I’m reluctant to write this post, since I feel tremendous guilt for sharing what I’m about to share. Nonetheless, here goes… our missions team went to the beach today.

That means I don’t have a great story about the orphans, nor can I tell you what I helped build, clean or fix today. I wish I did – because I know that many people who are reading this worked hard today. I tend to work hard most days, too.

20140320_142943But today… today I walked around on a beach with dark sand made from the lava-based mountains foundation nearby. I ate locally-seasoned shrimp, experienced drinking coconut juice right out of a coconut and I put my feet up in a hammock. I walked the shore and picked up seashells with my 13-year old son.

A “siesta’ is typically a short nap taken that people in warm countries take after the a midday meal. It just so happened that our siesta embodied most of the day.

Again, I apologies if this creates any ill feelings on your part.

I have been in seasons of life where reading something right this would have made me want to bark back in bitterness, “Boy, that must be nice. I am nowhere near that experience.” I get it, I really do. Most days I’m off trying to juggle plates, chainsaws, bowling balls and more, too.

Today, though… I experienced sabbath and rest.

I live at a pace that is always cranking out the next thing. Even now, I’m putting off going to bed just a little while longer to write this. It can become easy to be a “human doing” versus a “human being.”

So today… I was a human being.

It gave me time to simply slow down my thinking and remember that the universe runs on God’s energy and not my own.

(Maybe you need that reminder, too)

There are real issues still in my life that need my attention. In fact, tonight my wife sent me a brief news update about a shooting in our hometown that happened today. It was at a location that she could have been at had the plans she made turned out according to her timetable. Instead, God allowed some circumstances to slow her day down and prevent her from being there.

1911841_10152263063296460_1068908084_nI wonder what will happen in me tomorrow because I slowed down today.

  • Will I love the orphans a little more genuinely?
  • Will I swing the hammer a little harder?
  • Will I push a kid on a swing a little longer?
  • Will I learn a story a little more attentively?


Where can you build some into your life? It’s easy to swing too hard one way on this… either valuing rest (and even time with family) so much that you never get to the to what matters more… or working so hard that you never get around to Sabbath.

Maybe it won’t involve a beach or a hammock, but maybe it will involve being still and doing nothing right about now, and remembering God is God.

“So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

Some things in life seem like no-brainers.

brakeFor example, every car needs brakes. The ability to put a vehicle into “drive” really doesn’t make sense if you can’t also eventually slow down and “park.”

Your body’s ability to rest may also seem like a no-brainer. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Some of the brightest minds in the world are still trying to figure out the complete biological purpose of sleep and why we’re hardwired to snooze in the first place.

Maybe our Creator knows something we need, even if we don’t.

Both of these examples highlight how we all need time away from the things that keep us going and going. That may initially seem like another “no brainer,” but experience has taught me that you and I tend to stink at this.

  • What time each day (not merely at night) do you actually turn your cell phone off?
  • When do you regularly go to bed?
  • How many times on vacation do you not check your text messages or emails “just to make sure nothing big happened?”
  • Do you tend to multi-task during the significant events of your life?

I hope those questions sting a little. Simon and Garfunkel were on to something when they sang, “Slow down. You move too fast.”

That’s their “groovy” way to highlight something the Bible clarifies:

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:8-9)

Some may feel that’s too confining or legalistic. Then again, might taking some regular time away from your to-do list remind you that the universe doesn’t run on your energy? As Eugene Peterson summarized, “If we are not able to rest one day a week, we are taking ourselves far too seriously.”

Talk about another no-brainer.

Time away from perceived productivity initiates real productivity. It helps protect your body from wearing out, your mind from tuning out, your soul from emptying out and your emotions from burning out. Here are a few ideas:

  • sabbath_diveDaily: Jab at your routine somehow. Claim ten minutes of downtime by turning off your phone or listening to something appropriate that makes you laugh out loud. Turn your shower time into a prayer time as a way to thank God for all your blessings.
  • Weekly: Set aside a day of the week not to catch up on errands but to invest into relationships. Make sure part of that involves your connection with God and His Church. Author Mark Buchanan explains, “Without rest, we miss the rest of God. The rest He invites us to enter more fully so that we might know Him more deeply.” That rest can help you accomplish more with six days than you could in seven days on your own.
  • Monthly: Reclaim at least a half-day each month (or the whole day, if you can) for something atypical. You don’t need to travel a great distance or conquer an amusement park.  Even a hike up a mountain or an afternoon of bowling may be enough.
  • Yearly: Maximize your vacation time. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the average American only takes about 9 days of vacation each year (compared to European countries where citizens are legally mandated to take at least 20 days off each year).

