7 Mistakes Church Leaders Make When Trying To Rest

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On the Seventh Day, the Lord rested. Did you ever wonder what the Lord did that day? I doubt that he just "sat there," to use a figure of speech. What we know is that He paused from creating and rested. I think that a lot of us don’t have a great picture of what rest looks like. We know that we need to rest, but rest can be elusive. Some days we set aside to recover, but we end up being drawn right back into what causes us stress. How can we achieve true Sabbath rest?

Here are seven common mistakes church leaders make when attempting to rest.

1. Using non-repeatable events to try to rest

Family vacations, holidays, and singular sporting events rarely result in rest. Often, family needs during travel or holidays are greater than during the regular seasons, leading to different stressors. “I need a vacation from my vacation!” This is the cry of the person who has not rested. Rest happens best when it is a part of a consistent weekly routine or the occasional retreat for renewal.

2. Mistaking rest as laziness

Often, church leaders see the act of resting as laziness, when real rest is far from laziness – it is engagement! I’ve heard it said: the person who works with his mind rests with his hands. I think historically the opposite has been true as well: the person who works with his hands, rests with his mind. People who work construction all week should take time to rest and recover from hard labor. Conversely, pastors who think, write, strategize, and encourage others all week should take time to do something physically engaging. Rest could be gardening. It could be playing golf or some other hobby that engages physically.

3. Mistaking laziness as rest

There is also another side to the same coin: Sometimes when church leaders attempt to rest, they do nothing. They make the mistake of thinking that lounging around and binge watching TV is rest. When we look at the seventh day of creation, we do know that it didn’t look like laziness.

Rest requires intentionality. Tweet: Rest requires intentionality. http://bit.ly/1HXAXHg via @VanderbloemenSG

 If you aren’t doing anything with the time you’ve set aside to rest, you are really just wasting time. I find that on days I lay around and watch TV, I’m more tired the following day than I was before. Again, those who work with their minds should rest with their hands. Choose something to work on that engages a different part of you.

4. Using a sabbatical as an excuse to work on other things

Sabbaticals can be a great time to rest up and prepare for a new season of ministry. They are meant to be reflective, restorative, and reinvigorating. Church leaders need this time as a break from the stresses of ministry life. What often happens instead is sabbaticals are used as an excuse to work outside of the office routine. Pastors write books, or devote themselves to rigorous theological study, without the time to process and recover. I think a better term than Sabbatical for this would be “working remotely.” Sermon planning and theological study are important, but they are work, not rest! Build that work into your yearly planning. Don’t let it eat up your restorative sabbatical.

5. Choosing activities that don’t benefit you

Some activities are incredibly engaging, but are not helpful to find rest. The first that come to mind are watching TV (especially sports), playing videogames, and being attached to your smartphone. These activities are engaging, but they don’t help people rest necessarily. Set appropriate barriers to persevere some sacred down time. Choose activities that engage the mind and body together, not ones that leave your eyes sore from staring at screens all day.

6. Binge-resting

Binge-resting means trying to balance workaholism with the occasional shutdown. The best illustration I know of comes from a friend who used to work on an oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico. His routine was 4 weeks on (16 hour days, 6 days per week) then 4 weeks off (no work at all)! This led to all kinds of difficulty in his marriage, and with finding normalcy during his off-work time. We know that we are meant to work hard at what we do, but we are to steward our lives well! Don’t overwork yourself and then try to escape. Find a rhythm that involves regular rest.

7. Failing to plan for rest

Poor planning leads to less rest. This is especially true when you feel like the work you aren’t doing is piling up on your desk in your absence. Withdrawing from work responsibilities does not equal rest. Set up a system to maintain your work for you while you are out. This could be as simple as an out-of-office message on your email or having someone else assigned as Pastor-on-call. This will give you peace of mind knowing that you aren’t going to suffer for your rest time upon your return to work.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest!  - Matthew 11:28

What do you do to find true restorative rest?

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