“Do not sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.”
Those were the words of a seasoned pastor I listened to, sitting in my first ministry training course. I was newly married, preparing to step into the world of overseas missions, determined to do what he said.
Fast forward 15 years. I’m on my fourth church plant. It’s Thursday night — family movie night. But while my kids are watching the movie I’m sneaking emails and texts like a teenager hiding from his parents. This was supposed to be a time of rest… of pulling away from work to recuperate, reconnect with God, and re-establish our love for each other within our family. But there I was, with every text, offering up a little sacrifice to my work at the expense of my family.
Church planting can be exhausting. Starting anything is hard. It takes all of your effort, and then a whole helping of God’s grace to establish a gospel outpost in a hard place. But the God who called you there didn’t call you to work without ceasing. He gave you the work and invites you to rest. So, here are a few rest tips from a rest failure like me, learning how to lay down my work so I can take up some Sabbath habits.
Put the Phone Away
It sounds so simple, but it’s so hard. These little devices we carry to help us end up enslaving us. Work hard, pastor. But when it’s time to rest, put your phone down. Your kids see you. Your wife sees you. When you’re with them, don’t show them downcast eyes and a forehead titled toward a screen. Show them your face. To rest well, put the phone down.
Give Yourself Permission to Stop Thinking About the Church
The larger our church gets the more complex and various our problems become. I assume you want your church to grow, right? Then just know that’s what you’re signing up for: a larger set of more complex problems. If that’s the case, how can we ever expect to stop? Simple: God has commanded it, so you must allow yourself to.
The God who called you here didn’t call you to work without ceasing
Plan Your Sabbath
I have to put my day of rest in my calendar, with alerts. I must prepare for it by getting the necessary work done beforehand. In other words, stopping means planning. I know that the church “needs” you, and you’re super important to a lot of people. But if you’d like to continue being useful to your flock you’d better make a plan to be useless from time to time. If you have an assistant, ask them to help you. Do whatever you have to do, but get it in the calendar.
Everyone likes to feel needed. So, when we pastors are asked to give advice, meet for coffee, or squeeze in one more counseling appointment, we say yes. Planter, you have to learn to use the word “no.” Saying no to the wrong things (even good things) is the first step to saying yes to God’s right things. If someone you pastor can’t handle a no from you to protect your ability to obey God’s instructions to stop, they probably weren’t going to stick around long anyway. Say no to say yes… it’s worth it.
Fifteen years later, I’m trying hard to not sacrifice my family on the altar of ministry. One way I wish to do that is by practicing the art of rest.
Planter, work hard, but rest well.
Adam Mabry is the lead pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and their four kids. Passionate about church planting, campus ministry, and world missions, Adam writes, speaks, and coaches planters around the world, mostly through the Every Nation family of churches and ministries. He is author of the book The Art of Rest: Faith to Hit Pause in a World That Never Stops. You can follow him on Twitter or drop by his website.