run away, run away!

This will probably be the last bloggage… for a week.

(I can hear a strange noise all of a sudden. It sounds like cheering)

The Sheldon Centre, where I will be retreating

This weekend I am heading down to Devon for a week’s retreat* at the Society of Mary and Martha. It’s a retreat designed for Ministers and is called a ‘12,000 mile service’. The website says that “Guests are free to choose their own pace and activities as the week unfolds. A chance to recharge batteries, take out dents in the bodywork or test the brakes, perhaps?”

I would rather not have any comments about dents in my bodywork, please, and I will be going into hospital in Mid November to get a rechargeable battery fitted, so perhaps what I need to concentrate on is testing the brakes.

The sabbatical leave that I am currently enjoying has been a wonderful experience. I have stopped the busy activity associated with being a Minister and have had the opportunity to rest, relax, refresh, read, refocus and practice my alliteration. One of the things that has come to me afresh is the need to ensure that when the sabbatical time is over I need to make sure that I put regular and frequent time and space in the diary to do those things (perhaps not practicing the alliteration). Once every seven (or in my case nine) years is not sufficient to maintain yourself at peak spiritual condition. That is not only true for Ministers, it’s true for all of us.

For some people Sundays are those moments in their week. (Often less so for Ministers because it can be our busiest day). But can we honestly say that our relationship with God is going to be at its deepest and most amazing with just an hour a week spent focusing on him? Can we even think that this will be the case if we give him fifteen minutes every day as we do our daily Bible reading?

I have friends with whom I have not spoken or corresponded for months / years. It’s wonderful when we do catch up, but I can’t say that there is any depth to those relationships. Not when you compare them to the relationships I have with my wife and my children with whom I share so much more of my life. They get to see the good and the bad. They get to share the laughter and the tears. They experience the joy and the pain.

That may seem very obvious, but that does not make it any less true. If we confine our relationship with God to special moments in our day then we are short-changing him and ourselves. We are treating him like a hamster that we take out of its cage once a day to play with and enjoy and then put back to allow them to get on with running around in his little wheel while we run around in ours. God deserves and wants so much more than that for us.

I have sometimes felt that being a Minister is a bit like being a hamster running in a wheel. You run as fast as your little legs can carry you but if you are not careful and you don’t keep up the wheel will keep on turning and you will be spun around madly. That’s true for all of us, not just Ministers, which is why God designed a sabbatical for each one of us. It’s his commandment (not recommendation) to rest, recreate and relax for one day in seven (sabbath). The idea was not that we dedicate one day a week to being with God, but that we take one day a week to be refreshed. (If you feel like a hamster in a wheel, watch this video and enjoy the ride – perhaps there’s a team ministry analogy here?).

So how? Well I am sure I have blogged about this before, but I find it helps to associate different activities with him. When I wash at a sink and look in the mirror in front of me I try to remember that it’s a moment to reflect on whether I need God to cleanse and forgive me for anything. In my car I will sometimes put a CD of worship music on and sing my lungs out as I drive around. Regular time reading the Bible is essential: but don’t short-change yourself by limiting yourself to a quick burst in the morning.

But above all, have a dialogue with Jesus. The twelve disciples had that privilege as they travelled around first century Israel with him, but we have that privilege too – he is with us by his Spirit. Ask him about what you are doing, or going to be doing. Ask him to speak to you through it or through someone whom you will meet. Tell him how you’re feeling. When something makes you laugh, thank Jesus for the joy. When something makes you weep, thank him that he is there with you and ask that you will sense his presence (through others or more directly through peace within). Whatever you do has a Jesus-related dimension and as you involve him in your daily life more and more you will find that he feels closer (even though he has never been away).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*retreat = running away, in case you wonder what the bloggage title has to do with the bloggerel here. Actually it’s often more tactical than that, but I had in mind the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Arthur and his knights beat a hasty retreat from the onslaught of their foes.

Strangeness

This is a strange week. Yesterday was my last Sunday at Colchester Baptist Church until December, with Sabbatical Leave about to kick in. So this week there are no sermons or services to prepare for. I need to tie up some loose ends and ensure that I have downloaded as much information as will be helpful for people to have in my absence without overloading them or failing to delegate appropriately.

I don’t think I am ‘demob happy’ but I am feeling a bit lost. The only other Sabbatical Leave I have had was while I worked for the Baptist Union of Great Britain. I missed my colleagues and the work that I was doing, but it is nit the same as taking your hands off a church that you have been pastoring and leading (with colleagues) for the past four years. Relationships are not easy to put on hold. Pastoral needs won’t go away. Vision, direction and leadership are still needed.

