Reentry – A Pandemic Renewal Plan Part 1

Upside down and backwards – this is the way the Apollo astronauts returned to earth after their historic space flights. Upside down and backwards is likely how you are feeling right now as you reenter the “in person” world post-pandemic. Ministry life for the last 3 months has been anything but normal. All of us have been stretched into new territory – with more to come as the “new” normal approaches. You have been dealing with the anxiety of your congregation, your family and your own. Pastoring from a distance has been its own challenge. Decision-fatigue has been nipping at your heels and now you are facing the task of reentering the atmosphere of real time worship and ministry. The spiritual and emotional foundations of your life have been sorely tested.

How can you be more than just a survivor? What will be your plan to step back, take a breath and find your center again – a splash down that leaves you prepared for the days ahead?

This is part one of some reminders that can help renew your personal and ministry health. I am following the lead of the apostle Peter, who is the apostle of “reminding.” (2 Peter 1:12) You know these things but, if you are like me, you may need someone else to call your attention back to them. This actually may be the time to double down on these practices – to give yourself permission and then ruthlessly (a word that Dallas Willard has emblazoned on my heart) engage with them.

 Step One: Get others involved from the start. You will need to talk with your spouse, your children, your elders or board members and staff about your plan. Don’t leave it in your head alone. Their buy-in and support will be mission-critical in finding the renewal you need.

 Step Two: Rebuild your daily rhythms. The pillar of personal and ministry health is the pattern of daily rhythms that sustain a rich connection to Jesus, our souls, and our bodies. Here are some key features of good daily rhythms

  • Make sure your work schedule has clear boundaries. The work/home boundaries have been blurred during this time. Defining your start and end times for your workday is critical. Move the time you begin a day if evening meetings will be a part of it. Don’t let yourself off the hook on this one.
  • Practice thankfulness. The need for a thankful heart has never been greater. The cultural atmosphere is hostile to gratitude. Reflecting on the goodness of God in each day will nurture a kind and gentle spirit. Begin and end your workday with a time of thanks.
  • Meditate, pray and read JUST FOR YOU – no strategy stuff, no boning up on theological or social ammunition. Immerse yourself in the Gospel, the love of Christ for you apart from any “doing” and simply to be present to God.
  • Get some fresh air. The weather has turned and now is a good time to be outside, exposing your eyes to something other than a computer screen and your ears to the songs of the birds and the wind – not the next podcast. Breathe!
  • My wife and I have become addicted to not having an alarm set for the morning. It has been amazing to retire when we are tired and get up when our bodies are done resting. We have found that our natural internal clock still gets us up early enough to enjoy a morning pace that starts the day unhurried. Young families may have a harder time doing this but working to set an example of rest will be worth the effort.

Next time… Step Three: Rebuilding weekly rhythms.

A Good Word on Pastoral Health from Ken Sande

In light of my current series on “5 Reasons Pastors Don’t Ask for Help…and what can happen if you do!” these observations by Ken Sande, founder of Peacmakers and RW 360, are quite appropriate.

Do You Know a Bruised Reed?

Bruised ReedIt takes a great deal of humility, wisdom and courage for a popular pastor to admit that he is a “bruised reed” in desperate need of physical rest, spiritual renewal and relational retooling.

Do You Know a Bruised Reed?



A Loose Grip

“Today, I can write about helping pastors, or I can actually help them.”

This was the statement I made to my wife sitting out on our patio the other morning. As we talked over coffee, I was facing choices about my agenda for the day. There were a couple of situations that had come up recently requiring hands on involvement in the ministry of helping pastors. But I had planned on doing some long overdue writing for my blog, a task that has eluded me over the last couple of months. What has kept me from writing? Because I have been actually working at helping pastors – preparing seminars, having lunch, talking on the phone, walking with people in crisis, setting up Pastor in Residence programs.

And so, there on a bright summer morning, real life battled with my expectations.

to do listI have faced this often in my life; and it continues to be a struggle. I am deeply committed to people, but I can also be deeply obsessed with accomplishing my agenda. The horns of my dilemma – tasks vs. people! When I have opted for the former, it has been easy to shut others out and not be present in the moment. I can get grumpy when my plan gets interrupted. Clearly, there are tasks that are important to tackle – things do need to get “done.” But it has been my inability to loosen my grip on the day – on my agenda – that has made many days miserable and unfruitful in a more lasting way.

When I was pastoring, I remember not always being at my best for people. My mind was on what I was NOT doing, what I could be doing other than actually listening, caring, helping. Go figure!

