Finding the Rest of Ministry Leadership
By Joe Bruni, Copyright 2019
“There is a long and well-documented tradition of wisdom in the Christian faith that any venture into leadership, whether by laity or clergy, is hazardous. It is necessary that there be leaders, but woe to those who become leaders.”
― Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant an Exploration in Vocational Holiness
In the Gospel of Mark, we hear the incredible story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Leading up to this event, Jesus and His disciples were in the midst of intensive training and ministry. What did Jesus promise the disciples after a very busy season of healing and teaching? Get away and rest. Did they get it? No and yes.
In Mark 6:31, the author gives a key detail to illustrate the disciples’ need for rest: they had no leisure even to eat (ESV). This already-weary group stepped away with Jesus for rest only to be greeted by another large crowd. And what was their concern with this crowd? Send them away for food. We can’t host them.
Yet, Jesus refused to dismiss the crowd. Instead, He miraculously multiplied what little food the disciples had among them. And it was this incredible provision that spoke tenderly to the disciples’ need for rest: Jesus was doing the work. The disciples’ role was simply be the hands and feet of His provision. And although they started off with meager rations for a group of 12 men, Jesus provided an overabundance of leftover bread and fish for them to enjoy.
This story mirrors, as many of the accounts of Jesus do, images of Old Testament redemption. The details “a remote place” and “feeding the people” echo a miracle everyone would have been very familiar with: God providing manna in the desert. The weary disciples experienced God in Jesus providing rest for His people….as they (and we!) long for the rest that is to come in the land.
As we live out our ministry callings today, it can be deeply challenging to serve out of rest...to serve with peace and confidence knowing that Christ does the work and we are simply His hands and feet. However, it is this truth that allows us to practice self-care and stay healthy as leaders both in the way we work and the way we rest.
In Creation, we were designed to relate to God, to others, to creation and to ourselves. These relationships were perfect, but through the Fall all have become broken. Part of bringing redemption to bear is for us to allow God to reform even how we understand and relate to ourselves. Self-care—including how we handle sacrifice and suffering—is good stewardship of this relationship to self.
Sacrifice is a necessary element of stewardship in a broken, sinful world where God is working out redemption. Embracing limits and understanding that we do sacrifice ministry time to rest are critical disciplines. As ministry leaders, we must consider the sacrifices God is calling to make for the sake of ministry and also accept His gracious limits for the sake of sabbath—our obedience to trust and our joy to slow down and observe that He is ultimately the One doing the work.
Suffering is a part of life in this world of sin and brokenness, as well as a spiritual reality of competing kingdoms. And as ministry leaders we will be on the front lines of both. Taking time to process and understand suffering yields new intimacy with Christ, because it is in our suffering that we share in His suffering. It allows us to long for restoration and Shalom, producing glimpses of glory if we truly are good stewards of our suffering.
Self-care really is wise stewardship of those really difficult things in our lives: Determining where to sacrifice and how to suffer well. So, how do we know when and where to sacrifice?
Through communion with others and with Christ.
We need true, safe relationships—good friends and good guides. Without those, we will struggle, self-deceive, harbor bitterness and become a slave to our idols. And we need great depth of relationship with Christ. Healthy rhythms of intimacy with Christ (that we are continually fighting for!) help us to persevere and examine our motives when we struggle to embrace self care, create boundaries and suffer well.
The work of Jesus is restorative if we embrace the rest of redemption. It is in this assurance—in response to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—that we learn to be good stewards of our vocations. As ministry leaders, we are given a task far greater than we can really accomplish. If you think your ministry job is “doable” then you are thinking too small. We need to trust, even when we don’t see it, that Jesus is displaying His work of redemption in and through us. It’s only when we trust Him for His grand work of kingdom building redemption that we can work and rest in an effective, healthy, restorative way.
What are some examples of restorative joy you’ve experienced in seeing Jesus work miracles in and through you?
What are some of the healthy habits and patterns by which you fight for intimacy with Jesus?
What have you suffered that you need to continue to process as a good steward? What resources do you need in order to process that suffering? (Hint: Counseling is a great tool for this!)
What are the different sacrifices required for each of your callings (i.e. Parenthood & Ministry)? Are you aware of these, and have you made an effort to prioritize your time before the Lord?
In what areas of your life and ministry do you need to accept the gift of limits and seek sabbath?
Who is in your life and has permission to challenge you with vulnerability, honesty, confession and radical grace?
What steps can your take to create a culture, in your ministry team, of resting in Christ in your ministry work and of becoming good stewards of your calling in sabbath rest?