Why Protestant Pastors Need a Sabbath


Apparently pastors are growing in the wrong way.

This from the current issue of Christianity Today:

A third of US Protestant pastors (34%) are now obese—but not because of church potlucks. According to new research by Baylor University sociologists, it’s because pastors are stressed and need to take a Sabbath. It’s especially true for bivocational pastors, who are nearly twice as likely as other pastors to be obese, and almost guaranteed to be obese—even with average levels of stress, hours, staffing, and exercise—without a support group.

For more of this article click here.

Makes me glad I’m not bivocational, by God’s grace, AND that religiously I take Fridays off, except for emergencies, AND that my elders granted me a sabbatical last year. I’ve got enough trouble keeping off the pounds without the risk of insufficient rest.

Are you looking out for your pastor in this way?

A Sabbath Rest


After His apostles completed a particularly demanding season of ministry, Jesus prescribed the following: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Since my cancer hiatus in 2005, by God’s grace, I’ve continued to minister at OGC for another eight years now. Toward the end of 2013, after healthy discussion and diligent prayer, the elders agreed that the Lord would have me take a sabbatical in 2014. We discussed this as part of the agenda in our 2014 annual congregational meeting last February. Not everyone could attend that meeting so I chose to make this the subject of my weekly column in the enews some time ago. However I am finding that some still have questions about this so I am posting it as well on my blog. Since we plan to leave, Lord willing, in two weeks time, the review may be helpful whether you’ve heard or not.

We’ve agreed to a six week Sabbath rest from ministry for me and Nancy to which we will tack on two weeks of regular annual vacation. My last Sunday in the pulpit will be April 20, Easter Sunday. Lord willing, I will return to the pulpit again on June 22. For the first six of those eight weeks we plan to retreat to our desolate refuge in Idaho, although we plan about a ten day road trip to get there, visiting some places and friends we haven’t seen for a long time. The elders want me to get all the rest and refreshment I can while out of pocket. For the last two weeks of the time I will participate in an annual pastoral retreat called the Spurgeon Sabbatical hosted by Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston. There I will join a number of other pastors from around the country for prayer, worship, instruction, dialogue, and further rest.

We felt led to make this provision for me, not just for rest after especially these past three years of demanding ministry, but also as an investment in the future. I hope, Lord willing, to hang around OGC for a good long time to come. Please pray with us that the Lord will do a work of spiritual inspiration and physical rejuvenation that will pay mega dividends in the future. Frankly, though we decided this well before the loss of our son, the additional demand grief has brought to our lives makes the prospect of such a season of rest even more welcome.

Resting on God

Josh Wedding

One month ago today my beloved firstborn, Josh, breathed his last.

Our lives have changed forever. Bereavement leave has come to an end. I’m back to my second week of work doing what God has called me to do. Each day differs. Some days I feel more productive than others. Mostly I feel like I just get by with the best I can do with the things that matter most. Support abounds. Comfort flows. Grief throbs. Grace suffices.

In all of the new normal, whatever that is, nothing better describes how I’m pressing through the Titanic ache in my soul than this Puritan prayer of old, from the Valley of Vision, entitled “Resting on God.”

O God, most high, most glorious, the thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but Thou art for ever at perfect peace. Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment, they stand fast as the eternal hills. Thy power knows no bond, Thy goodness no stint. Thou bringest order out of confusion, and my defeats are Thy victories: The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows, to leave every concern entirely to Thee, every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood; revive deep spirituality in my heart; let me live near to the great Shepherd, hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls. Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth, from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit. Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know; Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence, know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill; unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget Thee. Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots; grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee, that all else is trifling. Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy. Abide in me, gracious God.

Why Now Was the Time to Build

As we anxiously await the granting of a CO from the city so that we may occupy our new building (sorry, no green light as of this writing), it occurred to me this morning why, at least in part, in our twenty year history as a church, now was the time to get this project accomplished.

