I am refreshed, recharged, and thankful. I have the remnants of a Florida sunburn and a few bruises from intense NERF wars with my kids. My phone is full of pictures and my imagination is soaring after hours of leisure reading.
This state of mind (and body) comes from a very generous church. In an uncommon act of love, Calvary Baptist Church allowed my family a solid month of vacation to visit our family and friends in Florida. I think the church saw my shoulders beginning to slump from shovelling snow and wisely prescribed a regimen of medicinal beach sand.
The experience was a new one for us. A month to relax, to read, and to reflect. So what did I learn?
The two prevailing lessons for me were:
I. Sharp thinking is essential in the pastorate
In the months leading up to our retreat, I found myself asking the elders to pray for me, because my mind felt so dull. Our church is in a phase of newness. New ministries, new members, and looking for a new place to meet on Sundays. It’s wonderful, but it requires a lot of thought. And sermons? I can’t imagine anything that requires more careful thought than reading, understanding, and helpfully applying the Word of God.
The “dullness” showed up in my preaching and administrative duties. I found myself speaking in broad generalities to avoid the pain of precise thinking. When that happens, meetings are a waste of time because they lack focus. And my attempts at application in the sermon started to sound a bit like:
“So, there it is. Let’s all just think about that this week.”
But during the second week of our retreat, I felt my mind starting to hit its stride again. Fresh insights didn’t have to be churned out immediately, so I had time to follow a thought until it rested. My friend, Clarity, broke through the clouds and showed me just how important he is to me.
My Action Plans to Make it Stick:
(a) Improve intake. Limit the snippets.
While sitting on the white sand of Fort De Soto Beach, I thought long and hard about what clogs my brain. I discovered that my brain gets dull when it’s too jumpy. I thrive when my intake includes more books, fewer blogs. More novels, fewer news feeds. More writing, less tweeting. More prose, fewer pictures.
In short, I need to treat the Internet like I treat Disney World. It’s great to visit every once in a while. But if I stay too long, I see it’s actually over-crowded, superficial, stressful, and far too costly.
(b) Pray long. Pray often.
Before the retreat, I think prayer had become very functional for me. I prayed in preparation for the sermon, for meals, in hospitals, and as a way of processing distressing news. Somehow I began to overlook the sheer joy of praying to my Father. The break allowed me to linger in prayer. Nothing kindles clarity like surrendering my plans and frustrations to the Lord. As I prayed for the future of our church and our family, I tried to round off each request with “Your will be done.” It reminded me that He is sovereign and I can trust Him. But more than that, I once again enjoyed trusting Him.
And, by His grace, He taught me a second lesson …
II. I am not defined by the pastorate.
Preaching has a vast importance. The pastorate is a sacred trust. It requires a deep personal investment, born out of a sense that God gave me breath because He wanted me to proclaim the riches of Christ. But the pastorate does not define me.
God doesn’t just call me to be “a pastor.” He calls me to be a certain kind of man. I think I get tunnel vision sometimes, thinking that my identity rises or falls by last Sunday’s message, or by the number of people who hear me preach each week. I should strive for excellence in what I do, but the target is more holistic in scope.
Sometimes a pastor’s merit is best measured by the impact he has in the lives of people who don’t call him “pastor.”
At some point during the month away, I was driving along a familiar road in our hometown, holding my wife’s hand. In the rearview mirror I saw my four kids dancing to the radio. I would never say that the woman holding my hand was just “a pastor’s wife.” The goofballs in the back were not “a pastor’s kids.” While we have obvious responsibilities, my position in a church does not define us a family. My hope for my children is that they would conform to the image of Christ, not the caricature of a pastor’s family.
My Action Plan to Make it Stick
Focus more on being a godly man, not just “A Man of God”
I know that seems like semantics. But it makes a difference in my mind. Especially when my mind is clear.