I’ve been a pastor for two decades now, and while most every profession requires a little on-the-job training, there are a few things I wish somebody would have told me before I got started so that I didn’t have to learn them the hard way.
Such as: I’ll always be tempted to measure my success by my church’s attendance numbers. Or, the best thing I can do for my congregation is to quit comparing myself to other pastors and simply be me. Or, I will only be given as much spiritual authority as the amount of spiritual authority I’m willing to submit to. Or, my brain will always feel like scrambled eggs on Sunday afternoon. Or, while it’s true that sheep bites can’t kill me, the general congregational gnawing every pastor is made to withstand will make life miserable a few (very long) days each year.
As it relates to being a person governed not by busyness but by healthy rhythms, not by chaos but by an inner sense of calm, here are three things I also wish I would have known.
1. Rest is opposed
During the early days of my marriage, when I was running too fast and pushing too hard, I found it difficult to “come down.” I feared the loneliness and boredom I knew rest would usher in, so I kept upping my RPMs, with fingers crossed I’d avoid a crash. But we can’t stay up forever; we always have to come down. And because I refused to slow myself in a healthy manner, I was forced to walk a treacherous path. Mine was paved with Internet porn. From a place of deep humility, I’ve shared with my congregation how challenging it was to untangle myself from the grip of pornography across the span of several years in my twenties, but by God’s grace, I did get free.
For years, I looked back on that stretch of sinfulness with disbelief; how could I stoop to that level? I was in ministry. I was supposedly living for God. I adored and admired my wife. And yet, still, I’d find myself sitting in front of a computer screen, long after Pam had gone to bed, staring at stuff I had no business staring at, regretting the minutes even as they ticked by.
Things make more sense to me now. When we don’t say yes to God’s form of rest, we will say yes to a fraudulence instead — porn or gin, drugs or gambling, idle chatter or extravagant spending — all in the name of “unwinding.” It’s all proof that real rest is opposed, and that rest without God is anything but restful in the end.
2. Ruthlessness is required
Living rhythmically may sound like a breezy proposition, but to execute it well, we have to stand our ground. About 18 months ago, I called together the senior-most leaders of New Life Church. These are the men and women who report directly to me, the ones who oversee every ministry within our church. Typically I’m a big fan of delegation, of giving away all the control I don’t actually need. But for more than three years’ time, I’d asked to be part of decisions I normally wouldn’t need to weigh in on; a founding-pastor scandal, a fatal shooting on campus, and a fast and furious financial downturn demanded that I did.
When that three-year period came to a close the stress level let up, which would have been terrific news, except that I missed the cue that we had clawed our way out of the woods. My senior staff kept bringing me what I now instinctively knew were junior-level questions, and my frustration level rose by the day. Unwittingly, I’d neglected to inform them that we had shifted from “crisis mode” to “normal, everyday mode,” and all of us were suffering mightily as a result. They were trying to include me in their minutia, and I was expending precious energy fending off their incessant requests. A guy could die from being needed this much! I called a meeting for the purpose of informing them that if they preferred a pastor who was alive, then they would resume handling their own affairs. To which they said, “Um, all due respect, Pastor Brady, but you created this madness you now despise.”
They were right, and all of us knew it. We shared a good laugh, re-upped our commitment to saner processes, and moved forward toward brighter days. But not before the lesson lodged in my heart: yes, crises often causes temporary chaos, but we’ll kill ourselves from perpetual crisis mode. Every day can’t be a fire drill. We’ve got to fight to keep life sweet and sane.
3. The reward is the presence of God
Once I began taking rest and rhythm seriously in my life, I think I expected a marching band to materialize, blowing horns and celebrating my great success. “Way to go, Pastor Brady, for being a Sabbath-keeper! You’re officially holy and righteous and good!” I never would have admitted it publicly, but privately I hoped for some shiny angel to appear, to deliver the divine prize package I’d so dutifully earned.
The shiny angel never showed up.
What did show up was intimacy with God. Still today, the more I practice restfulness of mind and spirit, the more I experience the presence of God.
We observe the sacrament of communion nearly every weekend at New Life Church, and one thing I always notice is that it’s hard to hustle through the wine and the bread. It’s nearly impossible to still the soul when the body is still rushing around. And that’s a very good thing. We need to stop. We need to savor. We need to consider God’s presence with us there. That presence is the reward for rest, and it’s better than any marching band. In his presence is his power, and in his power is victory in the end — over all that tries to entangle us, over life’s chaos and madness and pain.
For more reading on this topic, consider my newest book, Addicted to Busy.