At the risk of creating envy in some readers, I have to admit that I am writing this column a couple of weeks into a six-week sabbatical. The elders of our church have taken a very loving and proactive approach to caring for their pastors, and my family and I are currently enjoying the fruit of that.
But as I’ve rested and had fun with my family these last couple of weeks, and exegeted the writings of Tom Clancy and John Grisham, I have also enjoyed the chance to slow down and reflect. One of the things I have been thinking about is the rhythms of my life and ministry and our church, and whether I am living and leading in a healthy way. It’s especially made me think about the rhythms of preaching.
Those who occasionally preach may not appreciate this, but for those of us who preach regularly or carry the primary responsibility for that in a local church, preaching drains us. At least it drains me. And that’s not because I’m not primarily gifted for that task or don’t enjoy it – I find in fact that one of my greatest loves in ministry is preaching. It’s simply that the task of proclaiming God’s Word demands much from me.
I think Reuben Munn from Shore Community Church summed it up best at a recent conference I was at with him, when he said preaching regularly is like giving birth on Sunday, only to find out you’re pregnant again on Monday! Although I have found that if I am preaching the next three or four Sundays in a row, I am carrying each of those messages around inside me, each of them with a different due date!
And over time, that on-going rhythm of studying and shaping and communicating drains me. That’s where I have been in the last few months leading up to this sabbatical – feeling like the tank was getting low, the gauge was close to empty and it was time to pull over and refuel. And what I’ve found is that I notice that sense of emptiness most in the creative side of preaching. Even when I’m drained, I can still dig into a passage of God’s Word and get excited about what I find. But it’s in the challenges of communicating those truths – in the application and illustration and creativity – that’s where I notice that my tank is running dry and I need to take a break.
So short of taking a sabbatical every second week, how do those of us who preach regularly build rhythms into our ministries to give us the breaks we need to refuel? I have some key rhythms operating in my life already:
- I preach about two thirds of the Sundays from Feb to Christmas, which means that one out of every three Sundays I have the privilege of sitting at the feet of someone else. That not only gives me a break, it feeds me spiritually as well.
- In addition, I have personally found it extremely helpful to try and place two of those team members side by side in the preaching schedule, so that I get two Sundays off preaching in a row, even if that means I then have three or four on.
- Annually, I generally prefer not to preach over January. It’s a great opportunity to allow others to preach, while I prepare for the coming ministry year and enjoy some time with the family.
But I’m sure there are other ways of approaching this issue; other rhythms that people find helpful for taking breaks and restoring their souls. I’d love to hear from other preachers, especially those who carry the primary teaching weight, as to how they take a break and refuel when they need to.