Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Rest - meeting each other's needs in marriage

In a piece of research done on the topic of meeting each others’ needs, men were asked ‘How much time does your wife want to speak to you in a week?’ Their response was ‘15 minutes, twice a week’. Are you ready for the next bit? They then asked the wives – ‘How much time do you want to speak with your husband?’ Guess what their response was? One and a half hours - per day.

Just hearing that statistic made me feel tired. Do you know why this is important? It’s actually critically important for those of us in ministry because too many pastors and their wives fall morally. Too many fall out of the race because of emotional burnout. You hear of the wife who got attached to another guy at work or emotionally involved with another guy at church. Normally such an attachment ends up in bed. And the guy who’s emotionally washed out and whose wife is not responding sexually is more vulnerable to some-one else. That vulnerability can also end up in bed.

I don’t want that to happen to anyone reading this. I really don’t. There’s too much at stake for God, His church, your life call, your children – so it’s very important that we have appropriate rest and that our home and marriage is a vital point of refreshment.

So here’s the question. Here’s the application. Guys - ask your wife, ‘Am I meeting your emotional needs?’ If in the course of that discussion she says that she needs an hour and a half to talk each day – listen to her! Because in a moment she is going to ask you this question: ‘Am I meeting your sexual needs?’ At which point you can say, ‘An hour and a half each day…

As a result of this blog I’ll be welcomed everywhere by male leaders with high fives! But seriously... men and women, husbands and wives need to understand how the other half ticks on this topic!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Rest - the importance of your marriage

The most important relationship is always that of husband and wife. If your marriage is not strong enough, if it’s not overall a positive thing that refreshes and refuels you both, then you will struggle even more in Christian ministry. There will be struggles even if you have a strong marriage!

Invest in your marriage! One way that Deb and I do this is that we read at least one book on marriage every year. This year we have read ‘For Women Only’ and ‘For Men Only’ by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn. I’ve been married for 20 years and what I read gave me new insight into my beautiful, creative wife! We discussed what we had each read – it gave us the chance to look at things from a point of view that we would not necessarily have got to on our own.

Like the following… (and I will caricature somewhat to make my point!) I want you to imagine a husband coming home from work. The guy comes in – he’s exhausted. His wife wants to connect emotionally, talk about the day… The husband has no emotional capacity to connect in this way. Because of the way he’s wired he still wants sex because for him that is emotional connection. It’s not just a physical thing. A godly wife wants to respond but it’s a lot easier for her to do this once she’s connected emotionally. In a poor marriage situation you can quickly get a downward spiral. The guy, wasted with ministry, can’t connect with romance and giving time and affection and listening to his wife. While the wife struggles to respond physically because she’s not having her emotional needs met.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Rest - the importance of priorities...and of home!

It’s important to set priorities or other things will swamp you.

Deb and I did this with regard to our home life. In a real desire to understand the pressures on her, I asked Deb what took so much of her time at home. ‘The washing’ she said. ‘I have to pick it all up from the bedroom floors, put it into the basket, wash it all, dry and iron it and put it all back so that the whole process can begin again.’ Anyone relating to this, guys? As we were on holiday when we did this review, I had spare capacity and time to think about this! I nearly made a spreadsheet to track what’s happening, recruiting the boys to do their bit, streamlining the process … But then I got it! I want my wife not to be tired and to be available when I come home and the decision to employ some help in the house as a result of that review was a positive thing.

Now I know not all of you are in a position to be able to do that, but the process still holds. Life moves so fast sometimes that you have to reposition the priorities where they should be. It’s no good thinking that things will calm down soon – experience shows that’s not true!

This brings me to another important point. Home must be a place of rest. If home is not a place of rest in Christian ministry then things are going to be really hard. I have observed, just from my own life and those of my team members, that in times when a family member is sick, times of demand that result in lack of sleep, dealing with elderly parents, to name but a few – all these issues put into a context of a demanding ministry – these can destabilise a home. They can come out of the blue and rob us of any refreshment we might have found in our homes previously.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Rest - Prayer & Fasting and a story...

