While I Was Away

This is the first post I have written after being away from this blog for four weeks. During this four weeks, I not only took a break from this blog but also from my normal responsibilities at our church.

A couple of these weeks were vacation and a couple of them were to enable me to think and plan some of my teaching/preaching for the coming school year. (It is much easier and more natural in our setting for me to think about the academic year instead of the calendar year.)

Now for some good things that happened while I was away:

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1. I was able to spend much time reading. I probably read more than any summer in recent years. I read Embracing the Love of God, The Poet of Tolstoy Park, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me, Resonate and pieces of other books. I was amazed at how often there were threads that took me from one book to the next.

2. I spent one week co-teaching a D.Min. class with Dr. Allen Black at Harding School of Theology (formerly Harding Graduate School ofReligion). This was stimulating for me as I listened to Allen talk about various passages in the Gospel of Luke. Those in the class also stimulated my thinking with their comments, questions, and perspectives.

3. While at Harding, I had several very good conversations with Dr. Mark Powell who teaches theology. These conversations were particularly helpful to my thinking. I was glad to get to know Mark better and look forward to more exchanges in the future.

4. Charlotte and I spent some time with her mother, sister Carole, brother-in-law Keith, and nephew John. It was also a good time to see old friends such as Doug and Dereece. We then went to Murfreesboro to see our daughter Christine, son-in-law Phillip, and grandson Brody.

5. I enjoyed spending a number of mornings drinking Intelligentsia Coffee, which I bought at Fresh Market in Memphis. Oh my! What wonderful coffee! (I’ve heard Scot McKnight mention this incredible coffee a number of times. He is right. It is wonderful!) Along with a cup of this coffee, I ate Biscoff cookies. Nice.

6. For a week, Charlotte and I stayed in a little cottage in Fairhope, Alabama. Fairhope is on the coast, about 20 miles from Gulf Shores. It is a quaint little community. What a wonderful, relaxing setting! We ate shrimp and more shrimp and had no schedule. I was away from the blog, Twitter, and Facebook (with only a few exceptions).

7. Charlotte and I spent three days of our vacation in Oklahoma City with our younger daughter, Jamie. She is getting married in two weeks and we wanted to help her by doing some projects around her house.

8. It seems that some of the most profound moments in life come at the most unexpected times and places. This summer the heat has been very intense across the nation. Any sign of rain is particularly welcome, especially in areas like central Texas where the rain has been scarce. The other day, I was coming out of a Wal-Mart as another family was walking toward the store. Suddenly, it began to rain. Just as the family was about to enter the store, their little child (looked to be about 6 years old) raised his arms, looked toward the sky and said, “Thank you God!”

What a moment! To hear the gratitude of a child, coupled with his complete lack of self-consciousness about expressing himself.

(Tomorrow’s post is “These 5 Habits Really Will Help You Enjoy Your Family More.”)

  

Putting Your Marriage Before Your Kids (Guest writer-Trey Morgan)

The following post was written by guest writer, Trey Morgan. Trey is a husband, a father of four boys, and a minister in Childress, Texas. He has a very good blog and has especially written some good posts regarding marriage and family. You can read more from Trey on his blog which you can find here.


When it comes to marriage, Lea and I struggle with the same things you struggle with. We often find ourselves taking one another for granted for the sake of less important things. Things like busyness, ministries, work and hobbies will always crowd a marriage for time, but I think the biggest challenge for any marriage, including ours, is balancing marriage and raising children. This is especially a struggle when you have young children.

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I firmly believe that the ONLY thing that should be more important than your marriage is your relationship with God. Raising your children should be of the utmost importance, but not to the degree that you put your relationship with your husband/wife on the back burner. One couple recently said this about their marriage, “We don’t have a marriage. We have a business. We make money, pay bills and raise kids, period.” How sad!

I’m amazed at how many people justify putting their marriages on the back burner for their children’s sake. If you invest all your energies into your children and none into your marriage, your marriage will struggle to survive when the kids are grown. What happens is, once the kids are grown, you’ll look across the table at your marriage partner and realize you really don’t have anything in common anymore.

