Sometimes, someone says something which stays with you for life. The words get inside you, stating the obvious but in a laser-like way that focuses the issue with unusable clarity.
So it was one wonderful summer, back in the day when I was a junior leader on summer camps. we had a blissful venue, a ton of teens, and I was part of a team of wonderful friends.
We ran two camps, not quite back to back. They were each ten days long, and we gave ourselves a brief breathing space of 24 hours between them We had the place to ourselves, and we swam, played tennis and lounged around as if we owned the (Capability Brown designed) place.
Andrew, our leader, gave us just one instruction at the start of our break, but it has stayed with me.
‘You need a break. Have a break from being a leader. But you can’t have a break from having a Christian. Have a proper quiet time, and refresh yourself.’
Wise words, and they get wiser as the years go by.
Because the longer we are in ministry, the harder it gets to disentangle ourselves from its trappings. It becomes harder to read the bible for ourselves, because we are so often reading it for others. It becomes harder to engage in praise and prayer, because we’re fretting about the spelling mistake on the screen (‘Am I the only one in church who notices that wrong apostrophe?’). It becomes harder to read deeply because we are so often skim reading for the killer quote or story.
And so when we step off the wonderful routines of ministry, we leave it all behind. Days off, holidays, post-Easter breaks, become times when we’re not on display, not expected to turn up and say something wise, relevant, or even just good humoured.
We do need to leave all that behind. Pastors who cannot Sabbath in some way, suffer. So do their marriages and families. So do the churches.
The rub, of course, is that we leave being a Christian behind too. Which is not only easy, it is devastatingly stupid.
Our daily disciplines are designed to keep us close to God, not be a drudge. And being close to God is good for us – that’s the way he has made us. So what should be more natural, obvious, and good for us, than to make sure that when we take time off, we press closer into God rather than move away.
- I have a bible that I only use for my Quiet Times and never for preparing any talks. If I can’t take that with me, I at least take the bible reading guide with me, and stick with it on my Kindle.
- I have a prayer diary that prioritises my family and friends. That’s on my phone.
- If I can, I will go to church on the Sunday, and I will try not to be a ‘critical friend’ to the pastor (although most pastors can recognise other pastors off-duty somehow; I don’t know how we do it but we do).
Because I still have a good Father who wants the greatest best for me, in making me like Jesus. And I still have a foul enemy, who will stop at nothing to take me down.
I still need to keep Andrew’s wise words: ‘Have a break from being a leader. But you can’t have a break from being a Christian.’