The insight came in the course of my through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading this morning from 1 Kings 5:1-6. Solomon has assumed the throne in the place of his father, David. He desired to build a temple for worship, a dream his father never got to realize. So in this chapter he writes Hiram, king of Tyre, with whom David enjoyed a close relationship, to request materials for the project. Here’s how he explained the circumstances that gave him the go ahead where his father experienced only disappointment:

Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David. And Solomon sent word to Hiram, “You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. And so I intend to build a house for the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians (emphasis added).”
I found myself very grateful for a similar sentiment with respect to the last few years at OGC. God has given us rest. We have enjoyed peace. There has been neither adversary or misfortune, at least in terms of ministry-arresting plans for the advancement of the gospel through our work. Lord knows, we have had our share of that in the past. That kind of thing frustrated our building plans before. But God has blessed us as of late and for some time now so that we could actually get to the point of planning, building, and now soon occupying our own facility for executing the mission God has given us.
We have seized the opportunity afforded by fair winds and sought to make the most of it. Matthew Henry, the Puritan commentator would congratulate us to this end:
Satan does all he can to hinder temple work (1 Th. 2:18; Zec. 3:1), but when he is bound (Rev. 20:2) we should be busy. When there is no evil occurrent, then let us be vigorous and zealous in that which is good and get it forward. When the churches have rest let them be edified, Acts 9:31. Days of peace and prosperity present us with a fair gale, which we must account for if we improve not.
Let us not forget to give God much thanks for such days as these while we revel in the excitement and satisfaction of finally taking possession of our own church home.
As long as He gives us peace, let us give ourselves to improvement that results in great reward at the Last Day. God help us to sail on with the help of every fair gale.

Nothing for Which Jesus Cares So Much (Part 5)

Today’s message from John 14:15-24 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

I summarized the flow of the argument this way:

We could spend multiple messages unpacking the doctrine of the Spirit, but I will resist that temptation for we will encounter His ministry nuymerous times to come in this discourse. But before we move on next time to the role of the Son of God, the second person of the Godhead, I do want you to see in verses 16-18, in addition to the identity of the Spirit as Helper, four other particulars that Jesus identifies about Him – His perpetuity, His priority, His exclusivity, and His intimacy. All of these contribute to the force of the advantage that comes to Jesus’ followers upon the loss of His presence in so short a time (John 16:7).

Praise God for the extraordinary help of the Holy Spirit in whom we find rest, are filled, and enjoy intimate relationship!

Vacation – Hunting, Fishing, & READING

Though I spent numerous hours tracking wild game and fishing deep waters these past two weeks, I also managed a fair amount of redemptive reading time. Though I don’t rival Mark Dever in his book devouring pace (nor, I admit, do I wish to!), I do relish the prospect of using time away for tackling reading material in a sustained and concentrated fashion that downtime allows.

I actually got to read through nearly all of the current issue of Christianity Today. I particularly enjoyed the article by the late John R. W. Stott entitled, Salt and Light: Four Ways Christians Can Influence the World. A favorite quote from that piece? Christians are sober-minded, biblical realists, who have a balanced doctrine of creation for redemption and consummation. We are not powerless. Stott’s article offered some helpful push back to Gilbert and DeYoung’s new book and a tinge of pessimism therein. More on that later in this post.

For leisure reading I thoroughly enjoyed Kathryn Stockett’s book, now a hit movie, The Help. I suggested this read for my neighborhood book club’s November meeting. It tells the tale of a woman who anonymously writes the account of several black maids working as servants of whites in Jackson, Mississippi homes during the awakening civil rights movement. Stockett writes with much pathos and humor. I quickly saw why it became a bestseller. A favorite quote from it? Hilly hands out lies like the Presbyterians hand out guilt. Not that Reformed Baptists aren’t capable of the same.

I took two ministry-related works with me. After our last joint leadership team meeting, particularly its marathon length, I wondered if our approach to board meetings needed some tweaking. I recalled a book in my library by Alexander Strauch I read some time ago, Meetings That Work: A Guide to Effective Elders’ Meetings. I pulled it from the shelf and determined to give it another slow going over asking the Lord for direction in how to serve better my fellow leaders in making the most of our meeting times together. Lord willing, some of the fruit of that will show in crafting the agenda for this Thursday night’s meeting. A pearl from Strauch? An eldership team that is solely work-oriented is imbalanced. It is missing out on loving relationships, a key element of a healthy church leadership team.

