The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.
The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.
This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.
Clergy Health and Well-being: Finding Rhythm
–by Rev. Dr. Donald K. Gillett, II, East Second Street Christian Church, Lexington, KY
I believe that we live our lives following a conscious or unconscious pattern that plays out over and over in the way we live. And, it’s in the living that we become a part of God’s great symphony. It’s in the living that we develop habits and practices that help us find peace and balance as part of God’s great symphony.
A few years ago, I awakened to the bright sun shining through the window, the sound of birds chirping and the sight of squirrels busy doing whatever squirrels do. I was struck by how right all of that seemed. I was struck by how the rhythm of the moment seemed to be exactly as God intended it to be. The writer of Ecclesiastes rang in my spirit “there is a time for everything….”
Ruth Haley Barton, in her book, Sacred Rhythms – Arranging our lives for Spiritual Transformation, suggests that we must have “a pattern of attitudes, behaviors and practices that are regular and routine and are intended to produce a certain quality of life and character…in other words a rhythm that represents the ebb and flow of life, the creativity and beauty, the joy and giving.”
Prior to my Lilly-granted sabbatical in 2007, my ministry had a common one-beat rhythm– joy and sickness, happiness and sickness, success and sickness. It was a rhythm that led to numerous hospital visits followed by periods of enforced rest. This was the only rhythm I knew. I ministered unto God’s people until I fell ill. I was actively sinning by not practicing the rhythm of Sabbath. Clearly a new pattern was needed and with the help of family, friends and my congregation I found one. Since 2007 I practice a weekly rhythm of Sabbath by taking off one day a week to rest from the demands of ministry. It helps in the restoration of my health and in caring for important relationships. However, the daily, weekly and yearly demands of ministry still take a toll, and interrupt the beautiful rhythm of life.
I knew more was needed to tend to the central relationship that guides and sustains my ministry, that is, my relationship with God. Thus, the Elders and Board Chair of my congregation decided to give me one month annually as Sabbath in addition to vacation and sick days. This month of Sabbath allows a recalibration of the rhythm that is out of beat. This month of Sabbath allows me to maintain and care for connections with family, God and myself. In this month of Sabbath, that occurs in May, I read fictional books, play golf, attend ball games with family, and engage in DIY projects.
I guard this time zealously because it gives me life! I not only want to feel the sun, or hear the birds, or watch the squirrels do what squirrels do, I want to connect with God’s symphony in ways that make me not just aware of the symphony but part of rhythm and part of the great symphony we call life. I believe in God’s call upon his servant to seek Sabbath. Sabbath is an important part of the rhythm and pattern of my ministry.
Friends, is your life in balance? Have you experienced the joy and peace that come from being a part of God’s great symphony? Are you in rhythm? If not, this may be your season for Sabbath.