It has taken awhile, but I am learning to step back from the emotions that hijack my ability to see the bigger picture – emotions like frustration, annoyance and anxiety. It is not a pretty picture sometimes. And I definitely need help – from my wife and others – to challenge my default mode. An actual willingness to listen to their input has often resulted in a better grasp of what I am feeling and what the real priorities need to be.

I am in process. And the sense I have is that I am moving in the right direction. God’s agenda is always more deeply satisfying. The paradigm of “people over projects” is mostly true. (I am still not fully convinced!). However, I am convinced that our treasures in heaven are not completed “to do” lists.

reins According to my resident equestrian expert, having a “death grip” on the reins of a horse typically doesn’t result in the best ride. It is counter-intuitive, but light contact and a deeper seat in the saddle create the kind of connection that makes for an effective ride. I sometimes find it difficult to release my death grip on how I think a day should go. When I do, my connection to real life is actually much better .

So now, it is becoming easier to step back, to loosen my grip. When God completely turns my day upside down, I find there is a new grace that frees me to be present in the moment and adjust my agenda to His.

I think it is a good choice.

What about you?

“Once Upon A Time…Sabbath!” Patterns for Healthy Pastoral Life Pt. 1

“Patterns for Healthy Pastoral Life” is a series in which I would like to explore some of the key ingredients to living and serving well. I make no claim that these are the exclusive paths towards healthy pastoring, nor do I have the corner on insights in these areas. But I am drawing from what I have observed in my own life, my work in a restorative ministry to pastors, and the ideas of those whom I respect in the world of pastor-care. I invite you to share your thoughts and add to the discussion along the way.

crashing boundariesThe other day, I was asked to name the single most common reason pastors are exited. There is no simple answer; we are quite creative at putting ourselves at risk! It’s like trying to pick the single thread out of a tangled ball of yarn. There are many contributing factors, but I would say that a lack of boundaries is a good place to start. Boundaries include not only what you won’t do, but what you will do. And it includes establishing boundaries regarding time!

Although there has been a good deal written lately on the subject, I would like to begin this series with the thorny subject of Sabbath. I intentionally borrowed the title for this post from the start of many fairy tales, because keeping the Sabbath seems like a fairy tale to most Christians and many pastors. “Rest? Who needs rest? Not this guy!” It is unfortunate that one of the most important patterns for our spiritual health is also one of the most absent.

As I read through the gospels, I am constantly challenged by the pattern of Jesus’ life. With so much at stake, there was a rhythm and easy order to his days. He wasn’t frantic, nor did he arrive at the end of the day restlessly anxious about everything he didn’t get accomplished.

That is so NOT me.

I am constantly bumping my head (and my heart) up against the limits of my humanity. Even technology fails me, providing only an illusion of being able to be more and do more. I am desperately in need of rhythms and patterns where God’s grace becomes apparent to me in ways that I usually miss. (I am indebted to Annie Dillard, who provides a wonderful illustration of this in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk)

I can hear many of you now, “Rest is for the weak!” You might not say that out loud, but what exactly is the message that we communicate with our busyness? Somehow, we think the rules don’t apply to us and that we can exceed our limits without consequence. Unfortunately, if we don’t create boundaries, someone (or something) will. I found this quote from Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath – Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.”  And, I would add, our burnout and exit from ministry.

familySabbath is a way of ordering our lives. Of creating boundaries in time where we can breathe deeply, sit without any other purpose than to observe, delight and center ourselves in God’s goodness. Where we can reconnect with ourselves, letting our souls catch up to our bodies, and tell our families we love them with our whole-hearted presence.

Trust me – this is hard for me, too! There is not enough time to get done everything I want to get done. There are tasks to be completed: family tasks, house tasks, church tasks, MINISTRY tasks! I find myself spending as much time managing the tools meant to make me more efficient, as doing the work. Sometimes vacations are more like another project than the true rest we seek. Frustration mounts and then you want me to STOP and do NOTHING!?

I am convinced that not having a Sabbath rhythm is a big deal. The creation pattern, re-emphasized by the Law and re-clarified by Jesus, is crucial for maintaining a healthy life for all, but especially pastors. Why? God’s people were told to guard the Sabbath, and even though the warnings in Old Testament became ritualized, we have to ask why God thought this was so important.

Were you aware that the beautiful grass that adorns the greens at Augusta National (or any good golf course, for that matter) grows best if you cut it 6 days a week? Leaving it alone on the 7th day keeps it healthy and ready for optimal play. This was shared with me years ago by a friend who was a Master Greenskeeper.

So, why is rest important?