So to keep your marriage happy and healthy, you’re going to have to be willing to invest time in it. Finding time to reconnect in your marriage is healthy. Lea and I strongly feel that raising our boys takes lots of time and energy, but not to the point that we lose the healthiness of our marriage. We personally feel that we must reconnect regularly for our marriage to remain healthy. Sometimes we reconnect in our marriage by simply …

• Making time a couple of times a week to go for a 30 minute walk together.
• Going on a date once a week and trying to talk about things other than just the kids.
• Calling home from work just to say “hello.”
• Spending twenty minutes at a Sonic drive-up just to talk.
• Having lunch together.
• Going grocery shopping together.
• And it’s very healthy when we can occasionally spend a night away somewhere or have a whole weekend away.

Our children are SO important in our lives, and we should be investing a ton of time into the ministry of parenthood. But our children also need to see their parents display a healthy marriage, and for that to happen it takes investing time. That’s why finding ways to reconnect is so important.


Question:

What has been important to you in reconnecting in your marriage?


Strengthening the Soul (2)

I really needed to slow down. In fact, I needed to tendingthesoul.JPG stop.

Just two weeks ago, I was in Ruth Haley Barton’s class, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership” at Wheaton College. The class was not only lecture but included times for prayer, worship, and silence.

It was an opportunity to slow down. In fact, it was an opportunity to stop.

After all, it is very, very easy to stay really busy. Have you noticed this?

  • Phone calls, texting, e-mailing, tweeting, and updating the Facebook status
  • Meetings (even meetings to plan the next meeting)
  • Projects
  • Talk and more talk
  • Squeezing in several activities in one evening

Yes, most of us are very busy. I certainly am.

Yet, I have have found that constant activity day after day can leave me feeling empty, cold, energy-less, and even resentful. This busyness is all about doing and achieving instead of living, really living from the inside-out.

On Friday, I awoke early. I read the “practice” section of chapter 2 from Ruth Haley Barton’s book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership .

Take at least ten minutes to sit quietly in God’s presence with your growing awareness of what is drawing you into solitude at this time. Allow yourself to experience the hope that comes with knowing that there is a safe place for you to acknowledge what is true about you and to wait for God’s action in your life. (p. 45)

I went upstairs to our den and then outside to the little balcony overlooking our backyard. I sat still in the darkness, staring at a brightly lit moon. I sat in silence before God. After a few minutes, it became very clear what was weighing on my heart/mind. I brought this before God.

The point?

There is no substitute for tending to my soul.


Question:

Consider your own life. Now think about others who are around you. What is the constant (and even frantic) busyness doing to us?

Strengthening the Soul (1)

Last week, I was in Chicago for a three-day class at Wheaton College with Ruth Haley Barton, author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. busy.jpg

The class was great.

It was an opportunity not only to listen to Barton but to reflect on my life and relationship with God. There were wonderful times of silence, teaching, prayer and conversation. One of the blessings of the week was getting to be with the four wonderful people at my table.

Much of her material came from her book. What was incredibly helpful was the opportunity to spend time in another setting thinking my life and about my ministry.

The following are several statements that she made in class that were significant to me. (The quotes here are directly from the book.)

  • If Jesus were speaking to us today, he might also point out that when leaders lose their souls, so do the churches and organizations they lead. (p. 13)
  • These cries are gut-wrenching and consistent: there has to be more to life in leadership than many of us are experiencing. In all this listening to my own life and to the lives of others, I have become convinced that the more that we are looking for is the transformation of our souls in the presence of God. (p.14)
  • Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. (p. 19)

I once knew a person in a church who routinely referred to the ministry of the church as “business as usual.” He spoke as if this were a good thing! Listen, business as usual is what is killing churches. In far, far too many churches, good, well meaning people are incredibly busy with church activity and yet experiencing no real life. They are simply doing what their leaders are doing. Their leaders are often good people who also are incredibly busy with church activity.

Barton is right. The best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. There is something powerful about a man or woman whose life is open before the Lord and who is experiencing real transformation into the image of Christ.

I came away from this class this week resolved to do several things:

1. I want to spend more time in solitude and silence tending to the needs of my own soul. I have just not been as attentive to these needs over the past year as I have been in previous years. I really became aware of this in this class.

2. I want to spend less time on things that just do not matter. I really enjoy this time of life. Yet, I want to spend my physical and emotional energy on things that matter. Yet, so much of the busyness of everyday life often involves doing things that just don’t matter. I find myself thinking: “Why am I doing this? How did I get in the middle of this?” So I am really giving some thought as to how I am spending my time.

(For the next few weeks, I will be posting a series each Monday entitled “Strengthening the Soul.”)