All of this isn’t meant to devise a system of regulations that becomes more legalistic than life-giving. Rather, by breaking away from the patterns of this world you will be more inclined to not be a victim of its frantic, broken ideals.

One warning, though – creating regular time away through Sabbath routines may require you to live differently.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann said it may entail “the termination of routines, the disengagement from some social conventions, or even the lowering of one’s standard of living.”

Perhaps that’s what we fear the most. Workaholics are driven by fear, but Sabbath trusts that resting in God breeds perspective and cadence.

If you don’t take a break, don’t be surprised when you break. Sabbath isn’t about time lost, but time redeemed.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


burningmidnightoilHow much sleep did you get last night?

I’m not asking what you did last night or the night before that required you to stay up late. It was probably quite noble and likely “for the kingdom.”

Maybe this is even a pattern in your life. You have a bunch of work to do, but want to make sure you spend time with your family during the day. It’s why you put off some of your work until late at night…that’s why God invented laptops, right?

Still, how much sleep are you getting?

Or perhaps more clearly…when are you going to bed?

That alone is worth asking, even if you tend to get in your “eight hours” on a regular basis. Perhaps you’re getting the right amount of sleep, but you’re going to bed on a schedule that puts you at odds with others in your home or the people you see throughout most of your day. You snag a “fourth meal” at Taco Bell, or prep your favorite late-night snack, and plug into whatever you’ve been waiting to get to all day.

It could be for any number of reasons:

  • You’re trying to stay flexible: Ministry requires you to be available on the fly, and you know one of your prime times to serve others is late at night.
  • You’re trying to have some “me” time: Your DVR is backed up with shows you’re still waiting to catch up on, and maybe the only time you feel you can watch them uninterrupted is when everyone else has gone to sleep.
  • You can’t think during the day: It feels like whenever you sit down to get something important done, someone knocks on your door, calls you, or sends you an email that needs your immediate attention.

Maybe you can relate to all of this.

Maybe you can relate to none of this.

Let me ask one more question that goes just one layer deeper.

Who gets to decide what’s healthy in this area?

A friend of mine told me years ago that sometimes you need to give yourself a “fake heart attack.” He had a family member who had an actual heart attack and was told by a doctor to radically reorient his life. This meant new habits with eating, exercise, sleep, and more.

The doctor set the standard.

My friend shared how his family member struggled with this, and so the rest of the household decided to join him in the changes. Everyone had a “fake heart attack” and changed their patterns to help with the real situation.

As you might imagine, the entire family’s life became healthier through the process. Each person lost a lot of weight, had new energy, kept the same sleeping schedule, and consequently bonded more with others in the household than they ever had before. Their relationship grew by leaps and bounds, and they even became more involved in church and other charitable efforts.

Maybe that feels like a Cinderella story from where you’re sitting. “I could never do that,” you might argue. Maybe not.

Unless your doctor told you that you were on the verge of a heart attack. Everything would change then, wouldn’t it?

It’s ironic how we criticize people who only come to Jesus at the last minute because they want to avoid hell. Isn’t this exactly what we do with our health? Until there’s a real fear of penalty, we’ll just keep on pushing our bodies and schedules to their limits because we see no other option that we’ll actually stay consistent with.

Allow me to end on a confession.

burning-midnight-oilI’ve written this article to Tony Myles. If anyone else has read along, feel free to comment.

Me? As I write this, I have a doctor’s appointment in an hour. I’m curious, based on how that goes, what I’ll continue to get away with… and what he’ll tell me has to change in my life.

Can anyone relate?

