5 Tips to Help Pastors Keep their Sanity during Holy Week

Holy Week is here! For many pastors, this can feel like a very unholy week. There is so much to do—extra services, extra sermons, extra elements in the service… And the pressure can be exhausting. We once again see our Chreasters who only come on Christmas and Easters. There is a looming sense that if we could only wow them with our services and sermons then maybe they would become regular attenders.

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It can be exhausting. Worse, we pastors can get so caught up in the work of Holy Week that we do not experience the Resurrection for ourselves. As pastors, we need to be intentional about keeping our sanity and experiencing Easter for ourselves. Here are 5 tips for doing that:

  1. Keep an Edge. We have heard the stories so many times. We have preached the sermons. We have taught the Bible studies. It can be hard to find fresh insights in these texts that are so over-familiar to us. We need some way to keep an edge or push us to think deeply about the story. This year I am reading a lot about the symbolism of the Passover Seder and trying to understand Holy Week trough that lens. I am also reading Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson to prepare both myself and my sermons for Easter. Where are you learning and growing this week? How are you keeping your edge?
  2. Spend Time with your Family. This is a family holiday. Many of us in ministry try to create that kind of environment in our churches and encourage it in the families in our church. Yet how many pastors become absentee parents and spouses for Holy Week. Not only is this dangerous for your own experience of Eastery, but it is especially dangerous for your family. I never want my kids to have animosity or resentment towards the God or the church because of my work. Be purposeful about spending focused time with your family during Holy Week. In my case, we homeschool our kids and I am teaching them this week about Passover. We are going to be learning about and experiencing the week together.
  3. Get some Rest. You are going to work on a holiday and you are carrying a lot of weight. There is nothing wrong with taking an afternoon off. There is nothing wrong with sleeping in a little bit or catching a movie you have been wanted to see. Plan to do some things to get rest and refreshment. In fact, one of the best things that you can offer your congregation is the freshest and most rested version of yourself. You do the church a disservice when you do not take care of yourself. One of the ways I do this is by keeping a very sparse calendar during Holy Week. I find that it is easier to carry a lot of responsibility if you are not carrying a lot of meetings. Try to do your visits the week before or after Holy Week so that you have space to think, pray, and rest.
  4. Stay Organized. I am a list guy. I like keeping detailed lists because then my brain does not have to store all that information and can be free to think creatively. This is especially important during Holy Week. I am running a Passover Seder as well as doing an extra Sunday service. I have too much on my plate to be working last minute or to be remembering things on the fly. This also helps you delegate things to other people because if someone offers to help or is in a position to help then you can know exactly how they can help and even write down who you are delegating jobs to.
  5. Trust God. I understand wanted to have a good impression on Easter. You would like to catch some of those Chreasters and, if you are like most churches, a good offering day would also be really helpful. Here is the thing—Easter is about celebrating our risen Savior and Lord. You, as the pastor, are not that savior. You don’t want to be the savior. Saviors get crucified. Perhaps that is why so many pastors feel so burned out on Holy Week. But Jesus said once, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” Lift Jesus up in your worship and your sermon and let Him be the one drawing people in. Let Jesus be praised. Not you. Not the church. Relax. Pray and give Holy Week to God.

May your Holy Week not only be sane, but also special. And may you draw closer to our Risen Lord.

 

 

WE WANT TO GROW UNTIL…

People often want to grow. They want to be better or different. At least they say that they do. I want to lose 20 pounds…until I have to pass up a piece of cake or get up early in the morning and run. I want to be closer to God…until I have to read a boring piece of scripture or God answers my prayer in a way that I don’t want.

So often we create beliefs and habits that keep us the same. We start to believe that we have always been the way we are or were meant to be the way we are. We do little things so we can feel that we are making some progress but really we are avoiding the big changes we need.

change

Henri Nouwen reflects at our hesitancy to change and grow. He said: “Do you really want to be converted? Are you willing to be transformed? Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg people to help you change?” (The Inner Voice of Love pg 6) Nouwen points out that no longer do we hold back when we have to change, but we often ask others to help even as we are still hanging on to staying the same.

