The pastor’s need to rest and retreat

By Jerry Ritskes

When you get asked how you are, do you find yourself proudly (but with some frustration) answering that you are “busy”? There is a world to win, programs to organize, people to train and a church to maintain. No wonder ministry is so busy. We are short on finances, people and time. It seems the only way to make it is to work a little bit harder.

Focus on the Family Canada operates Kerith Retreats, two retreat and renewal centres for people in vocational ministry. Here we see all kinds of busyness and the trail of frustration and confusion it leaves in its wake. While I am not advocating laziness, we’ve somehow convinced ourselves that being busy is equal to being faithful. Busyness in ministry is not faithfulness.

Eugene Peterson, in his book The Contemplative Pastor, makes this almost absurd statement “that the adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker.” Can he really mean this? Isn’t busyness a sign that I’m making a difference for the kingdom? Isn’t it proof that I’m being a good and faithful steward? I don’t think so. I believe that busyness takes pastors away from what they are truly called to do.

Driven to busyness

I have often been so busy with “doing ministry” that I have no time to be with God. How silly is this? Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, identifies this as one of the top 10 symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality – “doing for God instead of being with God.” Driving ourselves into busyness could be a sign that we’re trying to earn God’s approval, counter poor self-worth, quieten the negative self-talk we’ve been listening to, or we feel that saving the world is our responsibility. For whatever reason, we keep driving ourselves into doing more – and it makes truly hearing God’s voice very difficult.

I’m sure one of the very first words I learned to say as a child was no, but as an adult, I’ve found myself battling with this word. I’ve wanted to say yes to all the myriad of requests for help because of my own quest for significance. Why do I cram my schedule so full? Is it because I think I carry the responsibility for this ministry? Am I trying to prove something to God or to myself? Am I trying to escape my negative self-talk? Busyness can be self-medicating. This kind of busyness is what causes burnout and disillusionment with ministry and life.


The principle of the Sabbath is extremely important. Sabbath is a time to stop our work, not when it is completed, but when we need to stop. It is pacing our lives and recognizing our human limitations. Sabbath frees us from the need to obtain God’s acceptance by being productive. It is resting from our efforts, and trusting God’s.

Our congregations not only look to us to teach them with our sermons, they are looking to us to as an example of what it means to walk with Christ. When they see us going “mach 10 with our hair on fire,” they interpret that as what a believer should do. We inadvertently teach that it is somehow not enough to enjoy being a child of God. As a pastor, when I take time to slow down or even stop, this reaffirms to others that “there is a Saviour, but it is not me.”

Snatches of Sabbath can be so refreshing to our body, mind and spirit. Short times of reflection, rest and play are what God designed us to need. Though it’s difficult to make time for snatches of Sabbath in our schedule, it’s crucial to our well-being and longevity. Whether it is booking a couple hours every week to sit and listen to God’s voice or planning a spiritual retreat each quarter – we need to practice the Sabbath.


One of our key roles as a pastor is to listen – listen to what God is saying; listen to what’s going on inside us; listen to what our people are really saying. We just can’t listen well when we are rushing from one demand to another.

Often in Scripture, we read how the Word of the Lord came to someone. His Words, “Don’t be afraid,” came to Abram, just as they came to Elijah to tell him it was time to confront Ahab on Mount Carmel. The Word of the Lord even came to Elijah to bring him to Kerith Creek, to be fed and nurtured by the hand of God.

I love the word-picture Ruth Haley Barton gives us in Invitation to Silence and Solitude. Our lives are like a jar of river water – agitated and murky. As soon as you stop moving the jar and let it sit, the sediment begins to settle and it becomes clearer. When we take time for quiet, the sediment in our lives begins to settle, and the things God is trying to tell us becomes clearer. When we take time to listen to God’s voice, He helps us to find perspective on what He is calling us to do, rather than on what we feel compelled to do.

Making the time

I’ve often said “I’d like to take a breather, but I can’t seem to make it happen. It’s just too busy.” While there are seasons in our schedule that require more time and attention than others, there is still the need to keep ourselves in tune with our Creator. Here is a “low-tech” but effective way of making time for rest and listening: Plan it.

All you have to do is put it into your schedule, like you would schedule any other demand on your time, and then keep it. When something comes up that conflicts with the time you’ve planned, you can say “I’m sorry, but I’m booked then. Can we find some other time?” Unless we are intentional about taking time to be quiet before the Lord, and unless we can do it without feeling guilty, we will never really find the time to do it.

When I take time to rest and listen to God’s voice, what happens? I begin to hear His calming voice that tells me I’m His beloved child. I begin to find a “Holy balance” to my life. I become more of who He made me to be, and not nearly so concerned with performing to gain people’s approval. As The Message paraphrases Matthew 11:28-29, I begin to live “freely and lightly.”

Focus on the Family Canada’s Kerith Retreats are places of safety, rest and renewal for people in vocational ministry. They are places to listen to what’s going on inside of us and to listen to God’s voice. For more information, visit KerithRetreats.ca.


Jerry Ritskes and his wife, Renee, were serving as the directorial couple for Focus on the Family’s Kerith Creek retreat centre at the time of publication.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.