I love being in God’s presence. I love corporate worship and I love our times of Prayer and Fasting – three times a year we assemble as Newfrontiers leaders and I love it because I can get away from the demands of church and be in God’s presence for two days with my mates! It forces me to dwell in God’s presence in a way that I don’t tend to do elsewhere. I would suggest that if you find yourself too busy for Prayer and Fasting then you need to look at that.

You may have come across a version of the following illustration but it bears retelling!

A philosophy professor stood before his students with a very large empty glass jar which, without comment, he proceeded to fill with golf balls. He asked them if the jar was now full – they agreed it was. He then took some small pebbles and poured them into the jar where they rolled into the spaces between the golf balls. He asked again if the jar was full. Everyone agreed it was.

Next he poured sand into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up every other space. He asked again if the jar was full and was met with a unanimous ‘Yes’.

Finally, from under his desk he produced two cans of beer and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty spaces between the grains of sand. The students laughed, at which point the professor told them that the jar represented their life.

The golf balls represented the important things – family, children, health, friends and favourite passions. If everything else was lost and only those things remained, life would still be full. The pebbles stood for everything else that matters – like jobs, house and car, while the sand is everything else – the small stuff that crams into our days.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first’ he said, ‘there will be no room for the pebbles or golf balls… If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children, your parents and grandparents. Take your spouse to dinner. Get your medical check-ups and play those rounds of golf. There will always be time to clean the house and see to household repairs. Set your priorities – the rest is just sand.’

One of the students asked what the beer represented. The professor smiled. ‘The beer shows that no matter how full life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend!’

Amen! Preach it brother!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Rest for our souls!

So where, in the face of the dynamics previously discussed, do we find rest for our soul? This seems to be the starting point for the way ahead. No surprise then that ultimately and first off this can only be found in God and in His Presence. It’s been interesting that as I have sat with the guys who have experienced burnout in recent times we have found that their identity is wrapped up in their work – more than they thought at first. That’s how many guys are wired. I have done some personal reflection on this and tried to find out how much my own identity is founded on God’s love for me and His acceptance of me in grace, rather than my performance and what I do and achieve. In Ex. 33:14 God says ‘My presence will go with you and I will give you rest’.

A couple of years ago King’s church stopped growing for the first time in 10 years. One of the biggest challenges for me in that situation was asking myself, ‘Is this it then, Steve?’ Keeping one’s peace in God at a time like that is a challenge. I’m looking to grow a big church – unashamedly that’s what I’m going for. I don’t know if it will happen – ask me in 20 odd years when I’m preparing to hand the baton on to someone else! But what do we do if the prophetic words that we’ve had spoken over us don’t seem to be coming about? Or if our hopes and dreams seem to go cold and stale?

God is not impressed by the size of your church, nor the scale of your ministry. It’s all grace. It’s all from Him. We are stewards of that grace and one day will give an account to Him. As that grace comes from God, so does the peace that comes from knowing we are loved by Him. If we get hold of this fact, it has the power to transform our lives at a foundational level.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Rest - what are you trying to prove?

Along with the compliant pleasers, the second group are the controllers. Controllers! According to Ortberg, ‘when you hear the word ‘No!’ you hear the word ‘Maybe’… When you hear the word ‘Maybe’ you hear the word ‘Yes!’… ‘No’ is a personal challenge which requires the steamroller approach.

Controllers have a tendency to not respect the boundaries of others. If I ask controllers to identify themselves, they won’t – compliant types will admit to their tendencies, controllers say, ‘I’m not admitting to that!’ And what happens when a peaceful compliant type meets a controller? They get married and, you know, it starts really well. Do this. Yes. Do that. Yes…. Oh, yes.

We all have external circumstances that bring pressure to our lives. The issue is what is going on under the surface and what motivates you to respond in a particular way. What are you trying to prove? Who are you proving it to? Yourself? Your peers? Your parents? What’s driving you? Who are you trying to impress? Who are you comparing yourself with? Why are you shaped by the expectations of others? Do you have a competitive spirit? Are you at peace with yourself? Are you at peace about your measure in God?

