Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (A simple review of the book “ReSet”)

Do you find yourself burning out? Is Monday one of the most dreaded days of the week? Are you tired all the time? Are you short-tempered with the people closest to you? Do you find yourself stressed and anxious all the time? Are you drinking too much coffee, just to get through the day?  Those are just some of the questions that David Murray asks in his latest book, “ReSet: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture.”

reset bookDavid does a phenomenal job of writing specifically to Christian pastors about the need to rest and have a take a God-ordained Sabbath. Often, we find that those who preach well about taking a Sabbath break are it’s biggest violators. By outlining the different ways that burnout shows up and how it effects our families and our ministries, David helps the reader to understand that we weren’t designed to do ministry 24/7. Even the most gifted pastor is required to take a break. Mr. Murray even accuses pastors of not trusting in the provision of God and perhaps thinking we are more necessary than we are. By accepting our limits, we are accepting his grace and can be empowered to more effective ministry. 

Reset is full of relevant information about how to disconnect and recharge in a ministry setting. The author has gone out of his way to bring relevant resources and practices to the table and write not only a convicting book, but one with a clear path forward for working the Sabbath day back into the busy routine of being a pastor. 

As one that tends to burn the candle at both ends, I am very thankful for David’s book and the reminder and practical guidelines on how to “ReSet.” I’m not all there yet, but because of David’s faithfulness to write this book, I’m making strides and growing in my ability to reclaim the Sabbath rest in my life. I appreciate David and his pastoral heart as he writes from both experience and conviction to men in the ministry.

This is a great book for anyone in the ministry and a good reminder that those of us who are leaders in the church that it is good for our congregation and good for our soul to take a break and live in the power of grace.

3 Things To Do When A Pastor Leaves: an Open Letter

Dear Church,

When a pastor answers the call to go to another church there can be lots of thoughts and emotions. I want to address three of those thoughts. Please know that as much as I love you, my biggest desire is still to see you complete in Christ (Philippians 1:6, Colossians 1:28). So here are three things I think you should do in light of one of your pastors answering a call to go to another church.

3 Things to Do When a Pastor Leaves

  1. Remember: God has called you to the local body, not the man (Romans 12).

You were called to be a part of the body of Christ, not to the Pastor (Romans 12). Don’t get me wrong. I love you. But your calling, just like my calling is to a local church. Sometimes when a pastor leaves, we can be tempted to think that maybe we need to leave and explore other churches too. I want to encourage you, that we all play a part in the body of Christ. I’ve been asked a lot lately from those both inside and outside our church about why I was able to stay for nearly a decade as a student pastor at not only one, but two different churches (a rarity). My answer was simple. “I love the church.” I love the church so much so that I would rather suffer than see her suffer and so I stayed during seasons when it cost me personally but was a benefit for the congregation as a whole.  The only reason I’m leaving now is to answer a crystal clear calling. I don’t think it’s healthy to move otherwise.  When you leave a church, you don’t leave a pastor (or lack of a pastor in a certain position) so much as you leave all the other people.  There will be moments where it feels easy to leave, but I want to encourage you to stay with your local church unless you are sure God is calling you somewhere else. We all need to fulfill our calling in the local body.

2. Find your place and serve (1 Corinthians 12:4-27).

To that end, I want to encourage you to find your place and serve. If ever there were a time for you to discover how you benefit the church, today is the day. It is an all hands on deck opportunity. Often when God calls a pastor to another church it is so the church can grow by having individuals step up and fill the void. You have people in your midst who will be able to exercise their gifts and calling in my absence in a way that they would be unable to do if I were present. I rejoice at this! I earnestly desire that the church grow spiritually, numerically, and in influence in the community in my absence! My feelings won’t be hurt if the church does greater things than they did when I was there. I will be first in line to boast in what God is doing in your midst!

3. Trust your next shepherd (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Finally I want to acknowledge that you will call someone to replace me and IDEALLY they will conduct ministry differently than I have while I was with you. This is a VERY GOOD thing! So if you catch yourself thinking negatively, “this isn’t how Pastor Jonathan would have done it.” I want you, for the sake of the glory of God, rebuke that thought and think about this same phrase positively. Give him the benefit of the doubt (Philippians 2:1-11),  even if he were to speak negatively of me and how I did things (Philippians 1:14-17). Consider me his biggest fan.

I hope this helps you understand my heart for the Glory of God in the midst of this transition for both of us. I love you because of Christ. Please pray for me and my family as we transition to answer God’s call in our next church.

Your Partner in the Gospel,

Pastor Jonathan

 

It’s not about counting people as much as realizing that people counted (Nehemiah 7)

It’s not about counting people as much as realizing that people counted (Nehemiah 7)

I get what it’s like to be exhausted as a leader, but a leader must never forget the people he is leading. I once had a leader tell me that, “I don’t have time to train you and all these other people.” It was the moment he forfeited his leadership. To be sure, he was still a leader and he still had my respect, but he had forfeited the very point of leadership… moving people.  We all lose focus sometimes.  The temptation of leadership is to consider our path and place as greater than the people we lead. The reality is that we cannot be leaders if people are not willing to follow. It serves us well to remember that those who follow in the darkest of times all have their own stories of calling and sacrifice.

