I’ve realized through the last almost nine years of church planting that missional churches, like the one I pastor, are giving in to a busyness that drives many of their pastors and leaders to the brink of burnout and beyond.
This has left me to consider that it may be that personality, ambition or just our western cultural worship of progress is driving our churches’ schedules more than Jesus’ mission. It’s at least worth considering.
If our church’s calendar has less prayer, fasting and moments of rest than the life of Jesus with his disciples- what does that communicate?
If Jesus is really leading your church and mine, he’s not leading us into mission-fueled burnout; he is leading us into depending on him. He’s leading us to pray more than we plan. He’s leading us into finishing the race set before us, which means running in a sustainable way.
But the fact is that despite the fact that better leaders than us seem to be dropping like flies and many of us are drowning in what we call ‘ministry,’ we keep planning and going harder and harder. What are we missing?
The Lord Of The Harvest Often Rested
Jesus had three years of earthly ministry before the cross. That’s not a lot of time. In fact, if you were diagnosed with a disease that gave you three years to live I bet a lot would change in your life. You’d make every moment count. Jesus knew how much time he had and he did make the most of it.
But some of the things Jesus did in those three years seem a bit strange when you stop and consider them.
The One who only had three years, started those three years by “wasting” 40 days on praying and fasting.
The One who knew the full scope of the mission and how much the sick needed the physician, often pulled aside to rest and pray. 
Jesus Modeled Rest-Fueled Mission
The potency of Jesus’ ministry was not in spite of these disciplines but because of them! Jesus came back more spirit-empowered, more committed to obeying the Father and more determined to reject the schemes of the enemy. He came back more compassionate for the crowds and more aware of his calling. He came back and powerful things happened.
Based on that, you would think we all wholeheartedly seek to model every single aspect of this. However, many of us don’t. We want the same things that Jesus had, but we don’t want to go about getting them the same way. Jesus needed to rest, pray, and fast. But it seems like we don’t, or we don’t think, we have the time. In an odd way, we actually seem to be working harder than Jesus.
We Work Harder Than Jesus And We Are Proud Of It
The honest truth is that a lot of our “ministry” in Jesus’ name could justifiably be sponsored by coffee. We work long, hard hours bragging about how empowered we are by caffeine. Being from a small town, this is not just true for those in ministry; it’s true for the proudest members of our community.
Resting isn’t something we are good at in small towns. In fact, the more local and the more successful you are, the more that hard work defines you.
In small towns, it’s not respectable to do nothing. A good work ethic is commendable, but in small towns this often means it’s most respectable to never stop. In fact, we have slogans we use to communicate our work-superiority over others. Here are some things I hear a lot…especially from my own mouth!
“I go nonstop from sun up to sun down.”
“I like to burn the candle at both ends.”
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”
“I can’t remember the last time I had a day off.“
“Vacation?! What’s that?!”
“I’m tired-er than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest!” (Ok, that one’s mostly coming from me!)
We are proud of working hard. However, is our addiction to work something to be proud of?
We Work Harder Than Jesus And Say It’s Out Of Obedience To His Commission
In an attempt to obey the great commission, we are working ourselves into early graves. But we do good to remember that Jesus said we are to obey, “everything I’ve commanded.” That would include Jesus’ many teachings and examples of prayer, fasting and resting.
But it seems we keep trying to outrun Jesus. Go harder. Go further. Go more. All without rest, fasting and prayer.
Jesus made it clear that the pattern of ministry involved pulling away to rest and pray. This means our actions don’t model obedience to the entirety of the Great Commission. It might be said we are being blatantly disobedient!
“But look at all the progress we are achieving!” I believe that our Lord would tell us that the end does not justify the means! The same way he called us to reject the obsession with wealth by remembering we can forfeit our souls in exchange for “gaining the world.”
We Work Harder Than Jesus And Get A Lot Less Accomplished!
One of the phrases I heard at all the jobs I worked growing up, be it making pulled pork BBQ or selling shrimp was, “Work smarter, not harder!” I think we subconsciously think we are doing that.
If we would just cut out all the “unnecessary things” like prayer and fasting, we could really get some stuff done around here. “Doesn’t Jesus want us to be efficient?” “We have a lot of work to do down here, I’m sure he’s happy with all of our changes to the schedule.”
But let’s be honest, it isn’t working. The hard fact is that Jesus did in three years more than we will ever do and he did it while pulling away often to rest, pray or fast. Are we smarter than him? It would seem not. We are working harder and getting less accomplished.
