Rest Takes Hard Choices

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On a regular basis I will talk with someone about Sabbath, pace of life, margin and rest. Most Americans are tired, don’t get enough sleep, don’t take enough vacation, feel stressed, overloaded, overwhelmed and aren’t sure how to change it. For many years, I struggled with this and still find myself not getting it right.

A couple of things helped me make the hard choices to rest (you’ll see at the bottom of this why I call them hard choices):

  1. Rest is a faith issue. Rest is a lot like giving back to God. It is trusting that God will make up for the time you aren’t. When people say, “I don’t have time to rest or take a sabbath.” What they often mean is, “I don’t trust God with my time. I’m too important. Life will fall apart if I’m not there.” Or, “I need to be doing as much as I am.” Many times, people won’t stop because the silence is too painful. As long as they keep moving, they don’t have to deal with hurts in their heart. The pace they keep, keeps them from feeling hurt.
  2. Rest isn’t something our culture encourages. Rest is seen as lazy. If your kids aren’t on 3 teams, in 2 dance troops. If you aren’t in 4 bible studies you aren’t growing as a Christian. We don’t encourage rest. We come back from vacation and say, “I need a vacation.” We go to work on Monday and ask “where did the weekend go?” I know someone who goes on vacation and fills their days from sunrise to sunset with things to do and see. Even on vacation, they keep moving and moving.
  3. Most people aren’t sure what “rest” means. Most people don’t know what it means. Some Christians say you shouldn’t shop or go to the movies on Sunday. Should you do any work? Rest in Scripture is to be restorative. It is to be recharging. For some, that is woodworking or painting, taking a nap, reading a book, having a long meal with friends, taking a hike, working out. Rest should connect you with God, restore your body, mind and soul.

So, why do I call having rest making hard choices?

Because, it will take time and it will often mean being countercultural to those around you.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you rest:

  1. It doesn’t matter what day it is. I’m a pastor, so Sunday is a work day, not a rest day. Just pick a day. It might be Wednesday for you. Pick a day, set it aside and think through what you will do on that day to restore your body, soul, heart and mind. What will you do? Who will you be with or will you be alone? How will you reconnect with God? How will you rest?
  2. It needs to be a day. Some people in an effort to feel better say, “I’m starting with 4 hours of rest.” That sounds nice and makes it feel like you are moving in the right direction, but it often fails. Quickly, you will find a reason to make that 3 hours. If you can give 4 hours, you can give a day. What are you afraid of? I know, you are afraid of not getting everything done, of things falling apart. So keep reading.
  3. Work fills the time allowed. Have you noticed how you accomplish everything you need to before going on vacation or before a school deadline? Work gets done that needs to get done. If you have 6 hours to work and at the end of 6 hours, whatever is not done is not done for the project. You skip Facebook, turn your phone off, no apps, no games, no breaks, you get it done. Work with that intensity each day so that you can rest.
  4. You have all the time you need to accomplish everything you want. I tell people this all the time and they always tell me I’m wrong, but hear me out. I’m a huge Steelers fan and never miss a Steelers game, even if I watch it on DVR. Why? I put it on my calendar. Because everything that is important has a time attached to it. You do something similar to this. It might be a show, a class, a team you’re on, a hobby you have (think about how much time you spend on a hobby). My point is, we accomplish all kinds of things we want to accomplish. We often just accomplish the wrong things.
  5. You don’t have to do everything you are doing. This is the hard choice. Resting means you will skip things. You will miss things. You will say no to things. But remember, when you say no to one thing, you say yes to something elseYou don’t have to do all that you are doing. You can stop some things. Not sign your child up for that team. You can get off that committee at school or church. You can stop and slow down.

Let me close with a story.

When I was in seminary, I wanted to not lose my marriage as many married students working on their masters do. Katie and I both worked full-time and I went to school full-time. Each class, I would get my syllabus and anything that was 1 or 2% of my grade, I didn’t do. Why? I had class one night a week and we agreed that I would do homework 3 nights a week and we would have 3 nights a week for time together. I had to be diligent in those 3 nights to get all my homework done for a full class load. I trusted God each semester to expand my time and effort. Even with doing 90% of my work in each class, I graduated with a 3.8 GPA and my marriage stronger than when I started. Sadly, I have classmates that are divorced and out of ministry.

Please, make the hard choice to rest.

