“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” may be ascribed to Charles Dicken’s book A Tale of Two Cities, but it is also how I felt at the end of the summer as a youth pastor. The summer was full of life-giving and life-changing experiences, one right after the other…camp, service projects, all-nighters, lake trips, convention, mission trip, VBS, outreach events, picnics, road trips, and endless incarnational ministry moments. Over the years I’ve learned that most hard work falls into two categories…the kind that drains you and the kind that invigorates you. For me, the summer rhythm of youth ministry invigorated me in many ways. However, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t physically spent and in need of some rest, reflection, and a reset by the end of the summer.
Once the crazy schedule of summer waned I seriously felt a bit of a letdown, kind of like our students experience after camp, NYC, a mission trip, or some other mountain top experience. But we can’t live on the mountaintop and the weeks following those experiences can be incredibly important for the continued journey if we approach them in the right way.
I am reminded of the story of Elijah. Remember his epic showdown with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)? Talk about a mountaintop experience! But do you recall what happens immediately following (1 Kings 19)? Elijah is fleeing death threats on the run alone, emotionally and physically empty, and allowing doubt and despair to creep in. I believe we can learn a great deal from God’s response and the very practical things he encourages Elijah to do in the midst of his “valley” experience.
Before compelling him to do anything else God encourages Elijah to simply eat and rest.
It’s not wrong or even lazy to take some time after big events or ministry seasons to cut away for some rest and relaxation. Of course, as a youth pastor I had to learn how to Sabbath in the midst of ministry, but following a crazy summer schedule I learned to PLAN some time off and away. I say plan because if I just hoped it would come to me it never happened. You cannot expect anyone else to set up boundaries for your health and wellbeing. Life and ministry are too fast-paced, rest will not come to you by default (unless you are at the burnout stage). However, if you are proactive by marking times of rest and Sabbath on your calendar and informing your family, church, and youth group then you will have some built in accountability and you will model for everyone around you the importance of ministry balance and rest.
Once Elijah had a little time to rest God called him to listen, carefully. You’ll remember that God spoke to him through a gentle whisper.
Following a busy summer with all kinds of activities and experiences, it’s critical that we take the time to reflect on what God has taught us and refocus on Him. If we are not careful we only look for God to break into our lives in big ways, in life-changing moments, and we miss the opportunity to quiet our hearts and minds to hear his still small voice as a regular part of our rhythms and routines of life. Allow the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into you through his presence, power, and infilling. In an effort to capture this important renewal period I have found that reading, writing, reconnecting with friends, and spending extra time outdoors in God’s creation give me plenty of opportunities to hear God and allow his Holy Spirit time and space to bring the renewal I need.
After Elijah took some time to rest and listen to God it was revealed to him that he was not alone on the journey of life and leadership.
As a youth pastor, I often wrestled with the transitional cycles of ministry to/with youth. There are always new students coming in and going out. It’s the nature of the call with this particular age group. At the close of each incredibly busy, yet fulfilling summer I asked God to help me discern how to refocus on relationships and discipleship in a way that would bring growth to the seeds planted during the course of the summer. Resetting after the summer is not just about planning the what, where, when of ministry, but who? Who has God recently put in your path to encourage you on the journey? Who around you is ready for a deeper level of discipleship and ministry leadership? Often the answer came to me in a wide variety of students, peers, and ministry leaders with the reminder that ministry leadership is not a solo act. I approached every season with anticipation and excitement trusting that God was going to do something new in the lives of students, our ministry, and my life!
As you recoup from your summer of ministry know that God is already preparing the way for you to be refreshed and refilled in preparation for continued life-changing ministry!