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:2)”

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


beach paradise

(This is not mine. Ironic that I am reading it while sitting at Gate A12 in Houston. Heading out to teach this weekend in Indy at the end of 3 weeks at home. I need to save this reading for sabbath/vacation times and I’m thinking a few of you do, too. Love, Stephanie)

Grant me grace, O God, to take a risk today, the risk of not being busy. Amen.

During the summer and especially as we have time for some vacation, I think that we should give ourselves permission not to be busy, to rest in the grace of God. It’s an important discipline – one where we remember that it isn’t our productivity which earns us a place in God’s Kingdom. Rather, it is an unmerited gift, offered to us in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with letting go of the “busy” of my life in order to “be”. In many ways, I allow my overflowing calendar to give my life structure and meaning. This week, as I take some days of vacation, my prayer is that I’ll give myself permission just to be – to be a beloved child of God whose been given the opportunity to live and serve in an incredibly beautiful corner of the Kingdom.

(From Rev. Amy Coles, Smoky Mountain District Superintendent of The United Methodist Church.)

Picture courtesy of traveldealsnetwork.com

I have a love/hate relationship with summer.  On the one hand it’s an awesome time of relationship building with students. While, on the other hand it is one of the busiest seasons in our ministry. I can handle the craziness because I know it’s just a “season.” However, it is easy in ministry to turn this short stint into a lifestyle.  It begins with allowing phone calls and emails to creep into my day off.

I understand that just saying, “I’m off now,” doesn’t allow our brains to disconnect. Perhaps we take a vacation while sacrificing 1, then 2, then 5 days off.  Obviously, it begins with allowing ourselves both VACATIONS and DAYS OFF.   Beyond just taking the time, how can we make these days restful?


  • Talk Ministry But Don’t Talk Details

I love to talk ministry, but logistics, details and daily frustrations are on “moratorium” in conversations on these days.   Take the time to get back to the heart of your calling and take an eagle’s eye view.  Dream.  If you could do anything in ministry and nothing held you back what would it be?

  • Enjoy Something

Has it been forever since you called an old friend, visited a favorite ice cream shop or built a sand castle? When is the last time you took time for family and just say back and liked being with them? Take a moment to allow yourself the freedom to remember what you like to do and who you like spending time with that isn’t in your job description.

  • Shut Off Technology

Yes, I know everyone says this. Still, I genuinely used to believe the world would stop spinning if a text, email or Facebook query were put on hold.  The voicemail of a couple of good friends of mine actually say,  “If you are leaving a message on X day, that is my day off and I will not be getting back to you until the following day.”   Me?  I know myself, if I have my smart phone all of this is too easily accessible.   So on my days away, my husband holds my phone.  Turn it all off intentionally.

  • Avoid the urge to use this as “make up” time.

Sometimes this is inevitable.  The grocery shopping or spring-cleaning might need to happen.   However,  as a rule do not allow off times to be the time you “get caught up” on reading or chores that have been falling to the wayside.  If you genuinely LOVE leadership books and they bring you energy then great.  If not they should not make your beach reading.

On vacations and days off most importantly remember the three “R’s:”  Refresh, Reflect, Relax.  Jesus took time to steal away and be with His father, just for the purpose of talking to Him.  It was something He loved to do,  that filled him up for what was ahead.   If we learn to rest in the arms of Christ,  we can begin to work towards a burn out relapse.   The last week will not give you ALL the answers,  but they should get you started.

What helps you unwind on vacations and days off?







I’m writing this column on my day off.

Before you judge me, realize we all do it: quickly glancing at email, returning just one call, swinging by the church to pick up something (only to be stuck there for two hours), subtly shrinking the margins of our fast-paced life. The first pastor I ever worked for literally said, “I don’t take a day off because the devil doesn’t take a day off.” I quickly learned he wasn’t joking!

Many people wear this “ministry-aholic” mindset a little too proudly. But with that type of arrogance and the creep of church codependence, it’s only a matter of time before everything crashes down and you burn out.

That isn’t going to be me. Don’t let it be you, either. These simple non-negotiables guide the margin in my life:

A DAY OFF Go ahead: Try to reach me on a Monday. You’ll probably be disappointed. That’s the day I sleep in, shut off my phone, and disconnect from the very needy ministry world around me. Sometimes I even leave the house just so I’m not around if someone drops by. (I’m crafty like that.) To stay in ministry for years, I must take off a few days along the way.

