Why Missional Communities Should Take a Summer Break

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Recently, I spoke at the Exponential church planting conference. One day at lunch I was talking with some other leaders about how we do missional communities and what others were learning and I mentioned in passing (because it is so much a part of our culture now) that the MC’s at Revolution change their rhythm in the summer (June and July).

Everything at lunch stopped moving.

One of the problems I have with missional communities is that they never stop meeting. They do this, because they want to live out the identity of being a family, and families never stop meeting together. And, the mission never ends.

Revolution used to be this way. Having our MC’s meet til they multiplied or until Jesus came back.

Then something happened.

Almost three years ago I found myself at two events with a lot of pastors whose churches were organized around missional communities. In total, there were probably 75 pastors at each of these events. At each one, over 50% of the pastors were either on sabbatical, going on sabbatical or just coming off of sabbatical. As I pressed into this, I learned they were all tired. I also started to hear stories of burnout among missional community leaders at churches as a leader approached year 3 of leading an MC.

This was frightening to me as our church had just done the hard work of transitioning from small groups to MC’s.

So, we made a choice.

One that would alter our church and the health and longevity of our leaders.

We instituted a summer break for our MC’s. Required it.

When we brought this change up 3 years ago, many of the MC leaders at Revolution reacted as leaders do when you propose a change to something they love. They pushed back.

Yet, after the first break, every leader who was hesitant about it told me, “That was the best thing we could’ve done.”

Here’s why:

  1. Understanding the city you are in. Tucson is on a year round school calendar, which means one of the main school districts our families come from have a 6 week summer break and the other one has 7. This means, in those 6-7 weeks, people are at camps, on trips, escaping the heat in California, visiting families, etc. It is different if you have a 3 month summer break, but for us we had to understand what the rhythm of our city is, which is what good missionaries do.
  2. Leadership is tiring. The leaders who become MC leaders work tirelessly. They love their MC, serve them, disciple them, develop leaders, host them in their home, lead them in studies, open their lives to them. This is all encompassing and can be exhausting. A break helps leaders stay fresh. I know people will say that MC leaders should take breaks with their MC during the season. I’m not sure how realistic that is. Taking a break is a way we as a church serve our MC leaders and help them stay healthy.
  3. A break gives you a kick off. We launch new MC’s in August and January. We make everyone in our church sign-up again. You have the freedom to switch MC’s if your schedule has changed. This creates a sense of excitement in our church as MC’s launch. New people feel more comfortable joining because everyone is starting on week 1.
  4. A break gives you an end date. Our culture, and men in particular, like end dates. We want to know how long a semester is, how long soccer season is. We want to know this before committing. This is a good thing and one that churches often miss. I think one of the main reasons people aren’t engaged in community in their church is because they don’t know the end date for that group. Many will say this is an idol that we need to confront and that may be true, it also might be true that we are used to things have a start and an end and that is how it works.
  5. A change of pace. During the summer, our MC’s still get together but they spend more time playing together and resting together. They don’t meet every week and each MC is different depending on the needs. One summer my MC didn’t meet at all because almost all of them were college students and they all left Tucson. This is a reminder that life is a series of seasons, our lives were meant to live in those seasons and when we work against them, it leads to burnout and disaster.

Ultimately, this is a choice for health. Health for the church, MC’s and the leaders. Recently a new guy at Revolution who has attended church most of his life told me this when he heard we change our rhythm in the summer, “I’ve never heard of a church caring about their leaders and volunteers not burning out.”

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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How can a kid see God?

Have you ever considered that you may be the best chance your son or daughter has to see God?

Brian Dodd on 10 practices of maturing leaders.

We want leaders to grow up too fast.  We want them ready-made at an early age.  The reality is the best leaders are those who are seasoned.  They have battle scars and callouses on their souls.  The best leaders have made mistakes, fallen down but got back up to make a difference in the lives of people.  They have persevered.  The best leaders are developed in a crock pot, not a microwave.

Sam Storms on Should women serve as elders in a church.