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is remembering all the people who have helped along the way. Nehemiah takes a moment to review the record and note in his account that the people who built the wall and staffed the city had names. At first glance Nehemiah chapter 7 looks like just a long list of names and numbers, but names reflect something more than just another number to be counted… these are people counted.

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Each person listed had a story to tell about their family, their life, and why they felt called back to Jerusalem and Judah. Each person listed had a choice to make on whether to stay where they were or to travel back to their homeland. Each person made sacrifices; I’m sure both financial and social in order to fulfill their calling. Which brings up an interesting point, Nehemiah couldn’t have rebuilt the wall alone, God had called THESE people, back to His city, at this time, to accomplish the task of rebuilding the wall! So while the whole book may not be named after them and while they certainly didn’t write it with their pen, their names still show up because they did help write the story with their lives and a great leader never forgets that his life story is tied to hundreds if not thousands of other life stories.

If you are a leader it may or may not come naturally to you to think about all the people along the way that you lead but if not, take a moment today and write a few thank you notes, send out a few text messages, write down the names of the people who have sacrificed along the way and pray over them. Take time to make sure that the people you lead count for more than just names than on a roll that add up to numbers.

Citizenship in the Royal city (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

Citizenship in the Royal city (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

One of my favorite books is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. One of my favorite scenes is when Christian sees the Celestial City from a distance. He is excited and ready with anticipation to enter the city and see his King, yet on this last leg of the journey he meets an old friend who came in by a different way and as they approach the gate he sees that his friend doesn’t get to enter the city because he didn’t come through the wicket gate like Christian did. This last bit is sobering and it reminds me that many can put on a good front, but only those who are qualified in Christ get to enter into Heaven and those who reject him have rejected his Kingdom as well.

Today in Nehemiah we see something similar as Nehemiah seeks out qualified people to fill the city of Jerusalem. The key word there is qualified. You had to be from the city and from the people of Judah to live in the city. It was a big deal. The right credentials got you a city address. The wrong credentials got you kicked out of the city… it mattered.

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The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. (Nehemiah 7:4-6 ESV)

The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Nehemiah 7:61-64 ESV)

We don’t place much emphasis on land these days but generations ago people were tied to geography. It mattered where you came from, even if you weren’t born there, it was “home.” Such was the case for Jerusalem. Many of the people who had come back weren’t born in Jerusalem. They didn’t have memories of growing up in Jerusalem. At best they may have had some old stories shared by their parents or grandparents about what life was like in Jerusalem before an invading army had come in and carried the people off into captivity. They were told to pray for the peace of the city where they found themselves (Jeremiah 29:7), but they never forgot that they really belonged back in Jerusalem. So when the time came and they were free to go back, many did!

I think the image of having a home that you have never seen is a beautiful image of what heaven is like for the Christian. We know that we live this life as aliens and exiles (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:13-16) from the one true city that we have yet to see. We are citizens of the kingdom of Heaven. We haven’t seen it yet, but we have heard about it and we can’t wait to get there. Unlike Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem will already have walls and gates (Revelation 21:12), but just like in the day of Nehemiah this New Jerusalem is incomplete without its people.

Just like in Nehemiah’s day, you had to belong to the city before you could become a resident. There will be many who think they belong in Heaven but find out at the last moment that they were never citizens to begin with (Matthew 7:19-21). Jesus told us that the only way to get to God the Father and by consequence the Celestial City in which he reigns was to come through Him (John 14:6).

Who Controls the Gates? (Nehemiah 7:3)

Who Controls the Gates?  (Nehemiah 7:3)

I used to have an old college professor who said, “There is nothing good that comes on TV after 10 o’clock anyway, you might as well go to bed and get up early.” In his estimation it was a waste of time to stay up late watching TV, playing video games, etc. He knew he was speaking to a bunch of young men and women who were used to having someone else set the rules for everything including bed time. Now that we were on our own it was up to us to decide how we would manage our time. Would we waste our lives on the trivial things like late night talk shows and video games or would we discipline ourselves so that we could make the most of our time.

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And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.(Nehemiah 7:3-4 ESV)

Nehemiah challenges the gate keepers to open and close the gates at certain times of the day. Keeping up with a gate schedule was important for the city of Jerusalem. They hadn’t had gates and walls for quite some time so getting adjusted to a new routine was a big deal. But more than the routine, the gate schedule would allow the guards and gate keepers to be diligent about seeing and inspecting anyone who came in and out of the city.