TIME WITH GOD Part of my Sabbath includes being fed spiritually. In the early days of ministry, I’d even sneak away to occasionally worship in a place where no one knew me as pastor. It was glorious.

VACATION TIME Every year, our family takes a vacation together and my wife and I go on a “just the two of us” trip. Both are vital to refreshing our relationships. Try it, and you’ll never let your vacation time pile up again.

COMP TIME If I have to put in a ton of extra hours for an event or program, I make sure to find extra time in its wake. Too many pastors reach the world but lose their own children. Don’t be one of them. Even if you don’t have kids yet, make sure you’re preparing for that scenario now.

Remember that rest isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence. Just look at anyone who’s lasted at anything. Although seasons of craziness pop up, I guarantee that this person lives by some non-negotiables.

Speaking of which, I’m headed back to my day off right now.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Group Magazine. Don’t get the magazine yet? Hit this link to subscribe and get in on the action today!

Really enjoyed this take on time off, rest and sabbath from Doug Fields’ blog the other day. If you’re struggling with margin, balance and time away from ministry, read on:

Almost daily I get an email from a ministry leader who is tired and on the verge of burn out. There is so much about ministry-world that is exhausting. I understand this reality firsthand. It’s real and ugly!

Too many leaders don’t even slow down enough to be faithful to God’s call for a Sabbath rest.

When I was a young leader I received great advice from a mentor who urged me to faithfully guard and protect a weekly day of rest. I’m so grateful for that advice and encouragement! Without intentional action, it’s simply too easy for a leader to slip into justifying non-Sabbath actions like, I’m just going to pop into the office, or I’m so far behind, I just need to catch up or They need to spend time with me and I don’t think I can say no.

Sound familiar? Me too! Want to see how he approaches his day of rest? Head there for more!


This past weekend thousands of youth ministers participated in the Simply Youth Ministry Conference.  As a participant in the past few I know that feelings of empowerment and encouragement are flowing through this years attendees minds and souls.  The reason these conferences can be such a powerful experience is because of the camaraderie and the opportunity to take a youth ministry “Time Out”.

The problem with a conference like Simply Youth Ministry is that it’s only a weekend.  After a weekend of euphoria you are forced to go home and face:

  • That hurting teen.
  • A pastor you clash with.
  • An angry parent.
  • A semi committed ministry team.

Youth ministry is filled with hills and valleys.  It’s like a long run with no end in site.  The only way to get through it is ONE STEP AT A TIME.  To endure in this emotional, exhausting and journey that you and I call youth ministry you need to make sure you:

Network With Other Youth Workers: You can connect with these men and women at conferences, speak with your pastor or visit sites like the National Network of Youth Ministry.  Build relationships with men and women who know what you are facing.

Set-up Limits: This means creating a schedule that protects your time at home and what is most important at work.  It also means learning how to say “No” even if the opportunity seems incredible.  Work within your limits and see how God will bless you.

Seek Personal Accountability:  Find men or women in your church that you can meet with to talk about life, share goals and call you out when you are straying from what’s important.  If you don’t know where to start, talk to your pastor, ask fellow youth workers or talk with one of your volunteers to recommend people.

Embrace The Moments: Everything that is good in your ministry is significant.  When a teen invites a friend, quotes something from your message on Twitter or testifies in front of their peers, remember it.  For all the bad in youth ministry there is so much good.  As youth ministers you need to celebrate and share it with your coworkers, volunteers, parents, teens and other youth workers.  It’ll remind you why what you do is worth it.

Observe A Sabbath: As a youth worker you need to find other ways of embracing the Sabbath outside of Sundays.  While you might be at church it’s still easy to mix work with worship.  Take a day where you spend it quietly with God or join a prayer group not associated with your church.  If you can’t connect with God you’ll make yourself more exposed to Satan’s tricks.

Youth ministry is a battle because you are dealing with changing lives and relationships.  To truly survive and thrive you need to rely on God’s strength and love.  Invest in people who will invest in you and keep moving one step at a time.  Your work, dedication and heart for the next generation is priceless, fuel it.

How do you endure the long haul of youth ministry?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)