The Lord Of The Harvest Is Also Lord Of The Sabbath
Keeping truths in tension takes a lot of maturity. I think that missional churches live in the extreme challenges of Jesus to reach the world around them, but fail to observe the challenges of Jesus to model dependence on him.
The same one who said, “the fields are white with harvest” is the same one who said:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
How many of us in ministry, saying we are carrying Jesus’ yoke, would describe it with the adjectives that Jesus uses? Not me! Is this some bait-and-switch that Jesus pulls on us? Or are we simply disobeying him and making it heavy by our disobedience?
Trust The Lord Of The Sabbath For The Harvest
Why do we work so hard? We want to see people’s lives changed. But it’s not just other people who need their lives changed. It’s us, too. We need Jesus as much as anyone else. That never changes. Remember, “apart from me you can do nothing!”
We must not think that taking a vacation or a day off is what will feed our souls and heal us, although those things can help quiet us and give us opportunity to be ministered to by him. But even then, we must remember that our hope is in the Lord of the Sabbath, not the Sabbath itself!
Jesus works while we rest. He works when we rest. He also works on us while we rest. When we rest in him, he does for us what only he can do. He calls us into his rest. Into resting and depending on him. That doesn’t just mean sleeping. It means being with him in prayer.
The Lord of the Sabbath heals us when we rest in him.
The Lord of the Sabbath feeds us when we rest in him.
The Lord of the Sabbath sets us free when we rest in him.
No one was more gifted to accomplish the mission or more aware of the scope of the mission than Jesus. And yet, the simple fact remains that Jesus rested more than us and, it goes without saying that if Jesus needed to, we really need to as well.
Where does this all come from? Maybe it’s our determination to fill the world with the gospel like Paul. I too want to be poured out like a drink offering. I want to spend and be spent. I want to run the race set before me. But I also want to finish that race. And, like Paul, I don’t want to run that race in vain. I don’t want to fight like a man beating the air.
I want my life and ministry to be potent like that of Jesus.
This means, while I’m so inspired by Paul, I must remember that he wasn’t given to us as the only model of ministry and my perception of how hard he worked doesn’t get set the pace for how I do ministry. Jesus does!
That said, I think that it’s time we acknowledge in the missional church that Paul’s apparent work ethic appeals more to our personality types than that of Jesus pulling away often to pray. But we must hear Jesus appealing to our souls!
If we really are committed to the mission, we must realize that we have so much to do we cannot afford to burn out!
So, pastor, rest because Jesus did. Rest because Jesus already does the hardest work. Rest because Jesus tells us to. Rest because it pushes back on the sinful worship of progress at any cost. And remember that rest isn’t just stopping, it’s depending on the Jesus and the Spirit.
Rest because you are not superman, but don’t just do this for yourself, do it for those you lead and influence. I came back from sabbatical but jumped into the nonstop culture I had created at our church. It chewed through any real rest I had received in no time. I came back with a strategy to rest more, but the custom of our church ensured that didn’t happen. That’s because, Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”
Our culture was killing us. Days off and even sabbaticals won’t fix that. Build in seasons of rest in your life and in the church. Seasons that help to build a culture of faith fueled rest over time. That’s important to note, culture takes time to build. I always aim at a decade to really make something feel like a culture. That’s a long time but it’s worth it. Have a look at your personal and church calendar and see what you could stop doing, or do less frequently, to make some space.
One day we will rest from this work permanently. One day we will hear, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.” But that doesn’t mean there’s not a rest to enter into now!
Why is the burden light? Because Jesus said, it is finished!” Scott Sauls points out, the contrast between the last words of Jesus and the last words of Buddha with Jesus. Buddha said, “Strive without ceasing!”
Based on the last words of Jesus on the cross or the last words of Buddha, who does it look like we are obeying? Does it not seem we are “striving without ceasing,” or resting in the finished work of Jesus?
As missional churches who want to fill our communities, regions and the world with the good news of Jesus, let’s remember the less sexy aspects of Jesus’ ministry. Let us not just preach, serve and go. Let us also rest, pray and fast for the sake of the Gospel.
 Matthew 4:1-2
 See Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42-43, 5:16, 21:37, 22:39 and John 18:2
 Mark 1:35-45
 Matthew 28:20, John 14:15
 Matthew 16:26
 John 4:35
 John 15:1-9
 Matthew 26:38
 Mark 2:23-28, Mark 3:1-5
 Matthew 12:1-8
 Luke 13:10-17
 2 Timothy 4:6-7
 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
 Matthew 25:23
 John 19:30