It’s not that I am struggling with my inner control freak. I am entirely confident in God to keep doing what he wants (he doesn’t need me for that) and in my colleague Lynsey who is a brilliant minister and will be awesome in my absence. But I think it may be a bit like when a child goes away to University or leaves home for the first time. You still feel responsible for people, you still love them, but for a season they are beyond your influence and remote from you.

So forgive me if I am a bit melancholy this week. And don’t take this to mean that I’m not looking forward to the Sabbatical Leave. It is a wonderful privilege and I am excited by what it may hold for me.

And if you are wondering about first offspring’s A Level results I mentioned at the end of last week, read the Twitter feed on this page…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A propos of nothing…

A dry-roasted peanut was in police custody today after his peanut friend was a salted.

(Groans optional but anticipated)

of course

Today I spent the morning on a course with Jon Stannard, the new National Director of Viz A Viz Ministries. It was a good course and we covered a lot of ground. It was rough in places, particularly at the start, but perseverance saw us complete it and enjoy a good cup of coffee and some sponge cake at the end. We were putting some green issues together, and attempted to drive churches forward in evangelism. Some chips were enjoyed and on the whole it was above par.

In case you have not realised, it was a golf course. (yes, I know the first paragraph is very cheesy).

But it was also a good opportunity to talk. Mark Twain suggested that golf is a “good walk spoiled” but I have discovered it is a good talk uncoiled – time to chat, to laugh, to encourage, to search (lots in my case), to share and to be unencumbered by other concerns and uninterrupted by all the things and people waiting for you. There is time and space to unwind, relax and to enjoy God’s world (especially longer grass) in the company of a friend.

Golf is not the only way in which we can do this, but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that such occasions are essential for my own personal health and sanity. Unless I deliberately spend time with others, enjoying being with them and relaxing, I am in danger of failing to obey the commandment to have sabbath rest, a foundational principle for human existence. All work and no play does not make me a dull boy, it makes me a candidate for burnout. Sabbath rest (especially for ministers) is not often Sunday. It is sometimes alone, but it may also be with others who re-energise us. I had such an experience last week with a friend who took me out for breakfast (thank you SO much Dave!).

So where’s your ‘golf course’? A pub? A coffee shop? A sofa watching TV? A walk in the countryside? A swimming pool? A comedy club? A cinema? A restaurant? Performing magic tricks? Sharing a hobby / interest with others? Playing games? [insert your own ‘golf course’ here].

When was the last time you had a round of golf there? Who was with you? Do you realise that God blessed you through them?

I have to remind myself that God has made me as a human being and that sometimes I need to be a being in order that I am more fully human. This is not primarily so I can be a better do-er. It is so I can become more like the best ‘me’ that God has created me to become.

And…. relax!

Be blessed, be a blessing

Negotiations between union members and their employer were at an impasse. The union denied that their workers were flagrantly abusing their contract’s sick-leave provisions.

One morning at the bargaining table, the company’s chief negotiator held aloft the morning edition of the newspaper, “This man,” he announced, “called in sick yesterday!”

There on the sports page, was a photo of the supposedly ill employee, who had just won a local golf tournament with an excellent score.

The silence in the room was broken by a union negotiator. “Wow,” he said. “Just think of what score he could have had if he hadn’t been sick!”

switching off

power buttonTechnically today is a day off. But that does not stop me trying to be a good free sample of Jesus, nor does it stop me caring about the people I am pastoring. It’s difficult to switch off.

Today I have watched Dr Who from last Saturday. OOOH, that was good!

I tried watching some American Football I recorded from the middle of last night (you can fast forward through the breaks and it doesn’t last half as long). But I dropped off, so decided not to bother watching the rest.

I tried writing some more of my novel, but using the Windows 7 voice recognition software. That ended up being frustrating because it did not recognise my voice in the real world half as well as it did in the training session… but then in the training session IT was telling ME what to say, so it knew what I was going to say before I said it. The software is not so intuitive when writing a book!

And I went off to the golf driving range and whacked 100 balls. Some of them even went in the right direction for the right distance. If only I could predict which ones it would be…

As well as doing some clothes washing, preparing tea (toad in the hole in one – stray golf ball) I have managed to keep my mind occupied. But when I pause I think about people in the church in need of prayer or support, those visits I need to get around to, next Sunday’s services and the ideas I had which I have now forgotten, and so on.

A friend is having almost the opposite experience. He is undergoing some tests this week (medical, not academic) that will require lots of sitting and lying around. He asked me to suggest some Bible passages on which he could meditate while the tests were ongoing – something spiritual to take his mind off the tests!

