Learning to Rest


Let me confess, I am thankful for the title of this blog. As a Church Planter and Pastor, I do not consider myself a model rest-taker, but an aspiring rest-practitioner learning the priority of rest. With that said, I cannot think of many things more effective at marginalizing rest than the calling to plant a church. Having publicly launched our church less than 6 months ago, I feel the pressure to create, the pressure to succeed, the fear of failure, the hours of partner development, the fatigue of missional living, and the many responsibilities that bring me joy as a pastor and planter. Lost in all of this can be the need to prioritize and practice habits of rest as a church planter and pastor.

Prioritize Rest

If you could have one super power, what would it be? I am not sure how you would respond, but of the many times I have received this question, a few times I have responded with the power of continual energy and no need of sleep. This power may not be impressive, but think of all you could accomplish if you did not have to sleep! Often we are tempted to cheat rest for the prize of productivity, but this is not a prize worth compromising the necessity of rest to receive.

When you or I are tempted to neglect rest for the allure of greater productivity in ministry, we exchange God’s greatness for the veneer of our effectiveness. [quote]When you or I are tempted to neglect rest for the allure of greater productivity in ministry, we exchange God’s greatness for the veneer of our effectiveness.[quote]

We are not super, God is. We may feel pressure and weight to accomplish necessary tasks with excellence, but withholding rest is not godly, much less physically healthy.

When I do not prioritize rest, I chose to believe the idolatrous promise that I need to maintain a greater level of control for the ministry to be healthy and succeed. What this neglects is the greatness of our God. His sovereign power and grace is what we need most, not more time. As Tim Chester reminds us in his book You Can Change, “God is great, so we don’t have to be in control.” (Proverbs 21:1; Acts 4:28; Ephesians 1:11) John Piper once said, “…Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign.”

We are not super heroes, but servants.

We must also remember this. Times of rest are more than just a chance to rejuvenate; they are a glimpse of what is to come. The rest we experience on this earth, however faint is a reminder to us of the fully satisfying rest we will one day experience in the new heavens and the new earth. “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). 

Practice Rest

However you understand the biblical teaching of the Sabbath, there are principles of rest we should practice if we desire to be faithful to our Lord and wise with our health. Here are 4 important ways we can practice rest in our lives.  

1. Preach the gospel of God’s greatness to your heart.

The temptation to believe we must maintain control at all costs in our ministry will steal sleep. Even if you carve out time to rest, if your mind cannot disengage from the concerns of ministry, you will not be restful. Remember the teaching of Christ Jesus in Matthew 6; we cannot change things by worrying about them. Fight for rest in your hearts with the liberating truths of the gospel! 

2. Build times of rest into your schedule.

Resting one day a week is a healthy practice. Other times of rest should be considered as well. Though not a prescription, Brian Howard encourages pastors to consider scheduling patterns of rest on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. Here are his recommendations.

Daily – Take Four Hours Off.

Weekly – Take One Whole Day Off. 

Monthly – Take One Entire Weekend Off.

Quarterly – Take a Week Off.

I encourage you to read his explanations for each pattern of rest. Whether you agree with Howard about exactly how this pattern should look for you, a habit of this nature is healthy. During these times off, the goal is not to work. What occupies you during these times of rest may be different for each person.  Spend this time with your family, hang out with friends, exercise, play a sport, read a book, watch a ball game, or if you are like Dwayne Milioni, cook a mouth-watering Italian meal. However you rest, rest from work.

3. Guard your times of rest.

Defend your times of rest. Again, rest is perhaps the one area we are tempted to cheat the most, but if we do not rest, our bodies will force us to rest. Sometimes our ambition and ego are writing checks our bodies cannot cash. I know several pastors who struggle with insomnia because their patterns of sleep are so irregular from the pace of their ministry. We must trust the goodness of God’s rest in our lives. Guard your time of rest. Even subtler is the temptation technology brings to stay engaged in our work. The smart phone is a great tool, but can be a cheat on your times of rest if you let it.

4. Learn from others how to rest.

If you are a church planter, you should have planting coaches in your life who provide coaching on the dynamics and challenges of planting. Ask them to help keep you accountable in prioritizing and practicing rest. A good coach can help you see areas where you should consider delegating tasks.  A good coach will help you work through a weekly time-block schedule. Pastor, Jonathan Brooks, list several ways we can build sustainable rhythms in our lives so that rest isn’t forced but welcomed. 

I have often analogized church planting as crossing a great body of water on a boat that has both oars and sails. Like rowing a great distance, church planting and pastoral ministry are hard work. But we will not make it far across this body of water, if the Holy Spirit is not blowing the winds of His grace and power in our sails. No matter how hard we work, it is God’s blessing that brings the increase and the fruit. We pray for and we plead with others to pray for God’s blessing in our ministry. And the reality is God often blows His winds of grace and power when we are in our “bunks” away from the oars. The temptation to keep rowing is always before us. Praise God, he calls us to put down our oars, give him control, and rest.