Howard John Wesley, minister of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, recently made news and surprised his congregation with the announcement that he is stepping away from his ministry for a season.
“From January 1 (2020) to April 1. I am walking away from every responsibility I have as pastor,” Wesley announced in his Dec 1st sermon.
“You can’t pour out of an empty cup. It is very dangerous for your pastor to be on empty,” he told congregants. “I need to take care of me…I’m tired… I’m tired in my soul.”
Before making the announcement, Wesley preached a sermon called, “Selah” on the value of rest. He said that busyness has become a “status symbol of our time.” However, he said that busyness is “a satanic trick that does not honor God.”
Furthermore, Wesley said that he needed to recuperate mentally and physically because he felt far away from God.
Wesley’s story, not his or his church’s theology, is worthy of our consideration and a few observations and applications.
(1) Working for God is not necessarily the same as being close to God.
It is possible for preachers, pastors, Bible class teachers, and religious workers to become so engrossed in church programs, classes, and ministries, that we fail to nurture our relationship with God.
It could be argued that no one ever had a busier three-plus year of ministry than Jesus. Yet, he occasionally took time to rest. For solitude. Reflection. Meditation. And prayer to the Father. His relationship with the Father was vital to His ministry.
(2) Workers need a break.
Wesley refers to it as a “sabbatical.” Whatever you call it, no one can run non stop without time to rest and refuel their soul.
For many years Bible class teachers, especially for small children’s classes, never received a break. They taught year-round. One lady in her late 40’s once quipped that they only way to get a break from teaching was either to die or get pregnant. And she wasn’t ready for the former, and the latter didn’t sound very appealing either. Thankfully, churches and elders are doing a better job of scheduling time off for even their best teachers.
Preachers, especially men who’ve been preaching for many years and/or are raising their families, need more than the standard two weeks vacation. There was a point when I realized I needed more time off from the local pulpit and asked for 4 weeks vacation. Not to hold additional meetings. But to get away. Rest. And enjoy family time.
Some preachers brag about never taking a vacation. I don’t believe this is healthy. Either for them. Or for their families. Or even their congregations.
Preaching is very labor-intensive work. It is demanding physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Give your preacher a “Sabbath rest.” It will benefit him. His family. And the congregation.
(3) Constantly fill yourself with God’s Word.
Interestingly, Wesley made this observation in his “Selah” sermon.
“If you are a grown-up Christian who was ‘raised right’, learning the Bible in Bible class, hearing sermons, singing songs and you think you already ‘know’ the Bible so you don’t read it EVERY DAY, because you ‘already know it’, you will find that you are struggling to grow.”
It may be that some of our weariness, is a result of our failure to read, study, and meditate on the Word.
Paul’s prayer for the Colossians speaks to this need “…We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Col 1:9)
We can only be filled with a knowledge of His will through the Word. Paul put it this way, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
When you are filled with the Word you will see what is right. What is wrong. How to get right. And how to stay right. The Word teaches us. Convicts us. Corrects us. And trains us.
Are you running on empty?
Then find time to rest. Refuel. Renew. And refresh yourself spiritually.
Be “filled with the fullness of God’ (Eph 3:19). Be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Be “filled with the fruits of righteousness” (Phil 1:11).
“My God can supply your every need” (Phil 4:19)
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman