The Importance of Rest for Church Leaders
December 22, 2021
Burnout in ministry positions is a prevalent topic today. Because you are so busy ministering to and serving other people, it can be easy to forget that you need time for yourself, too. In fact, according to Soul Shepherding, 90 percent of pastors work between 55 to 75 hours per week. The weight of this type of ministry takes a toll physically, mentally, and spiritually. Rest for you as a church leader is imperative for both your own wellbeing and the health of your church body.
This article is not an exhaustive list of to-dos or not-to-dos. Rest is a universal concept, but the application is unique to each person. Below you will find suggestions on how to rest physically, mentally, and spiritually as a church leader.
Rest for church leaders, just like everybody else, requires that you remove yourself from your work for a time. Whether a day, a week, or a longer sabbatical, you need to physically separate yourself from the job and enjoy some time on your own or with your family. Consider Christ’s example, in that “…He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16) Furthermore, He encouraged His disciples to do the same, saying, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
You may, certainly, sleep and relax during this time away, but you may also take time to engage yourself physically. Exercise strengthens your body and prevents, Lord-willing, physical weaknesses from inhibiting your ministry. Bask in the beauty of God’s wonderful creation. Enjoy a walk or run around your neighborhood or park. Bike or hike a nearby trail. The key is to find an activity that provides you rest from the mental fatigue of your ministry while refueling your body’s energy levels.
In his article, Remember the Body, Mark Jones discusses the benefits of exercise to a pastor’s ministry. “Often, I’ve found that exercise can be a unique way to enjoy God. We can enjoy his creation by walking, running, or biking. We can use this time to pray or meditate upon his goodness to us. Exercise is a friend of the Christian, and one that, unless prohibited by health reasons, should be part of the ordinary Christian life.”
Rest does not always require the absence of all mental engagement, but it does require taking it down a notch. Read for pleasure, perhaps an entertaining novel, an interesting history book, or about the grace-empowered life of a Christian man or woman. Stretch your mind and imagination through these texts. If you need a suggestion of where to begin, check out this list of Five Books Every Pastor Should Read.
Another way to rest mentally is to play games, especially if you have a family with young children. Playing allows the academic portion of your mind to rest while engaging your creative side. It not only encourages mental rest and stress relief but also stimulates healthy brain function. This article, The Benefits of Play for Adults, discusses more in-depth, the numerous ways play can be beneficial.
Though saved for last, spiritual rest for church leaders is the most important. Immerse yourself in Scripture and prayer. Make this time distinct from your study for sermon or Sunday school preparation. You need the grace of the gospel just like everyone else. In his aptly-titled article, Burnout Begins with Bad Theology, David Murray explains, “Behind every exhausted person are bogus beliefs that must be identified and doused by replacing them with true theology.”
Remember, again, our LORD Christ who would “slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16, emphasis added). He used these times to pray with His Father intimately. God graced us with a beautiful example of this in Christ’s prayers in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:3-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). Pray that God may remove some cup(s) from you, and yet pray always “not my will, but Yours be done.” Pray for peace and contentment in your ministry role; pray for strength and calm against the pressures and turmoil.
A Lack of Rest Leads to Burnout
Finally, be wary. Burnout impacts church leaders just as it does laypersons. We need to recognize our own potential susceptibility and create time for rest to prevent it. If we do not make rest a priority, it will quickly lead to burnout from the ministry.
Rest for church leaders is neither limited to one type of activity nor to a lack of activity altogether. As exampled above, you may rest through a habit, or habits, that allow you to recuperate physically, mentally, and, above all, spiritually. Rest well and in faith that “… by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
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