  • Rest frees us from being the center of the universe. We would never say this, or think this, but our behaviors tell the real story
  • Rest reminds us of Whose story we are a part
  • Rest frees us from the illusion of control
  • Rest roots us in our relationship to God first and foremost
  • Rest gives us perspective, allowing us to see beauty and wonder, opening our souls to a larger vision
  • Rest allows for space to ask the deeper questions. This was particularly meaningful for me as I journeyed on my own path toward restoration.

sabbath fieldsWhen we rest, we can let go. We are less prone to try to control. We can begin to serve, not out of compulsion, drive, or fear, but out of a reciprocal love with the God that renews us.

We preach, counsel and advise those in our congregations to observe a day of rest. Do we practice what we preach? My wife is my best barometer in this regard. While I am getting better at it, I am still not always diligent about keeping to this pattern. Since our small group spent a year studying the Sabbath and its implications in our modern life, we have regularly set aside Sunday to nap, take a drive (though it’s been awhile) or sit on the patio and enjoy our garden.

I confess to still getting antsy from time to time. That is because patterns and rhythms are not one time things; they must become the culture of our heart. As my friend Frank said the other day, a day off can’t merely be a time when I “patch myself up enough to get through another week.” However it may appear to others, it is vital that pastors build into their lives a clear and non-negotiable pattern of keeping the Sabbath. Jesus said the day was made, created, and designed for US! It is God’s weekly gift that frees us from ourselves.

Fortunately, it may actually be a part of your job! Pastoral coach and counselor David Weidis offers this perspective:

“When I coach pastors, they often look at me incredulously when I tell them to include time spent in solitude, recreation, and refreshment as part of their working hours. Why? Because your ‘job’ requires you to be spiritually fit, and you can’t be in good spiritual condition by always being on the go. Jesus often ‘withdrew to a quiet place’ and effectively said ‘no’ to ministry opportunities.”

Questions of who will “cover the bases,” especially for the small church pastor, have to take a back seat to the overarching importance of setting into place healthy patterns that will allow you to be a healthy pastor for many years to come.

How can you make the pattern of Sabbath a reality in your life and ministry?


 From the blog of a good friend, who has some keen insights into the life of the Spirit:

 A great primer on helping your leaders help you design a sabbatical:

 Tim Keller provides some helpful insights on Sabbath rest:

 A wealth of helps here:

Setting a Good Pace – Guest Blog

Welcome to Bob Groves, pastor (of GENISiS in Chesapeake, Va.) and friend. This is a re-post (with permission) from his blog “Journey”.  I found this to be a helpful reminder about setting a good pace.

“Slow Down and Increase Your Significance!” by Bob Groves

Life is busy…we all know that.

However, if we don’t create space to slow down, we will find that in most, if not all, areas we are simply skimming the surface; i.e.  living a shallow life.  Or saying it another way, a life that has little, to no significance.

By shallow, I mean not really connecting in deep meaningful ways.  Shallow meaning not having the deep conversations you were created for.  Shallow as in running from immediate to immediate, never living for the important.

By significance I mean doing the things that really matter in life with those that matter the very most.  By significance I mean living a life of purpose in your world.

How do you change this?  How do you slow down & live a life with more significance in it?

Commit to Slow Down

Unless you are co-dependent, which you may be, you don’t like hurrying all the time, everywhere.  (NOTE – If you are co-dependent (need to be needed) actually the fast pace gives you a false sense of importance & identity…this is a completely different issue than simply being too busy).  To slow down though – you have to commit to it 1st.  You already know there is always something to do & somewhere to go…someone needing you..etc.  You have to commit to slowing down.

Commit to Living a More Organized Life

Plan & calendar the important things.  Plan dates with your spouse…plan dinners with family & friends…plan events you want to go to…games you want to watch or attend…Start making the more important parts of your life the things that get on the calendar 1st.  Then, when someone or something “needs you”, check the calendar.  Rather than all those that matter most being last, start putting them at the front of the line.  Not only will you feel better , they will hear what you are saying by making them 1st.  Just like the hear what you are saying when you don’t.

Schedule Creative Time

Another person that should get into your schedule is YOU!  I’m not talking about meaningless time…x box mess & laziness.  I’m talking about creating space to recapture the dreams you’ve lost to your current pace of life.  I’m talking about slowing down long enough to hear the inner voice that has been lost to the noise around you.  There are 2 meetings you need to have with yourself on at least a quarterly basis.

1st Creative meetings.  Where you create the dream again.  Imaging the vision for your life…marriage…ministry…career…family…etc.  Lay down some plans…talks you need to have…people you need to meet with…etc.

2nd Buffer meetings.  These are simply self meetings where you defrag.  It’s a time to deal with distractions…a time to identify all the clutter in your life that is sucking the life out of you or some area of your life.  Then it’s not enough to identify the life suckers, you have to then commit to dealing with them.  Each of them.  Put a plan together…set S.M.A.R.T. (specific…measurable…achievable…realistic & time bound) goals.  Then get them done.  You’ll find that each one completed gives you more energy to accomplish the next.


