Two Sundays ago, I preached on “Resting in God’s Power” as a way of concluding our “Not By Might, Not By Power, But By My Spirit” Declares the Lord sermon series:
As I mention in the sermon, resting is not an easy thing for me. It’s especially hard as a pastor where you have the option of working as much as you want, and the work you do is ‘ministry’, not just work (much easier to justify). My job isn’t a 9-5 job where I punch in and punch out but is a job where I can always be doing things to make our church stronger: hanging out with people in the church, doing more outreach, etc. And it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy these things, but if I don’t keep boundaries on them, I end up running my ministry-batteries dead, along with my marriage and my sanity.
In an attempt to recharge my batteries, and as a way of practicing what I preach in my above sermon, I’m taking all of August off from preaching. The move to our new building (plus name change) has taken a lot more work/energy than I had anticipated and as we gear up for our Sept. 18th Grand Opening, I know I need some time to recharge my creativity, while also freeing up time to finish the work needed for the Grand Opening. I enjoy preaching, and think it’s something I’m gifted to do, but preaching every week wears me down over time. Like a musician forced to write one new song every single week, eventually the creativity, quality, and passion run dry.
I’m a transparent person so bear with me here. I’ve always struggled with missing a Sunday, or with guest preachers, because of the exact symptoms I preach about in this sermon: my insecurities about who I am (am I only valuable if my church is growing?) and my lack of faith/trust in God that my church will be fine without me being the one preaching every week. So in this past week, in an attempt to recharge my batteries, I’ve really struggled with the complexity of taking an entire month off:
On two occasions that I told people I wouldn’t be preaching this month they were visibly disappointed. While I know their reaction is a means of complimenting me, it also fills my distorted thinking with anxiety: What if attendance sinks this month and doesn’t recover? What if the work God is doing in these people’s lives stops this month and doesn’t recover? What if the window of opportunity that has been opening now closes shut? Included in this is the general anxiety of being a people-pleaser, wanting to please these people’s expectations of me, in the same way I have a hard time saying ‘no’ to any social invite that is church-strengthening or outreach-related, because I don’t want to let someone down. All of these questions point towards the unhealth that is in me. I assume that I am not the only pastor (especially solo church planters) who thinks these things. As I take this month off from preaching, I observe that preaching is essentially an addiction in my life and I am now feeling the withdrawal symptoms. Even though it is something that wears me out and fills up a lot of time that I often would like to use on other ministry efforts, there is that piece inside of me that needs it to feel in control. As if God could only use my preaching to work in someone’s heart, not a guest speaker’s, or that it’s my preaching that changes hearts, not the working of the Holy Spirit.
As I get healthier in these areas, I think our church will get healthier in them as well. I think I’ve conditioned my church that Sunday morning is about hearing me speak, not about coming before God as a community to worship Him and to listen to His word being taught, joining together to be strengthened as we seek to accomplish his mission 24/7, allowing Him to do His work through us, understanding that we are a community where all do ministry, not a one-man show.
As I said in my sermon, resting in God’s power is not easy and I, like everyone else, need to give myself Jesus’ grace for not getting an A+ in this area (thank you, Jesus). The difficulty of this topic is the reason we are to observe a weekly Sabbath, so we can be reminded of these truths. The Sabbath is an exercise, like doing bench press, that stretches our faith/trust muscles, bringing pain and discomfort (though the day is meant to be enjoyed, the discipline needed to stop and make it happen is painful), so that we come out stronger on the other side. This week has already done this in me, and I know the rest of the month will as well. I’ve very thankful for this month off, as well as my Sabbatical next summer (3 months off, June-August, which will mark 7 years of planting/pastoring Crossroads). Though this time off scares me, it is a good scare. It is a scare that is forcing me to realize that I am unimportant and God is important. That my church doesn’t need me, they need the Holy Spirit. That the Church is a beautiful body made up of many parts for God to use, not just one part (me) that the rest of the parts hinge on. These are all things I’ve already known cognitively, but it takes some bench pressing to really work them out into reality, painfully, but coming out the other end much stronger and healthier for it.