Tip #3 is Make Time For Recovery.
I wouldn’t have known this, of course, not being a world class athlete myself, but studies show that the most critical indicator of excellence in top athletes is what they do in their down time. Turns out the very best athletes have rituals for resting in between their moments of performance, rituals that allow them to refuel, heal, and refocus.
The authors of Bearing Fruit: Ministry With Real Results say pastors should be like that, too. It’s very likely, they claim, that a pastor who hasn’t taken a vacation in ten years is a very unhealthy pastor. They write: “If a spiritual leader is not careful, periods of great fruitfulness in ministry can lead to the mind-set of indispensability and the lack of joy that accompanies it. Soon you are not having fun, and you are not fun to be around. You become a joy vacuum, sucking happiness and joy out of every room you enter.”
Whoa. That’s bad. Nobody wants to be a joy vacuum. And, in a professional field like ministry, pastors who are joy vacuums definitely have a serious handicap.
So, along with professional athletes, it sounds like periods of recovery are essential for pastors. Why pastors, you may ask? Well, the authors address that question, too. Pastors, they say, often work long hours and deal with emotionally toxic situations (editorial comment: very little for which they ever prepare you in seminary). Finding that downtime, that time of Sabbath, is critical, and it seems that pastors (who often need it most) are among the worst violators of the Sabbath rule.
Here’s a list, helpfully included in the book, from which a pastor should choose a few that allow her to refuel, heal, and refocus (like the world-class athlete she aims to be!):
- Time with family
- Time with renewing friends
- Continuing education that is enjoyable in content and location
- Mission trips that include adventures and people you enjoy
- Special projects that sound interesting
- A study week to read or plan sermons
- Phone calls to friends
- Other? (I can’t believe they didn’t list the spa.)
One wise pastor I know says it’s best to mark these times of replenishment and renewal on the calendar. Just mark out the time. That way, when the inevitable demands of the job creep in and threaten to eat away at nourishing care, you can say: “Why, I am sorry! On my calendar it looks like I have a previous commitment!” And, you do.
I can’t say that I am so very good about following this step, but I want to be better. I believe what the authors say: that to be excellent at ministry, you have to make time for recovery. They conclude:
“It’s essential to remember that you are as important in God’s eyes as the people to whom you minister.”