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Making Room for What Matters

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As part of our  Breathing Room series at Revolution I shared 6 simple ways to create margin in your life so that you are able to enjoy what really matters. If you missed them, here they are:

  1. Get a good night sleep. 
  2. Take a break every 90 minutes.
  3. Control electronics instead of letting electronics control you.
  4. Pay people to do what you hate.
  5. Life the life you want, not the life others want you to live.
  6. Use your schedule for your advantage.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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  1. Trevin Wax on Don’t give your child a trophy for losing. Couldn’t agree with this more.
  2. Regular bedtimes help kids behavior.
  3. John Piper on Hijacking your brain from porn.
  4. Thom Rainer on 7 reasons your church needs to go on a diet. Being simple is the one of the defining characteristics of Revolution Church.
  5. Ryan Williams on 8 things I learned as a young lead pastor.
  6. 10 productivity tips for pastors.
  7. Ron Edmondson on 5 tips to be a better dad this week.
  8. Sleep & productivity.
  9. Mark Driscoll on 7 sabbath killers.

Elevation Creative: I Have Decided

Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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  1. Ed Stetzer on Has Dr. King’s dream come true?
  2. Mark Driscoll on It’s all about the numbers. Really well said.
  3. 6 subtle signs your organization has silos.
  4. Jay Dennis on Pornography and pastors.
  5. 10 questions to ask about your work/life balance.
  6. Perry Noble on The one thing that holds leaders back.
  7. Seeing God in your work.
  8. John Stott on How to preach with authority.
  9. 10 football books leaders should read.
  10. Dave Bruskas on How to rest in ministry.
  11. Donald Miller on People aren’t following you because you aren’t clear.
  12. What Matt Chandler wished he knew when he started ministry. This series is gold for pastors and those entering ministry.

Why Pastor’s Should Take a Summer Preaching Break

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I am coming off of my summer preaching break at Revolution. When we started the church 5 years ago, I preached almost 100 times in the first 2 years. While it seemed necessary at the time, it was not unwise and certainly not sustainable.

It is always interesting to me when pastors hear about the break I take each summer. They often tell me how they could never do that or what they would do if they did that. I’ve talked to church members who don’t know what to do with a pastor taking a break. I get quizzical looks and then they say, “It would be nice for me to take 4 weeks off.” Which totally misses the point, but it would be nice to take 4 weeks off.

Here’s what I do on my break & why you as a pastor should take one:

  1. Rest. During my break I go on vacation, spend longer time with Katie and the kids than I normally do. I take more retreat days to be alone with Jesus and work on my heart. In the flow of a ministry year, it is easy to get busy and drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit. While I take my day off each week and try to take a retreat day each month, it is easy to skip these. A break gives me no excuse. During a break, I’m able to read my bible longer and journal more, pray more and work on me as a man, a father, a husband and a pastor. If this were the only thing a pastor gained from his break, his church would be better off, but there’s more.
  2. Let the church hear from other communicators. I would love to think I’m the greatest communicator my church has ever heard, but that isn’t true. In fact, they get tired of me, how I say things and what I say. I start to run out of interesting things to say, my stories get dry and don’t connect and I get tired of the series we are in. This happens every series we do, 10 weeks into it I’m ready for the next one. A break lets other people preach, which develops other communicators who God is calling into ministry or preaching. It allows my church to hear a different way of preaching, a different lens of reading the Bible and new insights and stories. Depending on how well they do, it might also give your church a greater appreciation for you. Some notes on guest speakers: they must line up with you theologically, don’t preach heresy on your week off. They must be good. I knew one pastor who booked speakers who weren’t as good as he was so when he came back people were excited he was back. I want Revolution to be great 52 weeks a year, regardless of who is preaching.
  3. Get your love and passion for preaching back. Preaching is hard work. It is tiring and draining. I love to preach and prep a sermon. It is one of the favorite parts of my job, but it is physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally tiring. Pulling back for a few weeks is incredibly important. Two weeks into your break, you will want to preach again and have the itch. This is good, then enjoy the last 2 weeks. For me, I’ve learned that I need to take a week off from preaching every 10 weeks. Every pastor is different, but that seems to be my limit.
  4. Evaluate the church. Andy Stanley calls this “working on the church, not in the church.” When I’m not working on a sermon, it gives me a chance to pull back and look at everything. This summer we and my leaders spent a great deal of time evaluating Missional Communities, talking about our first Revolution Church plant and what that will look like, and how we will get from 250 to 500 in attendance and what needs to change for that to happen and what will change because of that. In the normal flow of a ministry year, it is hard to have these meetings because they take time, but the summer is the perfect time to pull back and evaluate.
  5. Look ahead. Right along with evaluating your church, you can look ahead. You can read for upcoming sermons and series. You can work ahead on things. This summer, I started to work on the series we will begin in January. This is a huge help to our church because it allows us to have resources, daily bible study questions, mc guides, and study guides to educate our people in Scripture. None of these things happen at the last minute.
  6. Grow your leadership through books and conversations. Taking a break gives you extra time to read outside of sermon prep. I love to read and it seems I am always reading 5 books, but a summer break helps me read more and from a wider variety of books and topics. It also helps me have time to talk to other leaders, ask them questions, learn from them to benefit our church. This summer, I’ve spent time talking to pastors of church that are in that 350-500 range to see what is next. I’ve talked with pastors who have planted a church and what they learned in the process.
  7. Gives you energy for the fall. In most churches, the fall is the second biggest growth time of the year. The spring is the biggest for Revolution. Taking a break in the summer, pulling back gives you the energy for the season that is coming. If you go into the ministry season at 85%, you will burnout and not make it. If you go in at 100% you will push through and be of greater use to your church and Jesus.

