bonaparte said, "The first virtue of a soldier is endurance of fatigue; courage is only the second virtue".

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