I’ve heard it boldly declared to church planters, “Church planting is not for the faint of heart!” I can certainly agree with this sentiment, but after a decade of planting churches, I would rather whisper to a future church planter, “Church planting is not for those who allow their heart to faint.”
One of my restorative life patterns is to take an annual three day float/fish trip with Barry, my life editor (AKA: accountability partner). On our most recent adventure, we floated by a cabin which may have originally been built a little too close to the Manistee river’s edge. It was quite obvious that the ever-shifting banks of the river were threatening the foundation of this quaint little riverside cabin. We could see the owners were well aware of their impending collapse. The owners were attempting to strategically place large trees and rocks along the river’s edge in order to keep the water from eroding the soil beneath their foundation. From the looks of it, they may have been a few years too late. Only time will tell…
Church planting is intense and it is exhilarating to take new kingdom ground; however, we need to be sure to keep an eye on our banks. Soil (or soul) erosion happens very subtly. In fact, you might not even know it is happening. Many pastors and church planters have pushed and pulled their work along for years and forgot that the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart.
Isn’t it interesting how often the gospel writers note Jesus leaving the crowds and withdrawing to lonely places to spend time in prayer? For instance, in Luke 6, Jesus just launched his ministry, collected his disciples, and the masses are flocking to hear his message. Momentum is building, but oddly enough, Jesus chooses to meander away in order to spend some time with his Heavenly Father (Luke 6:16). Even Jesus, the Savior of the world, knew that if he wasn’t careful with his soul, the salvific soil that his Father planted him in might erode away at his foundation.
Our ministry lives are kind of like the cabin that was built along that scenic riverbend. We must always keep an eye on those patterns which may threaten our long-term foundation. In church planting, there are seasons where we must surge and there are seasons where we must sneak off into the wilderness in order to become more like Christ.
I must confess, creating patterns of rest and prayer is not easy for me to do. I enjoy accomplishing ministry assignments; I love seeing new churches planted; and I thrive off of productivity. However, I recently forced myself to take a six week sabbatical and sent my life work into hibernation. I wasn’t burned out, I wasn’t weary of ministry, and I wasn’t processing a change of vocation. I simply needed to experience what Jesus experienced as he distanced himself from the crowds. Upon my return, I found myself more devoted, disciplined, and dedicated to Jesus’ great commission.
What’s more, I rediscovered my relationship with God apart from ministry expectations. I have been in full-time ministry mode for 15 years and I can barely recall what my walk with God was like before I entered into ministry. For me, slipping away from ministry allowed me to examine myself and test myself to see if my pursuit of holiness was real or if it was because of my pastoral role in life. There were several areas that the Spirit called me to grow up in, but it was good for my soul to be affirmed by my Heavenly Father that I am still on the straight and narrow path of holiness, regardless of my ministry role in life. I suspect there are multiple reasons we need times of rest in ministry, but maybe the most important is to know that who we are and what we speak about is coming from an authentic core.
I don’t know what stage of ministry you are in–maybe you are just beginning or maybe you’ve been going at it for years. Whatever stage you are in maybe it’s time to rest or at least plan for an upcoming season of rest. If you choose to slip away for a time, you can rest assured that the Spirit will guide you somewhere good, your ministry will carry on without you for a while, and you will stand the test of time.
Rest just might be what the doctor is ordering…