Readers of blogs and websites similar to this one will find a lot of content about church revitalization: how does a staid or dying church get new life? How do you lead it from death’s doorstep to life’s great feast?
Less often do we consider pastoral revitalization, despite the reality of pastoral burnout, failure, and frustration. Pastoral hurt is often like an unseen disease—it grows unnoticed, doing often permanent damage before its effects are noticed.
Having been in ministry (full-time, part-time, and bivo) for 28 years, I have experienced ups and downs, peaks and valleys, feasts and famines, unquenchable joy and inexpressible sadness. I am not convinced I would have lasted without ongoing opportunities to be refreshed and restored, ie, revitalized.
In my own experience, these things have contributed to personal revitalization. Perhaps they will help your own ministry.
Rest in the Word
Sometimes even quiet times turn into unofficial sermon prep and we are less fed than preparing a meal for others. Get into the Word at a different time of day, or a different place. Just read. Receive it as bread for your life life and rest for your soul.
It has been a long, long time since I’ve spent a half-day in prayer, but I remember a discipleship process that called for it. Regimented prayer (daily morning intercession) surely is needed, but so are extended times in God’s presence, conversing with him and allowing his love to refresh us. Unimpeded, extended time in God’s presence is required for pastoral revitalization.
In addition to my full-time role with LifeWay Pastors, I’m a bivocational staff member. I may have more on my plate as an empty nester than when I had three kids at home. Yet, there are times I spend half of a Sabbath rest day feeling guilty for resting.
This ought not to be so.
We can debate whether Saturday is the Sabbath for this age, but we cannot debate the human need for rest. With our “always-connected, always-on” world, intentional rest may be more important than ever. Block the time; take the time. Sabbath rests are like resets for body, soul, mind, and spirit.
It’s easy to say read this or don’t read that. But, for revitalizing read the kind of books that make you come alive inside. Maybe it’s theology, but maybe it’s a history of the Ford Mustang. Maybe it’s the biography of a great preacher or missionary, but maybe it’s a biography of a president or prime minister. Maybe it’s CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy, but maybe it’s Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.
I enjoy books that reveal parts of history I didn’t know, or backstories on current events. Great writing also lifts my spirits.
Thankfully more churches are realizing the sabbatical need for pastors. I recommend a minimum of 3-4 weeks every five years. If the church is financially sound, underwriting some of the sabbatical cost is in order. Church leaders, do not let the burden of creating a sabbatical policy fall on the lead pastor. Get the ball rolling on behalf of all your pastoral team members.
Spend Time with Friends
Spend some time with a friend who will not turn afternoon fishing into an impromptu counseling session. Find the kind of friend you can play golf with and will say little more than “Nice shot” for nine holes. Or, the kind of friend that makes you laugh so hard your sides hurt. You know the friends that revitalize you; spend time with them.
This is harder for some than for others, but it does help when we can do it. It need not be a two week trip to Tuscany—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Changing locales, seeing new sights, or working on a travel goal (all 50 states) is great for personal revitalization. Getting out of the office and exercising our “far vision” can be exhilarating.
I’ll be taking a vacation soon and intend to unplug: no emails, no text, no social media. It’s a huge challenge for me, but my brain needs the rest.
Personal/pastoral revitalization concerns the whole being, not only the body or only the emotions. Observing these practices on an ongoing basis will help keep us on a path of physical, emotional, and spiritual health.