Churches can be like this too. Every church says that they want to grow but they are not always willing to pay the price for change. We want visitors until we have to give up time talking to our friends. We want people to come and give money until they also want to give opinions. We want new leaders until they feel led to change our worship or our building.

So in our churches we also create beliefs and habits to stay the same. Most of these we do not even realize. We don’t realize how unwelcoming we really are. We don’t understand how using particular church language makes outsiders feel like outsiders. We don’t see how we subtly reward things that keep us the same or put down things that would push us to grow.

What is the way out? A few immediate things come to mind. Pray for God’s help and direction. Get perspective of someone outside of your life or church that can show you your blind spots. Be honest and don’t try to explain it away. Above all 2 things are necessary for growth when it is wanted and unwanted at the same time. First, you have to trust that God has you where He wants you to be and is working for your benefit. Second, you have to have the courage to march right into the heart of the struggle and relentlessly wrestle with it.

Change and growth are messy. There is a reason that we resist them. My encouragement to you: wade into the messiness because you will find God there in a special way.

Recommended Resource: LOVE YOUR BIBLE by Gary Neal Hansen

I wish I could get people into their Bibles more. I believe that the Bible remains the most powerful and consistent way that God speaks to His people. Study after study has shown that Christians need to engage with their Bible more in order to grow spiritually.

I think part of the problem is that Bible reading today is either shallow or very academic. Shallow Bible reading simply asks how a person feels about the text and only serves to reinforce what a person already believes. Academic Bible reading involves lots of study intimidates many without a seminary degree. Neither necessarily leads to a closer relationship with God.

love your bible picture

A couple of months ago I was asked to review a book called Love Your Bible by Gary Neal Hansen. I did not think that a book so small could pack so much punch! This book was a simple and fast-moving read that challenged the status quo of reading your Bible.

Gary Neal Hansen manages in 50 pages to blaze a new trail for Bible reading past shallow or academic readings. He does so by following an unexpected course—the work of a 12th Century monk named Guigo II. Hansen follows Guigo II’s model of lectio divina based on a 4 rung ladder. The rungs of the ladder are READING, MEDITATING, PRAYING, and CONTEMPLATING. Hansen takes the reader through these steps with understandable descriptions and examples. Here they are briefly:

  • READING- The first step is to read the text several times but slowly and with an eye for particular phrases or details.
  • MEDITATING- This is not empty reflection on clearing your mind. Hansen used the metaphor of a cow chewing its cud to describe this process of thinking deeply about the text. You repeat the text or continually think about particular details. You chew on it.
  • PRAYING- Instead of praying after the scripture, Guigo II suggests that we pray out of the scripture. In other words, use the text to guide the themes and language of your prayer. Prayer is how you get the flavor out of the text.
  • CONTEMPLATING- This last step is moving beyond meditating on the text and into contemplating the God you are experiencing in the process.

The most potent part of the book is not the process itself. It is the goal of the process. Learning to love your Bible as a means to draw closer to God. Hansen challenges readers for a lifetime of biblical engagement—not for knowing about the Bible but for encountering God in fresh, new, and unending ways.

Love your Bible is a great tool for people that want to start engaging their Bible and don’t know where to start. It is also a great tool for pastors to help others in this process. It is a great resource for individuals or small groups. I highly recommend it.

A Great Henri Nouwen Prayer for Preachers

The other day I came across this prayer by Henri Nouwen from his book A Cry for Mercy.  I have a growing collection of prayers for before I preach and this is a very nice addition.

 henri nouwenDear Lord, you have sent me into this world to preach your word. So often the problems of the world seem so complex and intricate that your word strikes me as embarrassingly simple. Many times I feel tongue-tied in the company of people who are dealing with the world’s social and economic problems.

But you, O Lord, said, “Be clever as serpents and innocent as doves.” Let me retain innocence and simplicity in the midst of this complex world. I realize that I have to be informed, that I have to study the many aspects of the problems facing the world, and that I have to try to understand as well as possible the dynamics of our contemporary society. But what really counts is that all this information, knowledge, and insight allows me to speak more clearly and unambiguously your truthful word. Do not allow evil powers to seduce me with the complexities of the world’s problems, but give me strength to think clearly, speak freely, and act boldly in your service. Give me the courage to show the dove in a world so full of serpents. Amen.

