Last week over 400 of our clergy in the Indiana Conference gathered for "Our Life Together" – our annual clergy retreat. We gathered around a yellow bench, which has become a symbol for the words of Jesus to his first disciples, "Come away with me for a while to a quiet place." Our yellow bench (and yes, we literally had a yellow park bench) was used in the publicity and material prior to OLT, and it became the focal point for worship and presentations during OLT.

The retreat included lots of times of worship and sharing, and we were blessed by our keynoters Rudy and Juanita Rasmus, pastors of 9,000 members St. John's UMC in Houston, Texas. They began by sharing all of their tough times, illnesses, and problems – which was an amazing departure from the usual "success" stories we sometimes hear from mega-churches. Instead, Rudy and Juanita shared how they have come to depend upon God's grace to lead and guide their ministry - and they included the importance of Sabbath and self-care in the midst of busy ministry.

As I have reflected on those concepts, after literally sitting on the yellow bench for a while, I have these reflections to share:

  1. Keeping the Sabbath is not about an excuse for laziness or poor work habits, it is about finding rest in order to maintain a busy schedule and a strong work ethic. Sports research teaches us that athletes who train 7 days a week do less well in competition than athletes who train 6 days a week and rest on the 7th. Sabbath is about rest from a busy schedule; it is not about an excuse to be lazy all the time.
  2. Sabbath is not just about a day off, it is about a day to seek God's guidance intentionally. Sometimes we substitute "day off" for "Sabbath" but that really does not represent the Biblical model. Ministry is too important to just take a day off. Ministry works best when we take Sabbath to seek God's guidance.
  3. Self-care in ministry is all about having strength to serve. Much of the popular literature and information about self-care seems to be mostly self-serving. Self-care in ministry must be more than that – it must be self-care for the purpose of strengthening our service and witness.
  4. Most of us in ministry are not very good at Sabbath-keeping or self-care. That fact is not so much a physical fact as it is a spiritual one. We (and I am speaking for myself and about myself) try to run hard in ministry on our own strength, rather than taking time to rest, to seek God's guidance, and to care for ourselves.
  5. While we may not have a yellow bench, we need a designated space for Sabbath and self-care. The lesson of the yellow bench is not just about schedule, it is a lesson about space. Setting aside a sacred space – physically and spiritually – is the key to keeping the Sabbath.

Those are some of my reflections from the yellow bench and from Our Life Together.

What are you learning from your yellow bench?