I believe the NT portrays for us a consistent pattern of governance by a plurality of Elders. However, it is important to realize that even if this is not the case we can still determine whether or not women should be appointed to positions of senior governmental authority.

Matt Smethurst on Should pastors get a sabbatical?

“The stresses and strains of dealing with people—with souls—wears you down in a unique way,” he observes. Besides, he notes, even some companies in the secular world are starting to use sabbaticals. “They realize that refreshment makes a better employee.”

Mark Driscoll buys his way onto the NY Times Bestseller list. Kind of sad to read this (especially since the money came from the offerings of his church).

Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.

Jared Wilson has a helpful post on What’s wrong with buying your way onto the NY Times Bestseller list.

1. It’s dishonest.
2. It’s egocentric and lazy.
3. It may eventually harm your reputation and will bug you in the long run.
4. It’s poor stewardship and bad strategy.
5. It disadvantages those actually gifted.

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In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity

bookJim Belcher’s book In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity (kindle version) is one of those special books. Part history book, part travel, part journal, part parenting and marriage book. It has it all.

The book follows the Belcher family on a yearlong journey through points in Europe.

What was meant to be a sabbatical, turned into a pilgrimage through many of the most important sites in Europe and most important people to the Christian faith. They spent time in Oxford and around England interacting with C.S. Lewis, William Wilberforce and others. Then time with Van Gogh, Le Chambon and finally Corrie ten Boom. They finished their time with Bonhoeffer, the von Trapp family and Heidelberg.

As soon as I finished, I passed it off to Katie because the heartbeat of this book is the heartbeat we have with our kids: we want them to have a faith that is alive, that is rooted in Scripture, but also rooted in history. We want them to know the great people of faith who have walked before them. The people who have willingly put their lives on the line to do what God called them to do. Who used their gifts of art to glorify God and point people to Jesus. We don’t want them to have a faith that is simply intellectual or regurgitating facts, but one that is alive. One that is rooted in the beauty, goodness and glory of Christianity. 

I can’t recommend this book high enough. It was so good. Bordering on being my book of the year.

Why Pastor’s Should Take a Summer Preaching Break

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I am coming off of my summer preaching break at Revolution. When we started the church 5 years ago, I preached almost 100 times in the first 2 years. While it seemed necessary at the time, it was not unwise and certainly not sustainable.

It is always interesting to me when pastors hear about the break I take each summer. They often tell me how they could never do that or what they would do if they did that. I’ve talked to church members who don’t know what to do with a pastor taking a break. I get quizzical looks and then they say, “It would be nice for me to take 4 weeks off.” Which totally misses the point, but it would be nice to take 4 weeks off.

Here’s what I do on my break & why you as a pastor should take one:

