Since my last post here, (Jan. 8/18), the focus of my days has been on something other than work or writing. We have had a lot of snow here in Nova Scotia since Christmas. Clearing the part of the driveway the snow plow guy doesn’t do, the walkways and the deck began to seem like a full-time job. Because of our geography, we get a lot of water effect flurries, which tend to be light and fluffy and beautiful coming down but which accumulate and need to be cleared. While I like snow and actually don’t mind shovelling snow, it was getting a bit much.

I as actually glad that we were going on vacation to lower mainland BC, where snow and shovelling are the stuff of nightmares for the people living there. The attraction of lower mainland BC isn’t the lack of snow, however—if I really want to escape snow, I would prefer my destination to be somewhere sunny and drier than BC in the winter time. The real attraction is our sons and their families. Our vacation was short but involved spending lots of time with our grandchildren.

I took my tablet, fully intending to find some time to do some writing, maybe even figure out how to post blogs using the tablet. I am certain that it is easy to do and before leaving, I was sure that I would use my vacation time to figure it all out. As you might have guessed, time with family was much more tempting and the time I was sure I could use for writing disappeared, replaced by time to talk and play—and as well the essential time needed to rest after playing with highly mobile and active grandchildren.

And then of course, there was the computer. My laptop decided that it didn’t really want a seventh year of work and so the hard drive began shutting down—giving in to the electronic version of dementia. After a consultation with the repair shop, I decided that the best solution was a replacement—but the replacement would have to wait until after vacation.

I salvaged the partially finished sermon from the laptop and finished it on the tablet. The tablet and our ancient backup computer kept me going until vacation but once we got back, it was time to find a replacement. Buying a computer wasn’t a big deal. Less than 15 minutes after I got to the store, I walked out with my new laptop—and about 5 minutes of that time was spend looking at the clearance tables. I knew what I wanted and it was just a matter of walking down the computer aisle, balancing tech specifications with price.

The annoying part was the set up after getting home. All the files, programs and assorted bits and pieces that I needed from the old computer needed to be transferred to the new one. I keep good backups so the data wasn’t a problem but finding and installing all the other stuff was time consuming and still isn’t done—I keep thinking of things that I need to track down and install.

All this means that my focus has been elsewhere for the past couple of weeks, which has been a good thing. Pastoral ministry is demanding and stressful and the effects seem to affect me more and more these days. I am tired a lot and don’t always sleep as well as I should. I try to practise good stress management techniques and all that but I think the cumulative effects of 40 years or so of ministry aren’t all that easy to shake off. So it may be that in the long run, snowstorm, grandchildren and computers just might be a more effective part of my stress management process than I realize. Not having to think about sermons and Bible Studies and visits for a while was important.

I am now back a work, the new computer is functional, I miss our family and there is no real serious snow in the forecast. I enjoyed the break and more importantly, I came back ready to get back to the ministry I have been called to do.

May the peace of God be with you.



It has been about six months since I have had a break of longer than a day or two.  Since the Sunday after Christmas, I have been producing and preaching two sermons a week, leading two Bible studies for most of that time, seeing people dealing with a variety of issues and struggles, and officiated at nine funerals.  During that time, I have tried to take regular breaks during the day, during the week and occasional longer breaks, although I am still wondering if a two day retirement planning seminar actually qualifies as a break.

But in spite of the breaks, the cumulative effects of ministry have begun to show:  it is harder and harder to write my sermons–the ideas just don’t seem to come;  it is more and more difficult to go see people–the excuses for not going sound better and better; work related reading is happening less and less–the pointless, mind-numbing call of Solitaire or Youtube becomes louder and louder.  I am tired and worn out.  I am not depressed yet–but I sense that it is just around the corner.

Normally, I don’t go that long without some sort of longer break but a variety of circumstances came together and made a week long break impossible.  Now, some of the pastors I have run into along the way would have suggested that in the end, I need to stop whining and get on with the work.  I am a pastor.  I have been called by God to the ministry I do.  God gives me the strength that I need to do this work.  It is vital work and people are deeply in need and God needs me to get at it.  Pastors don’t have the luxury of fatigue or tiredness or down time, or so the traditional line goes.  Fatigue is all in my mind–and besides, there will be plenty of time for rest in heaven.

Even though I have heard and read and seen this example for most of my ministry, I have never really bought it.  Part of that might be because my physical make up is such that when I need to sleep, I need to sleep–none of the traditional work arounds (coffee, tea, cola, prayer, exercise, denial) actually work for me for very long.  Even the most powerful work around for me–coffee–really only gives me a few  more hours.  Eventually, I am going to sleep.

