When my wife and I first started dating, we were in fact on our third date, we were on our way home from the movie. All of a sudden, my 1975 Volkswagen Scirocco began to sputter. I pulled over and said, “I think I’m out of gas.” Now, many a guy over the years has tried this cliche excuse with a girl. But in this case, it was no excuse. It was true…and a little embarrassing, especially on just a third date. Since this was pre-cellphone days, we had to walk about a mile to a Dunkin Donuts and call her dad. Really embarrassing! Then we walked back to the car and by the time we got there he was there putting gas in.
I am notorious for running my cars until they are almost totally empty…and yes, I have run out of gas on multiple occasions. It frustrates my wife to no end, but she should have realized this after that third date! 🙂
The reasons I have run my vehicles on empty are various…and sometimes legitimate. Like it being the day before payday and we had no money left in the account. Or I might have been on the highway and there was an unexpectedly long stretch before coming to a gas station. But mostly, honestly, it comes from just not paying attention…or just forgetting to check the gauge.
Recently, a pastor whom I know stepped down from a vibrant, large, growing church. A seemingly successful, fruitful ministry. However, in his own words he said he was “not okay” and “I’m tired. And I’m broken and I just need some rest. ” He didn’t take a leave of absence, even though that is what his elders begged him to do. This pastor totally resigned. He said that for some time he had been “leading on empty” and “leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well.”
Knowing and respecting this pastor, I was heartbroken. I could see the weariness in his eyes and hear it in his voice. It really struck me. I do not want to get to that point myself. And I fear that, while I’m not there, I can feel myself getting close.
The car I drive now has a computer that says exactly how many miles you have left to
empty. So I know how much I can push it. The problem with us as human beings…and especially pastors…is we don’t have such a computer. I don’t know exactly how far I can push it. And many times that computer can be inaccurate…just like my mind can be. And any mechanic will tell you that if you run on empty all the time, you are in danger of burning up your fuel pump. I’ve done that!
In Exodus 18, we read an account of where Moses was in danger of “running out of gas” as he was leading Israel in the wilderness. His father-in-law saw what was happening and called him out…and gave him loving advice.
13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.”17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good.18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”
I am thankful for a group of elders and a church that have done much the same for me as a pastor. Their wisdom and counsel is to be heeded. It’s time.
After 30 years of ministry, it’s time. Nineteen years of youth ministry and 11 years as a church planter and pastor can certainly run your tank down pretty low. Not taking days off during the week and not taking full vacation time in recent years can do that too. It is challenging to lead in ministry, beyond what a lot of people can understand. I didn’t fully understand when I was a youth pastor the amount of energy, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, it takes to be in this position of shepherd. As this pastor who just resigned said, “You all see what I do on Sundays, but there is a lot of leadership energy that takes place the rest of the time.” Oh yes, I have taken time over the years to refuel…conferences, listening to other teachers/pastors, reading, studying, vacations, etc…and there have been times when God has graciously brought my tank close to full. There have been other times that by His grace he has somehow enabled me to keep moving forward on a little bit of fuel. Miraculously allowing me to go farther than I expected. This is all HIM!
However, it is time. Not time to quit…although if I’m honest I have wanted to several times over these last 30 years. No, it’s time for me to take the upcoming exit off the freeway and pause at the next station to refuel…maybe get a snack and something to drink. It’s time for a SABBATICAL. It is an intentional Sabbath season. It is biblical and necessary for those in ministry (and other professions as well). Our elders have graciously given me this opportunity. In fact, we have been planning it for some time, but the last year or so, circumstances have meant it to be delayed because of several factors including moving into our new church facilities. This is the first time in my 30 years of ministry that I have been afforded such an opportunity and I consider myself blessed.
I am still tempted to to continue on, pushing the limits, thinking that I have a little fuel in the tank and times of spiritual refreshing are going to come. But it’s time…to withdraw for a season. When Jesus heard that his cousin, friend, predecessor, and best man had been killed by Herod, He was heartbroken…in His full humanity, he knew it was time to withdraw. Matthew 14:13 says
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.
I need to pay attention to the gauge. My wife and I used to tell our kids that we loved them so much that we were going out without them! We knew we needed time together just us. I want my church flock @ The Ridge to know that I am fine. I am not going anywhere. I LOVE them! Very much! So much so, I am going to pull over for a month starting September 19th and refuel. I’ll be resting, praying, reading, recharging, learning by going to a couple of conferences, taking some time away with my wife and also with my family and mostly unplugging.
I’m thankful for our elders who are all but requiring that I do so. I will say this also to all pastors and church members out there: your pastor’s wife and family need a sabbatical as much as he does. I can see this in my own family. As much as I love my church family, I love my own family more. They are my first ministry and they too need a sabbatical to an extent. So, it’s time. Look there’s a rest stop up ahead! I don’t want to lead on empty.
Thank you for your prayers and support and thank you for allowing me to have this opportunity to sabbatical. Thank you Lord for your grace…which is sufficient! I’ll see y’all in October!