  1. Rest. During my break I go on vacation, spend longer time with Katie and the kids than I normally do. I take more retreat days to be alone with Jesus and work on my heart. In the flow of a ministry year, it is easy to get busy and drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit. While I take my day off each week and try to take a retreat day each month, it is easy to skip these. A break gives me no excuse. During a break, I’m able to read my bible longer and journal more, pray more and work on me as a man, a father, a husband and a pastor. If this were the only thing a pastor gained from his break, his church would be better off, but there’s more.
  2. Let the church hear from other communicators. I would love to think I’m the greatest communicator my church has ever heard, but that isn’t true. In fact, they get tired of me, how I say things and what I say. I start to run out of interesting things to say, my stories get dry and don’t connect and I get tired of the series we are in. This happens every series we do, 10 weeks into it I’m ready for the next one. A break lets other people preach, which develops other communicators who God is calling into ministry or preaching. It allows my church to hear a different way of preaching, a different lens of reading the Bible and new insights and stories. Depending on how well they do, it might also give your church a greater appreciation for you. Some notes on guest speakers: they must line up with you theologically, don’t preach heresy on your week off. They must be good. I knew one pastor who booked speakers who weren’t as good as he was so when he came back people were excited he was back. I want Revolution to be great 52 weeks a year, regardless of who is preaching.
  3. Get your love and passion for preaching back. Preaching is hard work. It is tiring and draining. I love to preach and prep a sermon. It is one of the favorite parts of my job, but it is physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally tiring. Pulling back for a few weeks is incredibly important. Two weeks into your break, you will want to preach again and have the itch. This is good, then enjoy the last 2 weeks. For me, I’ve learned that I need to take a week off from preaching every 10 weeks. Every pastor is different, but that seems to be my limit.
  4. Evaluate the church. Andy Stanley calls this “working on the church, not in the church.” When I’m not working on a sermon, it gives me a chance to pull back and look at everything. This summer we and my leaders spent a great deal of time evaluating Missional Communities, talking about our first Revolution Church plant and what that will look like, and how we will get from 250 to 500 in attendance and what needs to change for that to happen and what will change because of that. In the normal flow of a ministry year, it is hard to have these meetings because they take time, but the summer is the perfect time to pull back and evaluate.
  5. Look ahead. Right along with evaluating your church, you can look ahead. You can read for upcoming sermons and series. You can work ahead on things. This summer, I started to work on the series we will begin in January. This is a huge help to our church because it allows us to have resources, daily bible study questions, mc guides, and study guides to educate our people in Scripture. None of these things happen at the last minute.
  6. Grow your leadership through books and conversations. Taking a break gives you extra time to read outside of sermon prep. I love to read and it seems I am always reading 5 books, but a summer break helps me read more and from a wider variety of books and topics. It also helps me have time to talk to other leaders, ask them questions, learn from them to benefit our church. This summer, I’ve spent time talking to pastors of church that are in that 350-500 range to see what is next. I’ve talked with pastors who have planted a church and what they learned in the process.
  7. Gives you energy for the fall. In most churches, the fall is the second biggest growth time of the year. The spring is the biggest for Revolution. Taking a break in the summer, pulling back gives you the energy for the season that is coming. If you go into the ministry season at 85%, you will burnout and not make it. If you go in at 100% you will push through and be of greater use to your church and Jesus.

If you are an elder or a church member who has the power to encourage your pastor to do this, do it. The benefit to your pastor, his family and your church is enormous. If you are a pastor, stop making excuses about this. Educate your elders, vision cast and lead up. I had to at the beginning as my elders didn’t understand why I’d do this. To them it felt like I was taking a month off. That’s okay, but don’t let that stop you.

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Links of the Week

  1. Tim Challies on What we can learn from the Rob Bell controversy. Helpful things on criticism here.
  2. Steven Furtick on Why pastor’s should take several weeks off in the summer. This is why I take several weekends off in a row each summer. So important for me, my family and our church.
  3. Charles Stone on Why a pastor should do sermon prep outside of the office. Couldn’t agree more.
  4. Craig Groeschel on Why it’s important for your family to unplug occasionally.
  5. Perry Noble on 7 things to do to raise a Godly daughter.
  6. But, “I’m too busy to be missional.”
  7. Will Mancini on Questions to ask on your summer break. I’m excited to work through these in a few weeks when I have my summer preaching break.
  8. Dealing with the preacher’s adrenaline meltdown. Preaching can be killer on your body because of the adrenaline. Here are some helpful things to work through. If you don’t preach, read this to see what those who preach go through each week.
  9. Homosexuality and the Gospel.

Top Posts of August ’08

In case you missed them, here are the posts that generated the most traffic this month:

  1. My Notes from the Leadership Summit
  2. Recent Pics of the Kids
  3. Why I Blog & Twitter (And Why Every Pastor Should as Well) 
  4. Going in the Same Direction as the Devil
  5. Why did I Get Married?
  6. Focus:  The Top 10 Things People Want & Need From You & Your Church
  7. God Does Not Waste Pain
  8. Saturday Night Mind Dump…  (8/8/09)
  9. What a Pastor Does When He Doesn’t Preach
  10. Leadership Qualities