Trying to ignore that reality has created all sorts of interesting scenarios: I have fallen asleep in meetings; I have fallen asleep in the staff room while typing on the computer; I fall asleep while reading; I have fallen asleep in worship–not while I have been preaching, yet.  And, in a couple of very sobering incidents, I have fallen asleep while driving.  Those, more than anything convinced me that I am not superman and that when I am tired, I need to pay attention and do something to really deal with the fatigue.

Ministry is a fulfilling and demanding process, whether it is done professionally as I do it or as a lay person.  Ministry always involves giving of ourselves to others–if we are not giving of ourselves, we are not really engaged with the people we are ministering to and we are not likely doing what God calls us to do.

Ministry is so demanding that as important as mini-sabbaths are, they really can’t clear away all the accumulated fatigue and tiredness.  While it is important to have sabbath rests daily, weekly and monthly, we also need to allow ourselves a longer and more significant break, a period of time when we can let it all go for a time.

The world will continue on while we are resting.  God will still accomplish his will while we are taking a break.  People with needs will find a way to meet those needs while we are unavailable.  But if we don’t take the break we need, we will most likely find ourselves at the end of a shortened ministry, probably needing someone to give us some serious ministry.

Why have I been spending so much time on the topic of breaks and sabbaths?  Simple–I am tired, I recognize my own need of a break and the plane tickets are booked.  I may not be the world’s greatest pastor, but I have learned to minister to myself and take the breaks I need.

May the peace of God be with you.


One of the interesting but often unspoken realities of any form of ministry is that it can be very hazardous to one’s spiritual health.  On the surface, that seems like it shouldn’t be true–and maybe even less true for me than for others.  To start with, while I am pastor of two separate church settings, I am 40% at each, which even with my shaky math works out to 80%, leaving me lots of free time to do a variety of other things, including spiritual development.

In practise, though, ministry of any kind and any temporal duration has a tendency to expand.  Last week, my 40% position at one church expanded to well above 50%.  Fortunately, the other position was pretty much “normal” last week but there have been times when both have had expansionary weeks and “free” time consisted of trying to stay awake while I watched the evening news.

And there is a deeper, more significant side of this ministry expansion.  I work hard at having an approach to spiritual growth that takes into account my particular needs and personality, which involves a lot of reading since my primary approach to spiritual development involves study and contemplation.  But reading takes energy–or rather, reading in a way that allows me to understand and process what I am reading so that I can use it as the basis of a contemplative spiritual development process takes energy.

But as the ministry week expands and grows and fills in spaces set aside for other things, it also fills in the space I set aside for reading–and at the same time, taps into the energy I need to effectively use the time I have.  And that means that after a short time of battling ministry expansion and resulting fatigue, I find myself approaching my reading time with the realization that no matter what I read, I am not going to take much in because I am tired physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I could, I suppose, summon up vast amounts of spiritual discipline (or guilt) and read anyway.  Having tried that approach, I can assure you that it doesn’t work for.  If I am reading while on the exercise bike, I realize my mind is drifting and I am taking in nothing.  If I am sitting in the living room, I eventually realize that I have been asleep for the past 15 minutes and so haven’t taken in anything.  At least for me, forcing myself really doesn’t help.

Ministry expands and the expansion threatens to fill every part of life.  And whether a person is a pastor like I am or a lay person, ministry is always expanding.  No matter what the ministry is, there is always potential for expansion and when we commit to ministry and crank up our gifts and openness to the Spirit, we have a tendency to follow the expansion wherever it goes.

That might sound faithful and might look faithful but in the end, it is spiritually unwise and will lead to burnout, depression, anxiety, anger, and a decreased ability to relate lovingly to ourselves, others and God.  Our faith and our concern for the ministry God has given us come together and produce an unhealthy minister.

That is why the Biblical idea of Sabbath is so important.  Technically, the Sabbath was the one day out of seven when the people were supposed to rest and reconnect.  Most of the Christian church has moved from Sabbath observation (Saturday) to keeping the Lord’s Day (Sunday) but many of the Sabbath ideas were transferred to Sunday.

Taking one day out of seven to rest and reconnect with ourselves, others and God is good theology and good psychology.  And the idea of Sabbath can be expanded.  We can have Sabbath moments during our day–on Sundays, I have about an hour between worship services, which provides me with a mini-Sabbath.  During that hour, I have some lunch, read some news and take a power nap.  I do read over my notes for the next service but the other components of the mini-Sabbath are much more important.

We need Sabbaths during the year as well.  The longer I go without a break from ministry, the more I need a break.  Fortunately, a short vacation is coming up soon.

Ministry, whether paid or not expands with inexorable force.  We need to work hard at countering the negative effects of that expansion with the powerful antidote of the Sabbath.

May the peace of God be with you.