Locked in the Closet: Rob Bell on Pastoral Rest

By: Jason Wermuth
Saturday, May 8th, 2010

In this video interview, Rob Bell talks about the need to balance his pastoral ministry with rest. Watch the video and then comment below:

In this video, as in his book Velvet Elvis, Rob talks about the rapid growth in his church and how that effected him physically, mentally and emotionally. In the book he writes the following about this troubling time where he hid himself away in a closet in between the first and second service at this church  (p. 104):

I was exhausted.

I was burned out.

I was full of doubt.

I was done.

I had nothing more to say.

After three straight years of working full time while in seminary, which will come to a culmination today at graduation, I often feel just this way, exhausted, burned out, full of doubt … through it all though, one of the best things I have learned in this process is the goodness of rest. Hard work without rest is just striving, but Jesus tells us that his yoke (not the stuff in eggs) is easy and his burden is light (Matt 11:30). The author of Hebrews tells us in chapter four that a major point of this Jesus thing is rest, not just in the eschaton, but right now! This doesn’t mean being lazy, on the contrary, rest is what happens after you have worked hard. The lazy do not rest, because they weren’t doing anything to begin with. But even God rested on the seventh day after his work, and if rest is good for God – it is for us too! Rest helps us to appreciate the work that we have just done. It helps us to regain perspective. Rest helps to reignite the fire that first got you doing whatever it was that you were doing. Rest is godly.

Do you feel burned out right now? How do you make time for shalom in your life?

If you don’t make time for shalom in your life, start today! It is the sabbath after all…

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Jason Wermuth
This entry was posted by on Saturday, May 8th, 2010 at 5:00 am and is filed under Church Ministry, Faith & Culture, Leadership, Spiritual Formation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “Locked in the Closet: Rob Bell on Pastoral Rest”

  1. Deb Vaughn says:

    Jason, I am right with you on this one. In the midst of the pressure of grad school, I also found those oases of God’s love and refreshment that replenished and encouraged me. For each one of us this will have a slightly different feel and composition. Learning that even an extrovert like me needs space and breathing room (or “margin”) has been important. Margin, rest, sabbath, whatever you want to call it is not modeled well for us in most of our churches. Hopefully we can learn how to reflect shalom better… and so reflect our understanding of Christ as well.

    Peace —

  2. Jason Wermuth says:

    Thanks for your comments Deb. It is good to see that more pastors and ministry folks are learning this lesson. The sooner we learn that rest is holy and good, the more productive and blessed our churches can become. Churches routinely overwork their staff, and this is a very American way of doing church. I suspect, however, that it isn’t quite Jesus’ way.

  3. Stephen Hightower says:

    Thank you for reminding us of something vital to our health (physical and spiritual) that we often overlook. I’m so hard-headed God had to bring me to understanding this concept the hard way. As with the children of Israel trying to store manna for more than a day and having it rot, sometimes the things that I felt I just had to keep working on instead of taking time for rest and restoration ended up pretty much rotten. I kept saying, “God, why is all this turning out badly? I worked so hard on this!” The simple answer was that in doing everything in my own strength I was being prideful and robbing God (and myself) of intimate time dedicated to Him. I certainly don’t want a legalistic mindset, but I also see the great value of saying “No,” and knowing when it’s time to stop. God has a way of multiplying my time and efforts when I trust Him with all my plans and needs and taking time for rest.

  4. Matt Brake says:

    This has become one of my “go to” places. The idea of rest, especially for those in ministry is so vital. Pastors have such an expectation put on them to work harder than everyone else so as to not “squander” the money that people give to pay them or to “suffer for Jesus” or whatever…like you said, rest is vital for stopping to appreciate the work you’ve done. This is distinct from laziness.

    I think most entry level pastorate positions give their people 2 weeks starting off, but I’m a fan of the day when I am in senior leadership so that I can drop this “10 day – 2 week” American vacation nonsense and give my people some REAL time off, like 3 1/2 to 4 weeks. My senior pastor in Maryland would harp on the American “over-work” ethic all the time and point out the need to take care of one’s body and emotions and to eat well and rest. Good for you pointing this out Jay.

  5. Bob Withers says:

    I’m not a proponent of tattoos, just not my thing, but I wish that my seminary had tattooed, “Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it,” on me at graduation. Or better yet, at school orientation. I think I’d still be at my first church if I hadn’t burned out – and my poor wife, who worked full time, was spending as many as 15 nights a month on church-related work – yes, I know, I was stupid – but you know what? Other than in one session in one class, this wasn’t discussed in seminary. We had explosive growth (for a rural church) and I just didn’t know how to handle it – and I guess my ego and need to keep moving the ball down the field played into it as well. Thanks for a post on a critical subject!