I often hear pastors ask, “I don’t enjoy preaching anymore, what should I do?” I usually respond with the question, “When is the last time you took a Sunday off to refresh?” Usually, the response is in the “years” category. This is not healthy or sustainable. These pastors are exhausted and depressed by the endless cycle of sermon deadlines. Asking your pastor to preach fewer sermons may be the key to unlocking growth in his ministry.
Creativity requires space. Jeff Manion, pastor of Ada Bible Church, once said that he can’t be at his best if he has to preach more than 35 times in a year. While this is probably true of most pastors, every small church pastor immediately asks, “How am I supposed to do that? I can’t even get away for a week or two!” These pastors are slowly burning out. A pastor can’t stand in front of a congregation and say “I’ve got nothing to say this week,” even though that may be exactly how he feels. Eventually, many will leave their church so they can get the rest they need.
6 Ways You Can Help Your Pastor’s Preaching
1. Make him take a day off each week.
Everyone needs a Sabbath rest once each week – it’s one of the Ten Commandments. Why is it that if a pastor violates any of the other ten he will get fired, but if he violates the Sabbath, he will probably get a raise? This is not right. The Sabbath is a chance for your pastor to be spiritually refreshed in God and relationally refreshed with family and friends. Stress and creativity do not coexist very well. Diminished stress will unlock your pastor’s best creativity, which will make his sermons that much better.
2. Make him take at least one Sunday off each quarter.
Break the cycle of continual sermon deadlines by giving him an occasional week to breathe. Let him worship with the rest of the church. Give him this week to connect more deeply with people and be refreshed by someone else’s preaching. It will be good for the congregation to hear another voice from time to time, and it will be good for your pastor to remember what it is like to listen to sermons. Many pastors ask, “Who can I get to preach for me?”
- Ask each of the elders to preach one time each year. Over time, they will grow as preachers and be a better support for the pastor.
- Budget for special guest speakers or missionaries to speak. I know one pastor in a small church who budgets a large amount so they can bring in the best speakers they can afford.
- Use free videos of great sermons from YouTube. Get creative, there’s always a way to let your pastor breathe.
3. Make him take at least two consecutive Sundays off each year.
When I go on vacation for two weeks, it usually takes me a few days to unwind, and toward the end of vacation I start to wind back up. This results in about five to seven days of real rest. This period of rest is only possible because I am completely unreachable. This family time is rest for the soul. When I return from vacation, my sermon writing is both easier and more enjoyable. Reduced stress means increased creativity. Two weeks off should be the minimum. Four weeks each year would be even better.
If your pastor is bivocational, be sure to coordinate this time off with his other job. If he doesn’t get time off from the other job, take up a collection or budget extra money for a vacation every year. There are lots of places pastors can go for free or reduced cost. For the good of your church, make sure your pastor gets at least two weeks off every year.
4. Send him to a conference or retreat every year.
Time to connect with other pastors can be very refreshing. This should not be considered vacation. It’s continuing education. For years I didn’t go to any conferences because I thought my church couldn’t afford it. My ministry suffered deeply. Now I realize that my church can’t afford for me to NOT go. That time of inspiration and camaraderie injects so much life into my ministry!
5. Make him take a prayer retreat twice each year.
A prayer retreat is a great way to clear the junk out of the soul, de-stress, and listen to God. These retreats should be at least 72 hours long (but 24 hours is better than nothing). They can start Sunday evening, leaving enough time in the week to prepare next week’s sermon. Prayer retreats are not time for planning or sermon preparation. They are time for personal refreshment in God through silence and solitude. This helps your pastor to lead out of a deep relationship with God instead of relying on his own strength. I find that there is always more spiritual power in my preaching after these times of prayer.
6. Every five to seven years make him take at least 40 days off.
A typical sabbatical is three to six months long. These mini-sabbaticals of 40 days can be just enough to recharge a depleted soul. Pastoral ministry is intense and draining. I believe long-term ministries are rare because most churches won’t give their pastors adequate rest in God. The 40 day principle is repeated throughout scripture. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness to prepare for ministry. Elijah spent 40 days traveling to Mount Horeb to meet with God; there he was helped to overcome his burnout and God came to him in silence. There are many ways to fund a sabbatical. So plan ahead, because this can be a great way to keep your pastor long-term.
How many Sundays did your pastor preach this year? Try to get the number down to 40-45 times in the next year. Plan carefully and invest in your pastor’s life with God. Your church will reap great benefits.
What are some creative ways to provide time out of the pulpit for your pastor?
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© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.