Honest answers to these questions will reveal what’s underneath.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Rest - the delusion of the slower day coming

Again, please note, I’m not speaking against hard work. Work is good. I work hard. If I listed my responsibilities you might become tired just listening to them. Many of us might be tempted to think that there is a slower day coming. It isn’t. In fact, there is more work coming. There is a vision for 1000 churches. There are the major cities of the earth to be touched and reached. There’s the poor to care for. There’s a culture of constant change. In fact there will be more to do in the next two decades than we’ve done in the last 50 years and I’m suggesting that we will only be able to do it if we rest well.

I hope I’ve got your attention. I hope you can relate to this.

So – why do we find this so difficult? You know about icebergs. You see only 10% of the volume above the surface. At this point I could get into all the hints and tips on how to manage your life… but most of you know them already. These are the surface things. What I want to do is go below the surface – what is happening on the inside of you when it comes to the choices you make and the boundaries you set.

Part of my preparation for this subject was to listen to a fantastic talk on work and rest by John Ortberg (formerly of Willow Creek Church, USA.) He describes people falling into two categories (I think there may be more, but these two make a good start!). Firstly there are compliant pleasers. They have a hard time saying ‘No’. They want to avoid conflict, they prefer peace and they can be motivated by fear. They feel guilt and blame if they don’t step up. They are nice people, they are pastoral people, they are really likeable people! I like these people and enjoy being with them – I really do!

The trouble is, resentment can build up deep inside them as they continue to care for people while others don’t step up to help. From time to time – as if out of nowhere – they explode. Anyone out there like this?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Rest - exhaustion as a badge of honour?

One of the conclusions that Sean Gubb came to in his survey of lead elders is that overall the (Newfrontiers) movement scores more highly in the scale of emotional exhaustion. Some of this emotional draining can come from working outside our gift. Also he discovered that most of the leaders want to be preachers and teachers. They don’t want to be managers, administrators or fund-raisers for the churches. However, for church planters and those leading smaller churches (which make up 80% of our movement) a ‘generalist’ gift is what is needed. A bit of everything to cover all the bases until such time as the church grows to a point where you can delegate some tasks. Meanwhile you will be more easily drained by those areas that you are less confident about and not so gifted in.

When it comes to meetings – especially strategy meetings - I could sit in them all day. I can go from 8am to 10pm and find that the whole day has fuelled me. That’s just the way I’m wired. My team, however, have other gifts and other areas that energise them. If we’re in meetings all day, by mid-afternoon they are trying hard to stay focussed and with me. But if your expectation of what full-time Christian ministry really involves is different from your experience then that will add to the emotional drain on your life.

Could I go as far as to say that we could fall into the trap of seeing exhaustion as a badge of honour? When was the last time you spoke to a lead elder and in response to your question, ‘How are you doing?’ the reply was, ‘I’m remarkably fresh. I just feel totally on top of everything. My wife is loved. My children are getting quality time. I’ve got time to enjoy life while the church is prospering.’ I don’t think there would be many conversations like that!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Rest and burnout

God has ordained rest. And while many people in the UK find their sense of personal value in work I would suggest again that many of us would serve God, family and church more effectively if we rested more. Taking a training illustration from the world of swimming – research on college swimmers in the US shows that every year 10% of this group experience ‘burn-out’ because they overtrain. They train so much and put in so many lengths they reach a point where performance drops off.

In the last couple of years I have sat with at least two pastors who are experiencing burnout – both significantly. When we are serving God, called by Him, we may feel trapped by our call. We serve not some shareholder in a firm but the Owner of Everything! This can magnify our sense of responsibility and drive us to overwork and so to underperform.

We all come to understand the goldfish bowl of Christian ministry. This is what I referred to when I talked about the wedding reception. That for us, work, church and friendship are all integrated and it’s sometimes impossible to know where one ends and another begins. So you can feel you’re on duty all the time. Living in this bubble means we can get ‘peopled out’. Some of you are far better at handling this – your capacity for people is greater at the moment! But note – this message is relevant to you and I know this because of some research done by Sean Gubb from the Farnham Church. Sean surveyed lead elders within Newfrontiers churches and 70% of you responded. 30% didn’t… I was one of the 30%. Why didn’t I respond? Because I was too busy, ok? Or I had such excellent boundaries - I was resting and didn’t do it…