Question:

Do you sense that many people around you live with a parched soul?

What has busyness cost you?


8 Questions to Ask When You Are Overwhelmed and Exhausted

I wrote this post with ministers in mind. But it really is applicable to most everyone.question.jpg

The following are some questions that have helped me in times when I have felt overwhelmed and exhausted:

1. What am I thinking about? I ask this question because I know that if I am spending a lot of time rehearsing my worries or my fears that it costs me energy. At one time in my life, I would wake up in the middle of the night and lay in bed thinking one negative thought after the other. It was like I was I was allowing each thought to have its moment on the stage of my mind. Each one would come on the stage and appeal to my anxiety and worry. Such thinking not only kept me awake at night but will drained of energy.

2. Who am I spending time with? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I am not just referring to people who may be critical of something I said or did. These may be people who are voicing some of the concerns I have had about some issue. Yet, I can’t listen to (what seems like) an endless stream of negative talk because it really does impact me.

3. What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk with people (e-mail, phone call, personal conversation) about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about their financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, It is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative.

As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t continue to think about sad and tragic situations all of the time. So I often make sure that I watch something funny on television. Or, I might be sure to watch a good ball game of some kind. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I think about really does matter.

4. When do I re-create my body? I generally work out at the gym four times a week. My motivation for doing this is not my weight nor is it because I am a health nut. My motivation is rooted in the way it makes me feel when I am regularly working out versus how I feel when I do not. If I am not getting some kind of exercise, it really does impact how I feel. Not only do I feel more sluggish, I tend to have less energy and motivation particularly in the afternoons.

5. When do I rest? Some ministers get their emotional strokes by talking about how hard they work. They go on and on about what everyone has asked them to do and how busy they are. There are ministers who do not even take a day off. Very, very unwise — in my opinion. Not taking time to rest, to get away, and to recharge will eventually catch up with a person.

6. When do I empty my mind? I have learned much from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. I have learned the importance of emptying one’s mind (or doing a “Mind Sweep“. That is, taking everything that is going on in your mind and putting it on paper. Several years ago, I was in one of his workshops. One of the exercises that we did that day was to take a clean sheet of paper and write down everything that we were thinking about. I remember thinking, “This won’t take long, I am only thinking about a couple of things right now.” We took about ten minutes for this exercise. I began my list and could not believe all that I wrote down. I put down everything from “Get the tire fixed” to “Got to call Steve on the way home.” Each time that I wrote something down, I then seemed to recall one more thing that I had stored in my mind.

Allen’s point is that if we do not regularly empty our minds, then stress is the result. He says that you must have a system in place where you can empty your mind and then know that you will come back to what you have written this down and deal with them.

7. Who am I resenting? Unresolved conflict and resentments can be such energy drainers! It is amazing how much energy I can spend thinking about a person who I am frustrated with or angry with. Occasionally I need to ask myself, “How much time do I spend thinking about old resentments or things that long ago should have been forgiven.”

8.   Who am I depending on? I deliberately saved this one for last. This is one that I have to think about occasionally. Am I trying to do this ministry in my own power or in the power of the Spirit? Am I depending on myself or on God? Nothing is more exhausting than to try to do ministry via human power and human ingenuity. It will always be inadequate for the task at hand. That alone is exhausting!


Question:

Which one of these eight questions do you especially need to consider? Why?

   

Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 4 – Conclusion)

Darryl Tippens is Provost of Pepperdine University and the author of Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life.    In this interview, Darryl has made some very interesting and thought-provoking observations about what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. His words have been encouraging. darryl_tippens.jpg

These concluding remarks are a reminder of the compelling nature of Jesus.

(Remember that by making a comment in this or any one of the other three posts, you become eligible to win a free copy of Pilgrim Heart. You can find part one here, part two here, and part three here.)


In the Introduction you challenge the church to believe Jesus call “…not just to believe what he taught, but to act like him” (p. 14). What is there about Jesus that you sense 21st century men and women might find attractive and even compelling?

Darryl Tippens: The fact is, Jesus stands very well on his own, without much help on our part, when he is simply received as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John present him. Jesus doesn’t need to be “gussied up” or sanitized or modernized or edited or explained.

