Why The Better Place
Even During Plowing Season and in Harvest
When I graduated from seminary in 1975, many lay people in my churches expressed amazement at how low clergy health insurance rates were. The explanation for this was that clergy, as a population group, had healthier life styles than the average population. More recently, as I worked with many lay committees on their pastor’s compensation packages, they have expressed amazement at how high clergy health insurance rates are. Something has shifted. The expectation placed on clergy today keeps them in a high and almost constant state of stress. – Marshall Shelley, the editor of LEADERSHIP wrote the following in the Spring 2000 edition, page 3:
Don Payne, who directs the suburban and rural training center
at Denver Seminary, told us about a man in an established career
who felt God’s call to pastoral ministry. So he left his first career,
attended seminary, took a church, and before long began to experience
tremendous stress in the pastorate.
That in itself is not unusual. What was unusual was the source
of the stress. He had gone into ministry believing the Woody Allen
rule: “80 percent of success is just showing up.” This new pastor
assumed that if you just show up, ministry will come your way, you
respond, and all is well. He underestimated how much initiative was
necessary in pastoral work.
He found the burden of creating a climate, of initiating
ministry opportunities way too stressful. So stressful, in fact, that
he left the pastorate to return to his earlier “less stressful” job – as
an air traffic controller!
Like the character John Coffey in The Green Mile, pastors are regularly taking the sickness, pain and sin of the world into themselves. Unlike John Coffey, pastors rarely have opportunity to exhale all the disease and it is killing them. – I have been a pastor for twenty-eight years. [This was as of June 2003]. As a district superintendent in the United Methodist Church for the past six years, I was a pastor to pastors. In all of these years I never met a pastor who fits the Hollywood stereotype. The pastors I know (and they number in the hundreds) are in touch with the world around them, self-sacrificing, faithful family people who are on call 24/7 and who actively work fuller than full-time.
Sabbath time is time during which we remove responsibility from our shoulders to have to do anything so that we can give our undivided undistracted attention to knowing God. We all need Sabbath time every day and a Sabbath day every week. The command to keep the Sabbath day lies at the very heart of the Ten Commandments. Most pastors today ignore this command and, truth be known, they don’t even know how to keep it. – Scripture teaches that unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). Those who do not keep regular Sabbath times and a weekly Sabbath day are laboring without the Lord. Most pastors know this and yet they feel trapped by the constant demands of the pastorate.
Pastors need help. God takes Sabbath so seriously that he has said even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest (Exodus 34:21). No matter how busy we are or how important the demands on our time may be, we must sabbath. Sabbath is a verb as well as a noun. It is something we do and something we must do to truly live. Pastors need help to sabbath.
A sabbatical is a time of extended sabbath. Most people who have been serving as pastors for seven to ten years or longer are in great need of a sabbatical. – God is the God who heals (Exodus 15:26). Time spent with God is always a time of healing. After seven or more years of absorbing the world’s ills, pastors need an extended time away from their pastoring responsibilities so they can be healed. – Pastors are on the front lines doing spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12 and Revelation 12:17) whether they realize it or not. No person can withstand the intense rigors of the front line year after year without being wounded. But where do pastors, the lowest paid of all professionals on the planet, many of whom do not have a home of their own (they live in a parsonage or a manse), go for a sabbatical?