Leading with Story Pt 4: Leading with your own Story

This is Part 4 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

I have been developing the idea that story is not just a part of preaching but could also be thought of as the essential material of leadership. Here is a key to doing that: Leading with story begins with your own story. You will always have trouble being a Story Pastor if you do not understand your own story. Your story not only shapes who you are and how you approach things, but it can also help you develop other stories. Let me explain how that works.

the story of my life

As a Story Pastor you are always crafting and working with lots of different stories—the church’s, the individual members’, the community’s, God’s… There is always a danger that you can lose sight of your own story in the midst of these other stories. You can lose your own distinct calling, passion, conflicts, and successes. This can be dangerous for a few reasons. Your identity can become too tied to that of those around you. If this happens then it will warp how you feel about yourself and your work and how you find and follow God’s call for your own story. As Christians, we believe that our jobs are never just our jobs but also they are callings. They are part of who we are and part of our stories. Yet we must be careful that they do not consume our story. Our calling is a part of us but it is far from the whole of us.

Not only can you lose your story in all these other stories, but if that happens you will lose one of your best insights into understanding the other stories around you. The story of the church has to be discerned and written as a community since it is a conglomeration of the people. It is much easier to discern and follow your own story because it is simpler. If you can understand your own story, then you can have clues as to the larger story of your organization. You can begin to ask questions that help you compare and contrast what you are feeling to what is going on in the larger story. What excites you about a new idea? Why don’t you like this person? Where do you feel that you are on purpose or not on purpose in your organization? These kinds of questions can be hints as to the larger story and how to write the next chapter, but they can only be discerned if you have enough distinct understanding of your own story to compare the stories and know the differences.

It works well when your story and your church or organization’s story are at least parallel. Sometimes, however, the plotlines begin to separate. This could be a sign that one or both of the stories are not right and need to be written. The point where your story and your congregation’s story begin to diverge can also be a sign that God may be calling you somewhere else. You can only see this if you have a clear picture of your own story.

One of the other images that I like for the Story Pastor is the idea of a story-weaver. I think that pastors and leaders weave all of these stories with God’s story to create a tapestry of a Church’s story. I think that God’s story and your story form the base of the pattern. As a pastor, I live closest to those stories. The other story-strings take a lot of time and group input to develop, but I can study God’s story and reflect on my own story daily.  I am not saying that you have to be constantly telling your story to your people, though you should sometimes.  But you do need to know your story and use it to inform your storytelling.

If you have lost your personal story in your work then I suggest a few things:

  1. Answer some reflective questions: What stories of your life have defined you? If you wanted someone to know you, what stories would you include in your bio? What is most important to you in your life?
  2. Dive into a pastoral biography or a Biblical character and see what of their story resonates with you.
  3. Ask a good and honest friend from outside the stories you are consumed in to help you. Find out from them how they see you and what from your story they see as defining for you.

What other thoughts do you have on leading with your own story? Why is it important? What makes it difficult? How do you do it consistently?

Leading with Story Pt 3: Story Leadership (or Why I Call Myself a Minister of Story and Sacrament)

This is Part 3 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

I have previously developed the problem of confused roles or identifying metaphors for pastors. I have also expressed the importance and power of stories. Now I want to move into the idea of leading with story.

tell me your story
Every person, family, or organization is in the middle of a story. Actually, they are in the middle of multiple stories. We have different areas of our lives with their own stories. We have different parts of the organization or family that have their own stories. These areas are filled with people with their own mix of personal stories that they are living out. We carry our own perspectives and memories of the stories that often differ from others who were supposedly part of the same story. This intricate web of stories are sometimes in unison, sometimes in contrast, and always in flux.

