By Cary Schmidt, Crosswalk.com
Ministry doesn’t stop—ever.
When do the needs of people “clock out?” When does the opportunity to witness “pause?” When do emergencies take a “break?” When are all the church members fully discipled? It doesn’t happen.
Therefore, there are only two ways to find durability and sustainability in ministry. The first is to be Superman (Notice I didn’t even say Jesus—because He actually rested). The second is to deliberately, intentionally, strategically rest.
I’m preaching to myself—resting is hard! But not resting is harder! Resting is humbling. It is dependence. It is submission to God’s authority and control. Resting is the spiritual exercise of yielding to God, accepting your own limitations, and acknowledging that “He is the Saviour, not me.”
Benjamin Franklin said, “He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.”
The primary reason we struggle to rest is that our identity is tied to the things that keep us running at a breakneck pace. We have anchored our sense of self to what we do for God—therefore we can never do enough of it, and if we stop (even for a short time), we feel a loss of self and fear His disapproval. A performance-based identity is always an oppressive lord.
But Jesus never calls us to a life of ceaseless exhaustion. He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
When our identity is firmly rooted in the Gospel, we will receive from Jesus the understanding that our work is His, our pace is His, and our results (or fruitfulness) are His as well. He gives us permission—in fact, calls us—to rest. A strong identity in Jesus will result in a well-paced life of expenditure (without finding identity in achievement) followed by rest and restoration (without feeling guilt or fearing the disapproval of God or men).
Spiritual leader, if you have a strong, gospel identity, you will rest. And if we don’t rest by decision, we will end up resting by default.
Here Are 15 Reasons You Should Rest
1. Sustainable Pace—We are running a marathon, not a sprint. We are not competing with others. Give your world a loving leader who will finish his course without burning out.
2. Personal Health—We all feel invincible until a health trial knocks us flat on our backs. Biblical self-care is a priority for leaders who desire to stay alive and stay strong for those God calls us to serve. Resting well is a prelude to having the strength to serve both joyfully and effectively.
3. Spiritual Responsibility—Martin Luther said, “Indeed, to preach the word of God is nothing less than to bring upon oneself all the furies of hell and of Satan, and therefore also of . . . every power of the world. It is the most dangerous kind of life to throw oneself in the way of Satan’s many teeth.” Refusing to rest will eventually mean that the demands of the call require more than you have to give. Rest will keep us from hitting that wall.
4. Mental Clarity—Urgency creates fog. Mental fatigue makes for a poor leader. Flying on fumes is not an option. A.W. Tozer wrote, “Retire from the world each day to some private spot… give yourself to God and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think. Reduce your interests to a few. Don't try to know what will be of no service to you. Avoid the digest type of mind—short bits of unrelated facts, cute stories, and bright sayings.” The right kind of rest will give a leader a fresh mind and a well-prepared heart from which everyone can benefit.
5. Emotional Energy—Fatigue and rest are as much spiritual, emotional, and psychological as it is physical. A fatigued leader is essentially a different person than that same leader when well-rested. A fatigued leader is discouraged, weary, and perhaps even angry or irritable. Emotionally spent people want to avoid others, or they do damage when they can’t. Rest restores emotional energy, which means you can bring your most joyful self into leadership environments. Everybody else would prefer to be led by that version of you!
6. Marital and Family Health—I love my wife! She’s my best friend. We love being together. We raised a family together. We fought cancer together. We followed God to Connecticut together. We do ministry together. My wife and children should not perpetually have to "sacrifice" time with me while I serve Jesus. That's dishonoring to God, and destructive to the home and church. Appropriate rest will bolster our leadership with happy marriages and healthy families for the long haul, and those we lead deserve that.
7. Church Family Example—Pastors are examples, whether they want to be or not. Good examples rest, take breaks, enjoy family vacations, and have days off. Bad examples don’t. And quite often, people follow the example they see. They learn it as God’s expected norm—if even subconsciously. As leaders, our pace of life and rest is teaching others to do the same—for better or worst. Since this is unavoidable, let’s use the “glass house” to teach others how to truly rest in Jesus and live biblically balanced lives.
8. Honor to The Lord—God rested, not because He needed it, but to show us a pattern. The right kind of rest honors Him. Like tithing shows you don’t worship money, resting shows you don’t worship self or personal achievement. Resting shows you and others that your identity is found in Jesus not in performing. Truly this is the essence of the gospel—we rest in Jesus’ work, not our own.
9. Dependence Upon the Lord—Rest declares our dependence upon Jesus. It shows that we truly believe God is in control and that He is doing the work. It shows that we look to Him to define us and sustain us. Perpetual exhaustion and depletion say the opposite. How can we lead others into dependence upon a Shepherd we do not depend on ourselves?
10. Health of the Organization and Family—When we lead from unrested, exhausted, fatigued places, we lead unwisely. If we run ourselves into the ground, we will probably run others into the ground as well. A key to organizational or family health is a spiritually healthy leader. If you desire to lead a healthy organization or family, begin by giving them a healthy leader, and that won’t happen without rest.
11. Saturation of Ministry Demands—Pastors and ministry leaders don’t ever really “clock out.” It’s a part of the call. The needs are incessant. The only means of real survival is to pull away from the demands long enough to restore. Everyone must come up for air eventually or die. Well-rested leaders are those who have discovered how to continually come up for fresh breath.
12. Sanity in Sermon Preparation—Tozer wisely said, “There are certain things that you and I will never learn in the presence of other people.” My favorite part of ministry is studying God’s Word for sermon preparation, but the required pace of preparation each week is unsustainable, apart from regular rests and extended study.
13. Expenditure of Teaching—Public speaking is much more depleting than it appears. From preparation to delivery, it is draining beyond any other kind of work I’ve ever done. Acknowledging this reality will lead us to compensate with deliberate, adequate restoration after the expenditure. For effective leaders, this must become a consistent rhythm.
14. Power of Solitude and Vision—Before the advent of internet and iPhone, A.W. Tozer wrote, “Part of our failure today is religious activity that is not preceded by aloneness, by inactivity. I mean getting alone with God and waiting in silence and quietness until we are charged with God's Spirit… No spot is now safe from the world's intrusion.” Clear God-given vision only comes from solitude with God.
15. Fuel for Passion—Passionless ministry is killing a lot of churches today. But passion must be fueled. It doesn’t sustain itself. Tozer wrote that Jesus would often retreat in private… “Looking upward, He waited until the whole hiatus of divine life moved down from the throne of God into His own soul. He was a violin tuned. He was a battery recharged. He was poised and prepared for the people when they came.” Passion for God’s vision is only sustainable if it flows from a well-rested life.
Rest is wise. Laziness is unwise. The two are very different. Rest is Christ-like and biblical. If you don't get it, you won't be able to adequately fulfill God's call on your life. Now, I’m going to strive to take my own advice…and I hope you will too!
Leader, get some rest.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Choreograph
Cary Schmidt is the author of Stop Trying—How to Receive—Not Achieve—Your Real Identity. Cary serves as the Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Newington, CT. He and his wife Dana have been blessed with three children, three grandchildren, and have enjoyed thirty years of marriage and ministry together. Cary's passion is to love God, love his family and church family, develop spiritual leaders, and point people to Jesus Christ—through teaching, preaching, and writing. He has authored more than a dozen books and hosts the Leading in the Gospel podcast. You can connect with Cary at www.caryschmidt.com