If you are an elder or a church member who has the power to encourage your pastor to do this, do it. The benefit to your pastor, his family and your church is enormous. If you are a pastor, stop making excuses about this. Educate your elders, vision cast and lead up. I had to at the beginning as my elders didn’t understand why I’d do this. To them it felt like I was taking a month off. That’s okay, but don’t let that stop you.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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  1. Scott Williams on 10 things you need stop and start doing. Great list.
  2. Don’t pack too much into your sermons.
  3. Brian Croft on How much vacation time should a pastor use. My answer: all of it.
  4. Trevin Wax on Why gay marriage is good (and bad) for the church. I appreciate Trevin’s balanced answers here.
  5. The introverted pastor. As an introvert and a pastor, I can relate.
  6. Barnabas Piper on Why men should books about men instead of men’s books. Great perspective.

Top 12 Posts of 2012

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It’s that time of year again, time to share my top lists of the year. Tomorrow I’ll share my top 12 books of the year and on Thursday, I’ll share my top 12 albums of the year. Today though, it is the top 12 posts I wrote in 2012:

  1. Before You Criticize Your Pastor
  2. Accountability
  3. How a Wife Handles Her Husband’s Sexual Addiction
  4. Kingdom Man
  5. Q: Preaching to Believers & Seekers
  6. What “Be Still” Means
  7. Is Love a Choice or a Feeling (And Why it Matters)
  8. Responding to the Same-Sex Marriage Debate as a Christian
  9. Letters to a Young Pastor
  10. Meet Nehemiah James Andrew (Updated)
  11. One of the Most Misquoted Bible Verses
  12. Why We Worry
  13. Happy Birthday to my Beautiful Wife (Bonus Post)

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Burnout Series Part 2: How You Know if you are Burned Out

I preached on rest, rhythm and burnout this past weekend at church and thought I’d share some more thoughts on it this week for my blog readers. You can listen to my sermon here if you missed it.

Yesterday, I shared how to burnout. Today, I want to unpack how you know if you are burned out. The reality that most Americans are experiencing burnout or fatigue of some kind, they are just ignoring it.

Fatigue, burnout. While similar to being tired, it is quite different. When you are tired, simply taking a nap can fix it. Fatigue and burnout take something different.

Here some common clues:

  1. What used to be easy is now difficult.
  2. Difficulty falling asleep.
  3. Difficulty getting up in the morning.
  4. Tired in the middle of the afternoon.
  5. Low energy when it comes to exercise or sex.

The following are ones from a series Sojourn Network did on the topic:

  1. Inner restlessness with an underlying sense of anxiety which leads to a defensive, angry spirit.
  2. Deep emotional weariness leading to obsessive or scattered thoughts.
  3. The waning of relational intimacy and a growing fantasy world (especially as it relates to our sexuality).
  4. Numbness of soul so that people become tedious to us and we haven’t the internal energy to give attention to their deepest needs.
  5. Feelings of boredom, melancholy, and depression in response to a growing hopelessness.
  6. We pretend … we live more into our image than our true sense of identity with God.
  7. Our spiritual practices are at best random and replaced by life’s demands so that our spiritual life has a serious lack of enthusiasm and love for Christ.

Some of the things that come easy for me as it relates to life and leadership are making decisions, preaching, reading, exercising.

