By Lane Scruggs from Christian Fellowship Church
There’s a pastor shortage in America.
Turns out, it’s a pretty stressful vocation; so much so that more than half of the pastors surveyed admit that they’ve seriously considered quitting.
Chalk it up to navigating the uncharted territory of ministry in a post-COVID world or the seemingly unending demands your congregation makes of you.
Maybe it’s the fact that our nation is more secularized than it has ever been, as belief in God recently hit its lowest point.
It doesn’t matter what lit the match. The point is, pastors are burning out—fast. For perhaps the first time in our nation’s history, we have more pulpits than we do preachers to fill them.
And I don’t want you to be another statistic.
You’re tasked with the unique challenge of teaching Gen Z how to live up to their potential as citizens within the Kingdom of God. Your church—the Church—your neighbors, family, and city need you to not jump ship when the waters get choppy. Stand firm in your calling with the kind of confidence that allows you to see this thing through.
The importance of your role cannot be understated: You’re raising up the next generation of followers of Christ. Disciples who will be lawyers and schoolteachers, politicians and doctors, engineers and cashiers. People who will live within the boundaries of the Kingdom wherever their feet may take them. My 1-year-old daughter is going to grow up one day and sit under the teachings of a youth pastor, a youth pastor who very well could have filled your pews during their own teenage years.
This is a high and holy calling that has some weight to it, and if you’ve been given the privilege of leading the next generation, then you need to run this race until you finish. This means you can’t collapse while you’re halfway down the track.
So how do you avoid that?
First you have to recognize how our American milieu has shaped how we go about our business throughout the week. Business, by the way, that should be dictated by rhythms already set in place by God, not the culture in which we inhabit. But far too often (and in more ways than one), pastors allow our American citizenship to supersede our citizenship in the Kingdom, ultimately forfeiting aspects of the way of Jesus to the way of the West whenever the two come into conflict. You know the way I’m talking about because you’ve lived that way. Work. Perform. Achieve. Hustle. Slam coffee. Lunch with a student. Stop by the hospital to visit that congregation member. More coffee. Plan games. Wait, did I ever text that parent back? Sermon prep. Update the group’s social media. Attend your weekly football/volleyball/soccer/basketball/debate/theater/graduation event or whatever is happening this week.
Day off? Yeah right. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
This is not the way God created us to live. He set a rhythm of rest and work in the beginning of Genesis. Rhythms that don’t beat to the drum of work! work! work!, but actually allow room for your body and soul to rest. Rest that you desperately need. It’s not that we don’t want rest. We do. It sounds beautiful. It’s that we’ve equated busyness with productivity, thinking that as long as we’re doing something—anything—we’re bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And why stop that? That sounds good. So we keep doing, cramming our schedules full, erasing our margins, working at a pace that could only ever be sustainable by God Himself. But here’s the thing: you’re not God.
Could it be that your incessant rushing is an attempt to accomplish God’s will on your own terms, according to your own schedule? Is your busyness yet another repeat of the mistake made in the garden? A subtle decision to assume the role of God for yourself? Hilary of Tours had a great line to that point, calling our pastoral busyness irreligiosa sollicitudo pro Deo, a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for Him.
It’s like we’ve let the hurry sickness that’s a trademark for our secular culture sneak in the back door of the church. Is there anything within the Scriptures that could act as a prescription for our hurry sickness? Is there an antidote for our anxiety-inducing pace of life?
It’s called the Sabbath.
One twenty-four hour period where you do no work. In fact, the Hebrew word for Sabbath is Shabbat, which literally means “to stop.” Stop working. Stop worrying. Stop trying to be God and just be with God. Put down your phone. Close your laptop. Allow your mind to forget the sermon you’ve been working on and rest. Be still and know that God is God and you are not.
Pastor Ken Shigematsu reminds us that “sabbath is about shucking have-tos and allowing God to re-create you.” It’s not an abandoning of responsibilities entirely. It’s about setting them aside for a day so that you can focus on the most important part of your relationship with God—God. And in that process, God fills you with rest for your soul. So what do you do instead of work? There are two basic guidelines for what should fill your day: things that fill you with rest or delight. What meets that criteria is dependent on you. Take a nap. Eat a giant cookie. Go for a walk. Take your spouse on a date. Whatever you do, don’t work. You have six other days for that. After 24 hours of rest in the presence of God, those six days will be far more productive.
Three tips on how to get started:
- Determine the time frame. Can’t start with 24 hours? That’s fine. Start with three, or five, or 12. If this is a new practice for you, it might be difficult to begin. Pick a time that is manageable for you, and work up to 24 hours. Sabbath is traditionally from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, but if that doesn’t work for you, no sweat. Pick something that does.
- Get things done. You know how you’re able to get all of your work and chores done before going on vacation? Do that, just every week. Do the dishes, clean the house, mow the yard. Whatever you have to do to make sure you can rest for 24 hours, do it. It’s worth it.
- Plan your day. What constitutes the perfect day for you? Reading in a hammock? Taking a nap midday? Going to the park with your kid? Go do those things. The Sabbath is about rest and delight. Those two won’t just happen on their own. Plan ahead of time how you’ll rest and delight, and you’ll see what Jesus means when He offers rest for your soul.
- Reach out to other leaders in ministry and ask them how they practice the Sabbath.
- The Feed team would love to connect with you as you seek to lead others! Reach out to us at [email protected] to find out how we can partner with and support you in your ministry.
“Pastors Share Top Reasons They’ve Considered Quitting Ministry in the Past Year” Barna, April 27, 2022, https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-quitting-ministry.
Jeffrey M. Jones, “Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low,” Gallup, June 17, 2022, https://news.gallup.com/poll/393737/belief-god-dips-new-low.aspx.