These few steps alone can have a radical impact on your life, greatly increasing your significance.

slow down long enough to share this with other busy people…


Staying Out of the Statistics

A few weeks back, I wrote about the startling statistics that highlight the trends occurring in pastoral ministry today – trends that are resulting in pastors self-ejecting from, or being forced out of, their churches. In the turbulent world of church leadership, many pastors are “at-risk.”

Below are four of the top factors that put pastors in serious jeopardy, as well as a few suggestions on how to stay out of the “statistics.” I shared these at my recent presentation to the Midwest Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and they reflect not only sound research but also personal experience.

1. Isolation (and loneliness). Many pastors have no real friends! The lack of significant relationships – living inside our own bubbles, with the sound of our own voice as the predominant one –  can lead to self-doubt and self-delusion. If you’re not connected to anyone, you’re not accountable to anyone.

2. Not Understanding our Limitations. We are afraid of our own humanity. We believe that by acknowledging our humanness, we will somehow deny the power of God at work in us. Most pastors enter ministry with high expectations to change, if not the world, then at least their corner of it. Yet our grasp of how that might happen exceeds our reach, and as a result, we turn inward in a dangerously negative way. We end up evaluating ourselves against ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that come from ourselves, not Jesus.

3. Lack of Good Boundaries. The best example I can give of this is the inability to say “No!” Dorothy Parker, American poet and satirist, once remarked, “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them.” With a sigh, pastors will often admit to this (as will their spouses). Our desire to care for others and work hard in our ministry is hijacked by the desperate need to please. As a result, our internal eye becomes fixed on how we are affirmed by the congregations we serve, rather than finding our affirmation in Christ.

4. Inattention to Self-Care. In spite of the warning to watch over ourselves first (Acts 20:28), most people in church leadership refuse to pay attention to their own needs, both spiritual and physical. The pastor’s relationship to Jesus and the Scriptures can become purely “professional,” with studies showing that 70% of pastors only spend time studying the Word when they are preparing sermons. Our significant relationships, as well as our personal health and well-being, suffer. We forget that we, too, are “in-process!”

Left unattended, these conditions begin to erode the soul, sour the attitude, and corrupt the behavior of those in church leadership. Narcissism takes over, and we begin to believe that it all depends on us. We begin to experience anger, cynicism, bitterness, emotional fatigue and the desire to control everything. The outcomes are catastrophic and almost inevitable: burnout, termination, moral failure.

The question we all want answered is, how do we stay out of the statistics? How do we minimize the conditions within our control and reduce the probability of being “at-risk”?

1. Recognize that you cannot solve it alone! Pastors need to model and practice the advice we would give anyone who is a part of the churches we serve: seek out community! I have become very fond of James 5:16, where it talks about confessing our sins/faults to one another. It is a practice we avoid like the plague in the evangelical church, yet true community cannot exist without it. Do you have a spiritual director, a mentor, or a friend who can fill this role for you? Where is a safe place for you to be totally transparent?

2. Be conscious of the fact that all ministry has a “shelf life.” I found this concept surprisingly refreshing when I came across it in David Rohrer’s book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry. Taking his cue from the ministry of John the Baptist, Rohrer believes that seeing our ministry in this finite light can keep us from trying to be the center of the universe, while at the same time knowing that we have a significant role to play.

3. Be human! This is a difficult idea to keep in mind. Our inability to live within the limits of our nature is the poison that flowed to us when our first parents bought the lie. Living within those limits requires humility, but pays off big in reducing our sense of frustration. God is more interested in WHO you are, than WHAT you do!

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. As people trained in public speaking, we are often poor personal communicators. Pastors are expected to fill an increasing amount of roles in our culture, and therefore need to enter into dialogue with our churches, fellow leaders and our spouses regarding our needs, roles and expectations.

5. Build a Rhythm. Although it should go without saying, I will say it anyway: your relationship with Jesus is the bedrock for all you are, will be and will do. Building spiritual, emotional, and physical rhythms into your life and ministry, such as the Sabbath, silence and solitude, family, and play, is one of the surest ways to stay out of the statistics. I love the “Pastoral Rule” that Peter Scazzero and the staff at New Life Fellowship implemented for building these rhythms into their life and work. Check it out at

There is always hope for coming back if we find ourselves “at-risk,” or even “risked” and failed. It is an encouragement, however, to know that we can take a good, hard look at the conditions that currently surround us and ask, “How can I stay out of the statistics?”