By now I’m sure you are well-versed in spiritual gift inventories. You’re probably also quite familiar with leadership assessments. It seems that the Church’s appetite for leadership tools marches on. Go to any of the large church ministries conferences and you will be thrown into a world of skinny jeans, expensive coffee, and a never-ending supply of ministry resources designed to help you increase your metrics. Growing your church, for many leaders, becomes a numbers game that aims ultimately at job security. The church has moved to a model that encourages working 24/7 and being available at everybody’s beck and call. That’s not to mention the need to add new service times to the schedule in order to accommodate more congregants, a strategy which has the inevitable side-effect of pulling pastors away from their families. This truly is the greatest problem facing church leadership culture today. But what would happen if the metrics changed?
It was refreshing a few years ago when some of my favorite authors began to write books about the concept of rest. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that pastors were given “sabbaticals” as part of their standard employment packages. Sabbaticals were designed to keep pastors fresh while also rewarding them for their loyalty and commitment to their calling. In many ways, they became one of the margins that those in full time ministry could use to create balance in their lives.
This concept of “Sabbath Rest” is not only biblical, but it really works. We can even take a look at the marketplace and see examples of the power of honoring the Sabbath. Take Chick-fil-A, whose management chooses to remain closed on Sundays. This has not only been a philosophical choice since day one, but now it’s become part of their brand. Check out their signs on the highway telling you that there is a Chick-fil-A off the next exit. Right underneath their logo you’ll see the words “closed on Sundays.” Do you realize that they make more money in six days than any other fast food restaurant does in seven? I’m not sure why, but it seems to me that “the ministry” thinks it has become an exception to this rule. If the lighted sign in front of our building doesn’t say “OPEN” at all times, we feel like we’re doing something wrong.
“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work – not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; He rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; He set it apart as a holy day.” Exodus 20: 8-11
Pastors, let me ask you something your staff cannot ask you: if you don’t start setting the example by creating Sabbath rest and margin in your own life, how can you possibly lead a staff that is taking their cues from you? It drives me crazy when I hear that Pastors are regularly being asked to come in to church and even to lead ministry on their days off. I was part of that crazy cycle for twenty years. About four years ago now I stepped out of day-to-day ministry and took on the life of a ministry consultant. The biggest change for my family was that they now had their dad back every weekend. It was as if we had to “re-learn” what family time was. I realized in that moment that I had allowed ministry to become greater in my life than my own family. Newsflash: When the pastor loses his family, all church growth stops.
My prayer for you this next season would be to create margin and balance in your ministry and family life. Don’t be afraid to say no to new ideas that increase your work load and decrease your family time. Surprise your staff and give them time off to spend with their families. Reward your ministry leaders for placing margin back in their lives. Finally, model Sabbath in all that you do. Only YOU can change the metrics of YOUR church. Your family and Your ministry teams will thank you!