Gates are ultimately a good thing. They serve as an access point to the city. The city needed the gates in order for food, people, and commerce to come into the walls. But they also needed gates to keep out the enemy when they came knocking. The trick is that the enemy doesn’t always come dressed up as the enemy. The devil looks more like an angel than a red monster with a jet black beard, horns and a pitchfork (2 Corinthians 11:14).  The gate times would control the access to the city and limit the enemy from weakening the people from the inside. The high sun would make sure that every thing was exposed to the light and swords and other weapons of war would be easier to spot.

We all have access points into our lives. We allow what other people say, or things we see on television, or hear on the radio to effect us and how we live. Who and what has access to your life? Are you letting the enemy through the gates of your mind or are you keeping Him out?

Who Gives You Advice? (Nehemiah 6:10-14)

Who Gives You Advice?  (Nehemiah 6:10-14)

One of my favorite things I get to do as a youth pastor is train volunteers to help lead in our ministry. We have an extensive handbook with policies, procedures, etc. I interview folks to get their background, their testimony and their reason for wanting to serve in student ministry. We really do try hard to make sure the people we put forward as leaders offer sound advice.

It wouldn’t go well for youth leaders to listen to students and share terrible advice like, “You should dishonor your parents.” (a HUGE NO-NO in our Student ministry because of… well the BIBLE). You couldn’t be a youth leader very long at our church sharing these types of opinions because not only are they just opinions but they actually contradict what we know to be true from God’s word.

This scenario brings up a great question; what do you do when someone who is in a spiritual leadership position suggests you do something that you know is wrong? You wouldn’t think it would happen, but it happens more often than you would think. I tell our students all the time, “Don’t take my word for it, read your bible, and know for yourself.”

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Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid (Nehemiah 6:10-14 ESV)

Nehemiah goes to visit a man by the name of Shemaiah who it appears is a prophet. This man has the credibility of speaking for God. He has respect in the community. He is someone that Nehemiah should be able to trust for good advice. We all need advice from time to time, especially leaders. Nehemiah listens to what Shemaiah has to say and immediately drawn back because Shemaiah advises him to do something that would break one of God’s laws.

Shemaiah wants Nehemiah to go hide in the temple. Not only would this be a cowardly thing to do, it would be a violation of God’s law! Only priests were supposed to be in the temple in such a way as was suggested. Shemaiah had been hired to give Nehemiah bad advice. If Nehemiah went in the temple not only would he have sinned against God, but he would have discredited himself as a leader.   Fortunately Nehemiah has a heart to honor God more than to save his own neck and so he rejects the advice of this false prophet.

I wish the church didn’t have any Shemaiah’s in it today, but the truth is that there are a lot of hucksters on TV and other places that are willing to take money in exchange for lying to you. They will give you all sorts of advice that sounds great on the outside, but will ultimately destroy you. The only way to protect yourself from listening to bad advice is to know God’s will by knowing God’s word.

The Effectiveness of Preaching 

I used to look forward to hearing folks say, “good sermon” or “great job preaching” when I first started out. It helped me feel like I didn’t bomb and maybe somebody got some use out of how I delivered the passage. As I look back I realize I was a little too thirsty for affirmation or at least I was looking for it in the wrong place.

These days after I have shared a message I look to see how God might use the application of his word in someone’s life. I understand that might tell me it was a “good” message for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with real life application. They may have simply just enjoyed a joke or story.  In which case I’m glad I helped them laugh, but I’d rather help them live gospel centered lives. 

I find myself praying for people while I’m preaching to them. I know these people and some of their struggles. There are a few  who it doesn’t matter what I say, if I don’t say it in the style of sermon  (and it is just a style) to which they are accustomed, they won’t hear the passage. Their tradition has so elevated the platform of a particular sub-style of preaching that they have voided the Scripture of its power and so knowing this I call them out and say, “so maybe the Word just spoke to you today” hoping that the self-righteous heart might still hear from God, though they didn’t hear a “good” sermon in the style of their favorite pastor.

Then there are the folks who I know will shudder when I say “Holy Spirit” and talk about Him in personal terms. I know that their minds will explode with either amazement or anger when I tell them that the passage teaches that He isn’t far away and doesn’t need to be “fetched” when we need something. Rather, He is in the life of a believer and can be called on, or better depended on when it comes to living a God centered life. Indeed it’s at this point a new couple walks out. Either the sermon is too long for taste or I’ve just dropped a bomb and their reaction was anger rather than amazement. I didn’t seek to offend, but sometimes the Scriptures are not palatable to our preferences of preconceived notions. My personal preference would be for people to stay but I cannot apologize for the text and if I eclipse this truth for the sake of the audience then I have no business preaching.

So these days I don’t worry so much about hearing from folks on if it was a “good sermon.” I attempt to peer more into lives afterwards to see how God might have used the effective preaching of His Word to change lives. I look for comments on how the passage we have studied together has shifted attitudes and actions. I simply and quietly praise God when I hear that someone has repented of a particular sin and found Christ as sufficient in response to the preaching of His Word.