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Heigh-ho heigh-ho it's off to work we go

We need to talk about overwork. Not Kevin.* Overwork.

Living Leadership was founded in 2009 partly in response to the very real issues around minister burnout. Our Annual Pastoral Refreshment Conference is a two day retreat aimed at providing leaders and their spouses with a restful space to . . . well, rest.

Why should this even be necessary?

Overwork, among other things. Stress. Pressure. Not enough rest.

That’s why we need to talk about overwork. Because Christian leaders are burning out. And if they don’t actually burn out and leave the ministry, they’re often working right on the edge of their capacities. If this isn’t happening to you personally, I imagine you know another leader to whom it is happening.

So we need to talk about overwork. The next few blog posts will specifically address the problem.

First, a definition problem. What is overwork? In fact, we could step even further back.

What is work when you’re a leader in the church? Doesn’t the bible talk about taking up your cross, giving everything? Doesn’t Jesus tell his followers that if they go back to plant a field, or attend a wedding they’re not up to the job? Doesn’t that mean my entire life is available for service? And isn’t that a good thing?

What is work? It’s life.

I’ve spent the day counselling people, preparing a sermon, serving food to the homeless, attending meetings, praying, leading a funeral, and then I get home and a church member calls me at 8.30pm because he wants to talk. So I talk. For an hour. That’s why I’m tired, but that’s the job. There’s nothing I can do to change things. What is work? It’s life.

From the moment I get up to the moment when my head hits the pillow. And I’m struggling for balance, because ministry is life. I’m committed. Christ has called me and this is the cost.

My life.

Before I respond, I get it. I really do. The Lord calls us to serve. He desires 100% commitment; a life lived fully for him. Nothing that I write later is an attempt to deny this.

But there’s a problem here. Overwork is driving good people out of leadership. It is burning them out and the church loses when good leaders quit.

So, for those who struggle to see any light at the far end of a dark tunnel, let’s start by agreeing that God rests. On the seventh day, God rested. The writer of Genesis could have stopped at the end of the sixth day. Creation. There it is. It’s good. But he didn’t. He records that God rested, and then that day is linked to a day of rest for his image-bearing representatives. You and I.

The Sabbath was instituted to recognise that human beings need to rest.

Rest is not failing to give 100%. It is a vital part of a human being’s need. It is not even a result of the Fall. It is the way we are made and it is essential. It recognises our need for a rhythmic life, which ebbs and flows in response to our creator.

No one is designed to work all the time. No one. Not even Jesus, who often retreated from his friends to spend time alone. The Sabbath was made for man, he taught. Rest was designed for us, to enable us to flourish. It is not an added extra, to be fitted in if there’s time.

It is central to our make-up, because of the way we’re designed.

Furthermore, a time of rest permits a time for reflection. You can’t stop and hear from God when you’re running at full capacity all of the time. You need time to pause. Time to breathe in. And breathe out.

Stop right now. Breathe in. Hold for 10 seconds. Then breathe out.

Rest is good. It restores. It heals. It equips you for the works of service to which you’re called. Rest is good.

That’s all I have room for today. Next time, some answers to my original question:

Overwork – what’s that all about!?

This week, we’re releasing the second part of Marcus Honeysett’s article, ‘The Leader’s Heart.’ Part Two. Click here.

*We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver - a book (2003), followed by a movie.


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