Here are some of the warning signs I saw in my life during this time:

  1. Katie and I went to a movie theater. On the way there, we debated between 2 movies that started 5 minutes apart, but I couldn’t settle on what I wanted to see. We went into one theater. Over the course of 7 minutes, we changed theaters 5 times. I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to see. About an hour into the movie I got mad that we didn’t go and see the other movie.
  2. I found myself in between services at Revolution hanging out in the back. My desire to talk to people was at an unbelievable low point.
  3. I had little desire to prep my sermons, think ahead.
  4. My vision for Revolution became very cloudy and reactionary instead of proactive. I couldn’t decide what series to preach on and went back and forth multiple times.
  5. Some of my regular practices of exercise slowed down.
  6. I didn’t take a retreat for almost 6 months.

The reality for me right around the first of the year, 2012, was that I was hitting a wall. After 3 years of church planting, running at a fast pace, I was toast.

Does any of this resonate with you? What things have you experienced that are signs you are burning out?

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Burnout Series Part 1: How to Burnout

I preached on rest, rhythm and burnout this past weekend at church and thought I’d share some more thoughts on it this week for my blog readers. You can listen to my sermon here if you missed it.

I remember sitting at conferences when I was in college and seminary and hearing pastors and leaders talk about hitting a wall, being burned out, fatigued and thought, “Wimps.”

Then it happened.

Burning out is like getting into debt or gaining weight. Which means, it doesn’t happen in one day, it doesn’t even seem to come from one place. It is the continuous nature of life. One thing on top of the other, on top of the other. In Adrenal FatigueDr. James Wilson says that all of us do things that energize us and rob energy from us. Burn out and fatigue comes when we do more that robs us of energy than gives energy.

For me, I began my slow crawl into fatigue back in January of 2011. Revolution was growing, but a ton of things were happening behind the scenes. We were in the process of disciplining an elder, which took hundreds of hours in meetings, emails and phone calls. We were merging with another church in Tucson, which meant I would preach on Saturday night and then drive across town on Sunday night, preaching or getting to know this new church. Over the summer, we were training missional community leaders in our home twice a week. All of this began to build and build. The reality is, this is my job. The problem is that I’m an introvert and being around people for an extended period of time tends to drain me, not energize me. I didn’t take account for this reality.

One of the things that I learned recently, or at least jumped out to me in reading through Genesis is that Adam was created at the end of the 6th day. The next day God rested. I think it’s fascinating that God did everything and then created Adam. That Adam’s first day was a day of rest. This communicates so much. It communicates a rhythm that we should live in. Our pursuit of balance, while nice is not biblical (I’ll unpack that later). It also communicates to Adam his importance, or lack thereof, and God’s power and sovereignty.

Simply put, the longer you and I continue living at a fast pace, going, going and going. Doing more than we can handle. Not resting. Not recharging, we will hit a wall. For me, this wall happened in January, 2012.

In researching what happened to me and talking with other leaders, one of the common misconceptions is that burnout simply comes from working too much. While that can easily happen, burnout tends to come from a combination of things. For me, it was the stress of working, not taking a day off, the emotional strain of trying to restore a close friend back to ministry that ended painfully and then not dealing with those emotions, followed by more and more stress and strain physically. All of this continued to build until one day I couldn’t take it any more.

I’ll share tomorrow how you know this is happening to you.

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Sunday Afternoon Mind Dump…

  • Felt so good to be back at Revolution and preaching live tonight after 4 weeks away
  • Can’t believe how much I missed it
  • Got to preach on rest, rhythm and how to walk through life in a way that brings life and is recharging
  • A lot of it came out of the things we’ve been learning over the last 6 months
  • I’ll blog more about it this week
  • If you missed it, you can listen to it here
  • It was so cool to see how our church continues to grow in spite of it being summer
  • So many guests last night and the service was packed
  • Can’t wait for next week as I kick off a brand new series on the book of Joshua called Fearless
  • I’ll also be sharing next where we are moving to and when 
  • So excited to share this with our church and talk about the vision for where we are headed
  • It’s going to be huge
  • Threw my back out yesterday at the gym, pushed myself too hard
  • Someone in our MC is a personal trainer and she scolded me at church last night
  • Been icing my back a lot, but thankfully made it through my sermon
  • For those of you who care, today is the anniversary of the founding of the greatest team in the world, my Pittsburgh Steelers
  • It was cool seeing all the comments on Twitter and Facebook last night about the topic of sabbath and rest
  • Seemed to hit its mark
  • Right now at Revolution is such a good time, so much momentum building as we get ready to move, tons of excitement, new people, people getting excited about MC’s this fall
  • It’s a good time to be a part of our church and what God is up to
  • I’m going to get back to my Sabbath, head to a friend’s pool and grill out some pizzas
  • Good times