Great leaders lead by shaping and crafting the story of their organization. They use particular language to make the story compelling and use challenges as conflict that pushes the story forward. They are constantly working to shape the story of the organization to its staff (management) and its customers (marketing). They are crafting a compelling story in which everyone wants to play a part. In fact, there is a growing field of narrative leadership or storytelling in business. Companies now have positions in storytelling.

In Christian leadership there is a larger story. This is the story of God, the Greatest Story ever Told, or “the old, old story.” It can also be understood, as my teacher Len Sweet puts it, as “the greatest story never told.” God’s story tells us a lot of things about who we are and who are churches should be. It stands in contrasts to many of the stories that this world tells.

As my friend Graham Standish points out, many churches are living with writers block. They need new stories. In a lot of cases they need to go back and retell the old stories and “the old, old story” to get the current story back on track. It is as if many churches have forgotten or incorrectly remembered the previous chapters of the story they are in. They also need to start intentionally shaping the next few chapters. They need to find new roles in bigger and better stories that will compel the church forward.

I am talking about much more than narrative preaching here. I am wondering what it looks like to see story has the key paradigm and the dominant building block of ministry. I have begun to think of myself as a Story Pastor. Instead of using the classic description of “Ministry of Word and Sacrament,” I have begun to call myself a “Minister of Story and Sacrament.”The_Historian_(The_How_and_Why_Library)

The Story Pastor does his or her work with story as the clay. We begin to shape better stories for our congregations. We counsel people in their stories. We find out the story of our communities. We craft the next chapter of our congregation’s stories. We reenact God’s story every week in worship. We weave multiple stories together and help write better stories. We teach our people to share their stories as testimony for the others.

What do you think about the image of The Story Pastor? How is a Christian leader like a storyteller?

A Letter to a College Student who Attended Jubilee

Dear college student who attended Jubilee,

First of all I want to say thanks for your commitment to Christ and your excitement about life. Being around you really inspired me and my faith. You helped restore my hope for the future of the Christian faith.

StageI love your optimistic outlook on life, but I would caution you to not be too idealistic. If you are too idealistic then you are going to get the wind knocked out of you. Life happens. Health concerns and tragedy derail well planned things. Please remember that God made the world “good” and then invited Adam and Eve to play a part in making it better. I’ll be honest—I don’t think there is a perfect spouse or a perfect job out there for you. Never be willing to settle for anything other than God’s will, but also be willing to go wherever God sends you. It will probably not be perfect. Opportunities come dressed in work clothes. Great things don’t fall into your lap. They take time.

Please hear me—there is no perfect church out there either. I am sorry that the church has not had the vigorous theology or the vibrant faith that you have been exposed to at a place like Jubilee. In fact, the church can be full of judgmental and mean people. I am sorry that the organ music does not have the wow factor of the worship at a place like Jubilee. But the church is still God’s bride even as ugly as it can be. Jesus says the gates of Hell can’t prevail against the church. (Mt 16:18) Jesus so identifies with the church that when He stops Paul on the way to persecute Christians that Jesus asks, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) Don’t give up on the church—especially the traditional churches. Decide that you are going to go somewhere and help make it better. We need your voice. We need your energy. We need your ideas.

Never stop growing in your faith. Most big things in life are accomplished by inches for the long haul. Have patience. It is great to head to a mountaintop experience like Jubilee to get closer to God, but real life is lived in the valley. Real faith is developed on boring days and in normal experiences.

Copy of Jubilee Logo_BLACK_transparent bkgrnd

Continue to think deeply and don’t get stuck. Every generation starts with energy but stops along the way. Just think about your parents fashion styles or musical choices. We all have a tendency to stop trying new things and stop growing as get older. Have a long term perspective. Keep growing. Keep going deeper in your theology. In your whole lifetime you will never be able to plumb the depths of who God is. Make every effort to try.

Finally, follow Jesus wherever He leads you. I want you to be great leaders and have a big impact on the world, but you need to remember that in the Christian faith we lead by following. Have the focus to always be discerning God’s will and the boldness to go where God leads you even when it does not make a lot of sense to the world.

Blessings wherever God takes you,

Pastor Jordan Rimmer