I guess the problem for all of us is that there should be no line between our life and faith. Our work is our worship. If we are as integrated as Jesus, our activity is all for God, whether it is putting clothes in a washing machine, whacking golf balls, working behind a desk or a counter or even sitting with tubes sticking out of us. That is (I hope) why many of these bloggages are based on my reflecting on my life. I am trying to look for evidence that God is at work in me as I am at work for him.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

For Nellie’s oldest employee:

In the hospital, the relatives gathered in the waiting room, where a family member lay gravely ill. Finally, the doctor came in looking tired and sombre.

“I’m afraid I’m the bearer of bad news” he said as he surveyed the worried faces.

“The only hope left for your loved one at this time is a brain transplant. It’s an experimental procedure, quite risky, and you’ll have to pay for the brain yourselves.”

The family members sat silent as they absorbed the news. At length, someone asked, “Well, how much does a brain cost?”

The doctor quickly responded, “A female brain goes for £20,000. A male brain costs £50,000.”

The moment turned awkward. Men in the room tried not to smile, avoiding eye contact with the women, but some actually smirked.

A girl, unable to control her curiosity, blurted out the question everyone wanted to ask, “Why does the male brain cost so much more?”

The doctor smiled at her childish innocence and then said to the entire group,”It’s a standard pricing procedure. We mark the female brains down because they’re used.”

… and relax

I is having a day off today. They usually happen on Saturdays for me, but there’s a bonus one this week for having to work all the way through a Bank Holiday last week (Good Friday).

The problem is that I can’t turn my brain off completely from thinking about church things:

Who will run the new video system on Sunday as there’s nobody on the rota?
Conversations I need to have with people in the future.
New staff member we will need because of the imminent departure of a current one.
Who I will visit tomorrow.
How will Sunday services go (I won’t be there as I am going to be at the Baptist Assembly).
Will we have more people join our Alpha course?

Does this make me:
a. control freak
b. stressed
c. both of the above
d. a pastor

I hope that the answer is d. I can’t switch off being a pastor just because I am having a day off. I can’t stop caring about the people linked to our church. I can’t stop being concerned about sharing the good news of Jesus with people. I can’t turn off my desire that people will be able to encounter God in our services.

Jesus' Day OffThere’s a brilliant children’s book by Nicholas Allan. It is called Jesus’ Day Off . The title gives away a lot of the plot, but the significant thing is that even when Jesus is having a day off, people are being blessed. He doesn’t stop caring, blessing and refreshing others even when he is having a day off.

Lessons to learn:
1. Jesus needed time out. So do I.
2. Jesus never stopped being the Good Shepherd, it was in his DNA. I can’t stop being a pastor.
3. There are times when I need to realise that Jesus knew what he was talking about: “Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself”
4. Making notes of things to do means I can safely put them aside and relax again.
5. Must get out Jesus’ Day Off and re-read it… in the garden… with a nice cold drink…

… and relax

Next week there may be a few days’ break from the blog (or there may be more entries than usual) as I am attending a conference for Baptist Ministers in Larger churches. For some readers you may be envisaging churches with a minimum of 1000 members. Well the bar is a little lower.

Lower

Lower

Not that low!

The threshold is about 200 members.

I realise that for other readers that does seem large. The church I was a member of before coming here had about 25 members.

There are very different dynamics at work. Larger churches should not think that they can exist as large small churches as the demands and opportunities for ministry seem to grow exponentially alongside the size of the church and leadership has to be different otherwise you will burn out. By the same token smaller churches should not think they should be small large churches as they will struggle to maintain the number of ministries and mission opportunities or carry them all out effectively without burning out.

The common factor is that any church has the tendency for those involved to burn out. On 25th October I wrote about Sabbath. This is a theme that God is not letting me drop at the moment. I think that this conference is a very timely one for me and expect God to minister to me in different ways through it. I am treating it a little like a Sabbath. But it is not time off from church, it is taking a look at the church from a different perspective.

We all need to take a sabbatical from reality on a regular basis in order to enable us to see things from a different (God’s?) perspective. That means blocking out the day off in the diary, or if it’s electronic making it a rule for yourself that you do not give up that day easily without moving the time off to elsewhere in the week. It means that I am needing to ask other people to hold me accountable not just for the time I serve God but also for my Sabbath rest.

After all, Jesus invited all those who are weary and heavy laden to come to him so that he could give them…

New tasks?
A sense of importance?
A pat on the back?
A doctor’s note?

REST!

funny pictures of cats
original at http://icanhascheezburger.com/2010/07/30/funny-pictures-relax-kitteh/