There is considerable respect for Jesus in the non-Christian world, to the degree that he is known. But his bickering, checkered followers are another matter. Too often we stand in the way, obstructing the view of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Not everyone will follow Jesus, of course; but when he is seen as the original Evangelists present him, it’s hard to treat his call or his claims trivially. We’ve got to do a better job of getting Jesus outside Sunday school literature, the sermon, the church, and the machinery of American politics (left and right), and back into the marketplace, the lecture hall, the workplace, and the home where he can stand on his own quite powerfully.

What men and women of the 21st century will find most attractive and compelling are people who incarnate Jesus, people who have “learned Jesus” or “learned Christ” (Ephesians 4:20). When people see the “way of Jesus” in ordinary people “in everyday life,” they will find it rather hard to ignore him. It’s happened this way in every century since AD 33. It will happen in the 21st century. Indeed it is happening now.

Question

What has been your experience when you have seen people in the world actually exposed to the incarnate Jesus?


Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 3)

When I read the words below from Darryl Tippens, I thought, “Wow!” I then slowly read these thoughtful, timely words again.

Darryl is the author of Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life. I read this book several years ago and found it to be very encouraging. The author is Dr. Darryl Tippens, Provost at Pepperdine University. Darryl has graciously consented to participate in an interview on this blog. You can find part 1, here and part 2, here.

(This week, I will be giving away two autographed copies of this book. To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment on this post.)tippens-darryl.jpg


What concerns do you have for 21st century Christ-followers and their spirituality? How can the church better address some of these concerns?

Darryl Tippins: As Philip Jenkins and others are demonstrating in their books, Christianity is alive and well in the world–truly flourishing in parts of the globe (such as in South America and Africa). But the Christian faith is not doing so well in what we usually think of as the Western world. Christianity in the U.S. is beset with both internal and external challenges. Forces of secularization are strong, especially in media circles and education. I see expressions of hostility towards Christianity in the press today that would have been viewed as shockingly irreverent or blasphemous only a few years ago. We’re all aware of the new “fashionable atheists,” with their best-selling books. Consumerism, extreme individualism, and vague, self-concocted “spiritualities” abound–which makes the transmission of faith to our children and the next generation rather difficult.

We must find ways to practice Christianity as a robust minority religion–just as they did in the earliest centuries of the Christian era. If Christianity is to flourish, we have lots of work to do:

(1) We must build very strong local faith communities that are rich in community life, rich in tradition, rich in memory, and rich in knowledge of God’s word. The members of these faith communities must not only be thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word of God, they must also be profoundly experiential. (“O taste and see that the Lord is good!”) They must offer their members a true, holistic “way of life,” rich in practice. They must be more than fact-based. They must touch people’s lives to the core in multiple ways. They must be “incarnational” and “sacramental”–linking faith and everyday experience in numerous ways. Recently, I inventoried Christian practices of the early church as recorded in early church history. I came up with a list of over 35 specific rites and practices early Christians engaged in–many of which would look strange and foreign to us today. If we are not to engage in all these early practices today, well, fine. But my question is this: What are the “dynamic equivalents” to these ancient practices today? I think today’s Christianity looks sadly reductionist and stripped down when placed beside early Christianity. We ought to reflect on this, for it may explain why it’s harder and harder to hold on to our children.

(2) We must build communities that amaze the world with their good works, including especially a non-judgmental care for people in need outside our communities–the homeless, the destitute, the sick, the bereaved, the unemployed, the imprisoned, the sexually confused, etc. As in the first century, non-Christian people today should see our good works and be impelled to say, “See how they love one another!”

(3) Finally, just as we must develop the heart and the practice of Christianity, we must develop the head (the intellectual dimensions) of the faith. Christianity flourished in the ancient world partly because it had the best answers to life’s perplexing questions. In the ancient world there were momentous questions about life (why are we here? what is our purpose? why do we suffer? what happens after we die? etc.). To these urgent questions, Christians formulated the most convincing answers. Thus, in those early centuries, Christians were known for their minds. Some Christians were considered among the greatest intellects of the day. This has been true for over 1,500 years. Consider Augustine or Thomas Aquinas as examples–possibly the smartest men on the earth in their days–and they were Christians too. Today, the greatest thinkers — in most cases — are not believers or are not known to be believers. We must address this problem squarely and raise up a generation of Christian intellectuals who can show a hurting, confused, question-haunted world that there are answers, and they are to be found in the context of the Christian faith. A vibrant faith of this century will link head and heart, intellect and good works, in dramatic new ways.

