By Rick Grover
If confession is good for the soul, then I’m about to feel a lot better. I have a problem, and perhaps you do, too. My problem is busyness. I find myself running from early morning to late at night, and my spirit is beginning to wither.
I know a lot of ministers and church leaders, and for every minister/leader who seems a bit lazy, there are 10 who could be classified as workaholics. So, for those in the lazy category (you know who you are), go ahead and flip to the ads from churches looking for ministers. You’re probably not satisfied with your current church, and they’re probably not satisfied with you either. But for those who can relate to the problem of busyness, read on.
This past week my kids entertained some cousins who visited from out of town. I was amazed at the hectic pace they kept . . . all day . . . every day until their cousins returned home. It seemed as though they wanted to play as much as possible, knowing the time is short. On occasion, my wife and I would slow them down, because as they grew tired they also grew (. . . what’s the word?) cranky.
Here’s my point. We have a lot of cranky ministers and elders. Why are we so cranky? Because we run around all day and into the night with meetings, appointments, pastoral visits, sermon and lesson writing, crisis management, staff management, financial management, and on it goes. I get tired even writing about it! So who is going to come alongside us and tell us to slow down? Who is going to say to us that it’s time to cease and desist?
Each of my grandfathers preached for more than 50 years. Near the end of their lives, I never heard either one say, “I wish I hadn’t missed that budget meeting.” But I did hear them say, “I wish I hadn’t missed so much of my kids growing up.”
Perhaps the greatest example of knowing how to cease and desist comes from our Lord. Busy schedule? You bet. Lots of demands? Without question. A “congregation” that needed his personal attention? Frequently. So how did he manage the chaos and remain undeniably sane?
Luke tells us, “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place” (Luke 4:42). Mark adds, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
In the midst of the chaos, Jesus prioritized his time and maintained a focused relationship with his heavenly Father.
Application 1—Location, Location, Location
So here’s part two of my confession: I don’t do that. I don’t maintain a focused relationship with my heavenly Father. OK—sometimes I do that, but not the way I should. And my guess is I’m not the only one. Here’s what I try to do. I arrive at the office and commit to spend time with the Lord in solitude, worship, prayer, Scripture, meditation, and journaling. Right idea, wrong location. For me, if I wait until I’m in the office, it’s already too late. The phone starts ringing, people start popping in, my e-mail lures me to the computer, and my mind begins racing through my to-do list for the day.
If I’m going to cease and desist from the stress overload and hectic pace, I need to leave my busy surroundings (for Jesus it was the house where everyone was staying), and go to a solitary place.
Application 2—Stop, Drop, and Pray
Since I’m in a confessing mood, let me keep this stream of consciousness flowing. When I cease and desist I find my mind wandering, because I don’t know how to be still and connect with God. Here I am, a preacher, and I have a hard time connecting with God. Again, not always, but more times than I care to admit. I have a struggle with actually stopping what I’m doing, dropping to my knees, and praying.
I can get my Bible, make sure I have my journal and a pen, and be totally prepared for my time alone with God. Then when I’m done fidgeting, and I have to begin, I feel like a teenager on that first date—awkward and inept. What do I say? Am I doing this right?
There’s no way around it. The only way we’re going to grow in the spiritual disciplines of solitude and prayer is to do it. Stop, drop to your knees, and pray.
Spiritual formation needs to be an ongoing process of discipleship for ministers and elders, not just “those new people.” We need to connect with God more than just a quick two-minute prayer in the morning.
I remember my granddad telling me that one year he was leading at the NACC “100 man committee” (yes, that’s what they called it). He asked every leader to write confidentially how much time he spends in prayer every day. The average was less than five minutes. And these represented the best and brightest leaders of our movement.
If we want people to connect with God, we need to connect with God.
Application 3—Look Me in the Eye
I had lunch with a man in our church who asked me, “So if you meet with me to help hold me accountable in my walk with Christ, then who meets with you?” Good question. I have a board. I have a staff. I even have a coach. And, yes, I have a wife. All of these relationships will hold me accountable only if I let them. Accountability is a choice. When we try to force accountability on others, we start moving toward that line of David Koresh. And that isn’t a good line.
Who is going to look you in the eye and hold you accountable? Are you willing to let someone hold you accountable? We struggle with this, because either we don’t want people to know what we’re really like or we don’t have anyone we trust. When we close people out, however, our struggles begin to manifest themselves in unhealthy (and sinful) behavior. Ministers and elders turn to the same unsuccessful remedies that others try—pornography, substance abuse, power—hoping to find an escape from the pressures and demands of ministry and life.
So we have to choose: will we let others hold us accountable? If so, then we have to open up. We have to be willing to share our lives, struggles, hurts, joys, and pains. One of the best ways for us to learn to carry other’s burdens is to humble ourselves and allow others to help carry ours.
Application 4—Come Out of the Closet
OK—this may be a poor choice of words, but the reason we cease and desist is not to stay in the prayer closet forever (even if we want to). The Sabbath rest will one day be eternal, but for now, we have a biblical rhythm of work and rest, rest and work.
Jesus went to a solitary place and prayed. Then when the disciples came to him, he said, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38).
Solitude is not punishment but a privilege. But once we have been in the prayer closet for awhile, eventually we need to come out and get back to work. In fact, our first work is prayer—connecting with God, which leads to our second work—connecting with people, so that the third work can begin—other people connecting with God.
I do feel better. My confession has been good for the soul. And I hope it helps you, too, in realizing that in order to have long-term, effective ministry, we need, at times, to cease and desist.
Rick Grover is lead minister with Journey Christian Church, a new church plant in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is coordinating a national Katrina relief and rebuilding effort for Christian churches/churches of Christ in the Greater New Orleans area.