Surviving the Summer Slumps

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A lot of time and energy goes to discussing how busy a pastor’s life is because it is not uncommon for the laziest of pastors to still work 60 hours in one week.  However, what might go unnoticed is that there are weeks here and there when there isn’t even 20 hours of work to do.  For me these weeks happen in the summer and winter when attendance in worship and other church activities usually declines because people leave town in great numbers to play in the mountains and visit relatives.

This summer my slump was even more pronounced because I had a crazy, busy Spring.  In February my wife gave birth to our son.  She went back to work in April, right as Track was starting and so my children spend the workdays with me, making me a full time pastor, a part time coach and full time stay at home/work dad.  While I was coaching Track, the church started a youth group that 20 brand new non-churched kids come too.  At the same time I connected with the homeless population and started a Tuesday night group for homeless, young families.  We also put together a team to do service projects in our community.  This led to a very crazy Spring that was wonderful and exciting but also exhausting.

Then June happened.  Track ended with little fanfare.  Our attendance numbers dropped because people are away for the summer.  I went from 10 hour workdays to 6-8 hour days.  Then to top it all off, this last week we had three family units leave our church and a fourth one has their foot out the door.  None of it was anything I did, mostly just people moving out of the area, but it still feels like the wind was taken out of my sails.

So now I have a large amount of nervous energy built up but not much of an outlet for it.  I find myself jittery and a bit irritable and I feel like I am failing again because it seems successful pastors would never have any down time.  The best word might be “disoriented” because the sudden slow down was frustrating, annoying and ultimately jarring.

But surprisingly it is also rejuvenating because these summer slumps are actually a gift.  When there isn’t wind in your sails it turns out you can stop and pray, reflect, reconnect, plan and dream.

So I pray.  When things calm down my self important attitude (which busyness only feeds) accuses me of not doing enough and not being a good enough pastor.  But when I pray I meet the God who does not demand success but desires faithfulness, a faithfulness that is sustained by a humility that recognizes that even when nothing is happening, God is working.  So I repent of my pride and embrace the every present Spirit who is always at work.

When I pray, I reflect.  Often when we get busy we end up doing things only for the sake of doing things but when things calm down I have a chance to look back to our ministries and the people who inhabit them.  I have a chance to evaluate their effectiveness from a spiritual standpoint instead of other indicators (like attendance and dollars).  In such reflecting I begin to see people and not programs again so that.  .  .

When I reflect, I reconnect.  When things slow down I have opportunity to enter homes, to meet people for breakfast and lunch, to spend time with community members at our local park and to stop and shoot the breeze with others on the way there.  In my conversations with them my heartbeat realigns itself with the beat of our great community.  Then I find also the heartbeat of our God whose Spirit is still hovering over the chaotic waters of our lives, calling, beckoning, inviting all of us into his presence.

Then I plan.  I use the downtime to sit in my office and think about the people I have connected with and reconnected with.  I pray for them and in so doing find God inspires me with new and wonderful ways to come alongside them, to feed them, to clothe them, to provide a friend and a counsel, but ultimately to offer them the bread of life and the cup of salvation.

Then my plans turns to dreams.  I believe a dream is bigger than a plan.  A plan is an idea but a dream is a vision.  It is something you see and feel and know and touch.  So when I pray, reflect, reconnect and plan I begin to see wonderful visions of the future, for my church, my family, and for me.

The summer slumps are indeed a wonderful gift.  They are a time for praying honest prayers, meeting unique people, planning new ministries, and dreaming big dreams.

On a humorous note I hastily slapped this post together over the last 8 hours which have been the busiest of the summer so far, so maybe things are picking up.  .  .

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