(to be continued)


Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 2)

If you are like me, you might sometimes feel tired, sluggish, and perhaps discouraged.

I encourage you to read Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life. I read this book a few years ago and found it to be incredibly refreshing. The author is Dr. Darryl Tippens, Provost at Pepperdine University. Darryl has graciously consented to participate in an interview on this blog. The subject of the interview will be very interesting to readers of this blog. I encourage you to consider his words.

Also, I will be giving away two autographed copies of this book during the week in which these posts appear. To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment on this podarryl_tippens.jpgst.

The following is part two of the interview. (You can read part one here.)


As I read through the book, I was struck by the quality of the content. Yet, I also sensed that you were not only writing to help other believers but that you also have struggled at times in your attempt to follow Christ. Is that an accurate read? Are many of these practices what nurtured your own faith and life in Christ?

Darryl Tippens: Yes, you’re quite right. There is a great deal of autobiography in the book, evident to anyone who reads closely. One observant reader asked me bluntly one day, “Can you say things like that” (meaning, I think, as a “church leader,” wasn’t I laying myself open to criticism)? My reply was, “Well, I don’t know if I should have said these things, but I did.”

Religious books that sound simple, triumphalist, or Pollyannaish often turn me off. When they offer easy prescriptions like “Follow Jesus, and all will be well–no problems,” I become discouraged because I wonder, “Why is it I try to follow Jesus, but I don’t find it so easy? What’s wrong with me?” Facile claims don’t ring true for me.

I have found the Christian life authentic and exhilarating at times, but truly, utterly daunting at times too. So, I’m encouraged by people who tell the truth about how hard life can be. No one should lie to save God’s honor or make the Church look good. After all, if we worship the God of Truth, if Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then shouldn’t we tell the truth too? The whole system is bogus if we don’t tell the unvarnished truth. So, I have tried to be honest about my struggles. Life hurts. It’s a fact, so why not say so?

But that, of course, is only the prelude to the main story, not the final episode. It’s in the midst of our misery, that the light shines. I’ve found that when faithful friends received my honest testimony, including my questions and doubts, I didn’t end up believing less. Rather, having “come clean,” I found new space and new motivation to believe again, or believe more deeply. I often say to those with whom I work and associate, “You can tell the truth here.” Since we honor the God of Truth, that seems to be the only proper way to go. That explains why I include chapters on hospitality (welcoming), friendship, confession, listening, and discernment.

I’m a believer today in part because other disciples welcomed me with open arms, befriended me when I was in a crisis, listened to me without judgment, and offered discernment as I plodded the way forward. I believe these practices will work well for others too.

(to be continued)

Questions:

Do you tell the truth about what it is really like to follow Christ? Are you a person who receives people in such a way as to invite them to speak the truth?


  

Interview with Darryl Tippens (Part 1)

Do you need to read a book that will refresh your soul?    

I encourage you to read Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life. I read this book a few years ago and found it to be incredibly refreshing. The author is Dr. Darryl Tippens, Provost at Pepperdine University. Darryl has graciously consented to participate in an interview on this blog. The subject of the interview will be very interesting to readers of this blog. I encourage you to consider his words.

Also, I will be giving away two autographed copies of this book during the week in which theses posts appear. To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment on this post. The following is part one of the interview:


Several years ago, you wrote a book that I found very helpful and encouraging. The book, Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life has been helpful to many people. What would you say to tired, overwhelmed church leaders/ministers/pastors as well as many other everyday believers who might be reading this?

Darryl Tippens: First, I would say, “you are not alone.” You belong to a vast company of fellow pilgrims. Struggle, weariness, even exhaustion, are to be expected among people who make the long journey of faith. Yet Jesus promises relief for the weary and hope for the downtrodden. He promised the woman at the well that there is such as thing as “living water.” Those who drink of this water “will never be thirsty.” “The water I will give,” he promised, “will become in [you] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) That water is still available.

I live in a desert climate. It is not unusual to go from May until December without a single drop of rain. Yet not far from my house there is a spring that flows year round. Despite the parched earth and the brown hills in the hot summer months, the spring just continues to flow. Jesus saw a similar phenomenon in ancient Palestine — sweet water endlessly bubbling up in the hottest, driest conditions. Spiritually speaking, we have access to a stream that can nourish us even in the darkest, most sterile times in our lives.