The other ministry related book I determined to camp out in I mentioned earlier in this post. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert recently published a timely work called What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. These men do a great job of interacting with the current debate over the nature of the mission of the church particularly as it pertains to mercy ministry and good works in the culture. My earlier remark about the tinge of pessimism (a function of their eschatology if I guess correctly) notwithstanding, I found this book very helpful in sorting through some very practical questions about discipleship and to what extent the church should take part in mercy ministry toward advancing the gospel in the world. The rub according to DeYoung and Gilbert? In a world of finite resources and limited time the church cannot do everything. We will not be effective in our mission if everything is mission. I am really glad I bought a bunch of these for $5 each when I had the chance and got to put them into the hands of some friends of mine. What a steal!

Finally, Nancy and I kept pace with our growth group homework by reading through lesson one in our How People Change work book. One of the best things about our Idaho retreats is our unhurried times of reading, conversing, and praying together as a married couple. A favorite tidbit from our friends Lane and Tripp? Christianity’s change process does not revolve around a system of redemption but around the Person who redeems.

It’s good to be home. I’m looking forward to bringing the word tomorrow in 1 Peter 5:5. But I am grateful for the respite, physically, mentally and spiritually. Thanks for praying for Nancy and me these past two weeks.

Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle with Cancer Continued

Recently I introduced a new series of articles based upon my five year anniversary in August from finishing cancer treatment and remaining cancer-free.

When I first returned to the pulpit in November of 2005, I preached a series of three sermons from Psalm 116 entitled Seven Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle with Cancer. You can listen to part one here. You can listen to part two here.

I articulated this theme from the text in light of the apparent deliverance enjoyed by the psalmist from some previous life-and-death threat:

Deliverance by God from desperate straits warrants renewed resolves in a relationship with God.

In the previous two posts I addressed the first two resolves: delight in God and pray to God. Now for the third.

Resolved – to rest on God (5-7).

Notice in v. 5 how he rehearses various aspects of God’s glorious character with which he has became even more fascinated. Gracious is the Lord. When God snatches you from the jaws death, what else can He be? And righteous. God was not unrighteous for permitting me to battle head and neck cancer. He does all things well. The Lord is good and righteous in all His ways. And He is merciful. Verse 6 – he preserves the simple.

The word simple means without guile or deceit, open and trusting in God. It’s similar to the idea of Jesus in Matt. 11:25 when he prayed I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. The uncomplicated. The believing. Such God preserves. He exercises great care over. He watches and keeps. Psalm 121:5 says The Lord is your keeper, your shade on your right hand.

What difference should such truth make in our lives? How should we then live? Do we really reckon God as gracious, righteous, merciful, who watches over us such that He numbers every hair on our heads and not a sparrow drops to earth without His notice? If so how should we talk to ourselves? We must talk as the psalmist does in v. 7 – Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

It’s as if his circumstances temporarily disrupted his spiritual gyroscope and led him to fret and worry. He strayed from the peace and confidence of a rest on God. Sometimes you have to talk to yourself this way. You have to remember the character of the nature of God and preach to yourself, Return O my soul to your rest, God has dealt bountifully with you. He has blessed you beyond your wildest imagination. So do not fret. Do not be anxious. Do not wig out. Do not melt down. None of those things glorify God. Psalm 37:1 says Fret not yourself because of evildoers; Verse 3 – Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

One of the most convicting and penetrating things I think Oswald Chambers ever wrote in his work My Utmost for His Highest has to do with this subject:

Fussing always ends in sin. We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are an indication of how really wise we are; it is much more an indication of how really wicked we are. Fretting springs from a determination to get our own way. Our Lord never worried and He was never anxious, because He was not “out” to realize His own ideas; He was “out” to realize God’s ideas. Fretting is wicked if you are a child of God.

Have you been bolstering up that stupid soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God? Put all “supposing” on one side and dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about that thing. All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.

How’s your self-talk these days? Take your cue from the psalmist if necessary. Tell your soul to return to your rest knowing how bountifully He has dealt with you.

That’s a resolve worth making whether He has delivered you from some desperate strait or not.