An Essential New Year’s Practice for Small-Setting Pastors

Dear Ones:

Welcome to the Christian New Year! The kingdom of God is among you!

But this post is a little different from most. It’s specifically directed to pastors—and the lay leaders who seek to love them well. So share this.

It’s not practical. Or inspirational. Or a nifty new idea. But it is essential. And rooted in the very heart and being of God.

Here it is: rest. 

Now before you roll your I-already-know-this eyes, hear this. Rest is a particular kind of challenge when serving a small congregation. Or congregations.

Your rest requires compassionately understanding the specific nature of your work. It’s different.

So let’s remember a few things. Small congregations are not simply big places in miniature. They differ in culture, organization, resources, demographics, just to name a few. They are also different in the pastor’s job descriptions. Both the written and unwritten ones. You’re expected to be a jack-of-all-trades. 

Some of you also work another job or attend school. Some of you drive 50 miles (or more!) each Sunday. Then repeat the route during the week for homebound visits and various meetings. I’ve seen you type up bulletins, refill the pantry, wash leftover dishes, check the boiler, pick up the communion bread, keep up with increasing paperwork (anxious times always increase the paperwork), set out buckets in the back pew to catch rain, attend community meetings, figure out creative solutions to but-we’ve-never-done-that-before, attend high school sports, tractor pulls. 

Your communities are often home to forgotten folks. You take phone calls in the middle of the night. You show up for the worst day of someone in your community who didn’t know who else to call. People look to you to know what to do when tragedy hits and three teens are killed in a car accident. But you also continually recruit (or encourage the old recruits), make sure there are enough candles, and diagnose tech problems. And this year you took on keeping everyone safe and connected while still recognizing the kingdom among them. Without a staff of experts.

Read that last sentence again. It gets overlooked.

Oh yes. And you have to plan worship. Every. Single. Week. No matter what else happens. No matter how inefficient the family-based-decision-making works. No matter how few folks help (we’ll be working on that one together). And no matter how weary your soul may be.

Any compassion for your small-setting work yet?

You didn’t take on this job for the prestige. Or the big salary and benefits package. Or the cool swag bags at conference gatherings. 

You signed up because somehow the divine called, or nudged, or waited patiently, or knocked you flat. And you knew that God’s ways would be your ways. Not just in theory, but practice. 

And bottom line: God’s ways require rest. It’s written into the instruction manual for the good creation to flourish. No exemptions. You included. 

Look back over the past year. How did you honor this requirement? How is it with your soul? Would you want a precious child to imitate your practices?

Now go find a ministry colleague. Or a loving lay leader. And create a plan for this new year. Regular rest. In detail. Written down. With compassion for the specific stresses of your work. And accountability for resting anyway. 

God wildly, wonderfully, persistently loves the minister, not just the ministry. Happy New Year, indeed.

Thanks for your ministry,