How do we gain access this life-giving resource? Of course, the simple answer is “Jesus.” He is the life-giving stream. But that doesn’t answer the practical question of how precisely we receive his life-giving nourishment, when we are depressed, sick, or lonely. Pilgrim Heart is my modest attempt to offer some provisional answers, which are derived from three sources: (1) Scripture, (2) the personal testimony of believers through the ages, and (3) my own autobiographical experience. I believe that these three sources of data mutually confirm and reinforce the truth that certain spiritual practices (taught by Scripture and tested by believers through the centuries) open that cleft in the rock from which the life-giving waters can reach our parched spirits. While this life-giving water is truly God’s gift to us (we do not create the water), we can do certain things to ready ourselves to receive this gift.

My book is an effort to propose ways to prepare ourselves for the reception of the life-giving waters, primarily through what we commonly call “the spiritual disciplines.” By no means do I think my description of spiritual practices is complete or authoritative. I’ve only scratched the surface. On the other hand, I think there is strong evidence that these practices do make a difference in our lives. In fact, I would argue that we have 2,000 years of testimony that these practices belong in our daily lives.

Furthermore, the testimony from readers who have written me convinces me that the spiritual practices delineated in Pilgrim Heart make a difference. Just today, I received an unsolicited note from a prominent citizen who confessed that though a dedicated Christian all her life, she had undergone “years of spiritual struggle.” But, she added, the discussion of the spiritual practices in the book had been “a balm to [her] battered heart.” I don’t take credit for the help she received, as I was merely the reporter, but I thank God that I was able to show what Christians have been doing for centuries to take care of themselves as they make the arduous pilgrimage of faith.

(to be continued)

Question:

Have you observed church leaders/minister/pastors who seem very weary? What has been your own experience with spiritual fatigue and weariness?



The Month that Has Been a Lifesaver! (A 16-Year Practice)

Time

Sixteen years ago, my family and I moved to Waco, Texas, to begin working with the Crestview church. Our children were young and were fascinated by the notion of moving. I still remember their glee when we flew into the Waco airport and were greeted by some members of what would become our new church. These people did so much to help us feel welcome. They sent us notes and cards, invited us into their homes for meals, and were very kind to our two little girls.

Yet, in spite of those kind gestures, it would be a hard move. Our prior church situation had been very, very difficult. In fact, after almost three years there, I began to wonder if I wanted to remain in “full-time ministry” any longer. I was burned out — completely. In fact, it was with some hesitation that I agreed to come work with the church in Waco. I was hesitant to trust again and experience deep disappointment all over again.

However, what happened in those early discussions regarding the possibility of our move has turned out to be highly significant to my staying there for sixteen years of ministry.

From the beginning, we (the elders of this church and I) agreed that I would be away each July. Two of these weeks are vacation. They really are vacation. I don’t do e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The remaining two weeks in July would be for study. These two weeks would be a time to prepare for messages for the following year. It would be a time to read and think without the pressure of everyday ministry responsibilities.

So for sixteen years, I have been away each July. When I return, I usually feel rejuvenated and refreshed, with new energy and perspective. I really believe the primary reason for my being at this church for that many years has been the opportunity to check out each July.

What do I do during those two weeks? I have done a variety of things. For several years, I have gone to Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. There, I am in a different culture, hearing different concerns, and have the opportunity to listen to good lectures. One year I spent the week in Memphis while another year, I spent part of a week in Birmingham. Some years, I have read heavily, covering a variety of issues. Other years I have focused on one topic or issue. Some years, I have spent much time in libraries. Other years, I did not ever enter a library.

One year I simply focused on what I was hearing from people around me. I spent lots of time in Starbucks and various other coffee shops. I made notes of most every conversation that I participated in or that I overheard. I browsed through magazines, newspapers, etc. looking for common themes and threads. During that time, I was also in the middle of preparation for a new message series on Sunday mornings. So what I heard from others connected with the preparation of these messages.

In a few days, I will return to work after another July. I remain thankful to this church that provides this opportunity for me each year. I only wish that more and more of my friends who are in a similar role had such an arrangement with their churches. I think these churches would quickly see that they are making a wise, long-term investment in their minister that benefits the congregation greatly.

(I wrote this after reading a fine post by my friend, Tim Spivey, regarding a similar rhythm that he has in his life. Please read his post here.)

Questions

Have you ever experienced anything close to burnout? What practices or habits have you built into your life that have helped to energize and provide renewal?

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