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Leaders Who Rest and Play

“On Sundays I go home and take a nap to the glory of God.”

I’ll never forget these words. They were said by Dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary in a lecture on the importance of observing Sabbath rest. I had studied what the Scripture says about Sabbath for years, but I think this was the moment where I finally understood the purpose of the Sabbath.

We need to rest. After all, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

My life is a chaotic mess of uncontrolled business. I am finding it harder and harder to create space in my week for healthy patterns of exercise, personal study and growth, or making time for close friends. My desire to pursue music again as a hobby feels like a pipe dream. The demands of pastoring and leadership seem to never end. There is always more preparation I could do for the next teaching assignment, another person I could check on, prayers left unspoken that shouldn’t be ignored.

In an Atlantic article titled Workism Is Making Americans Miserable, Derek Thompson explains why so many people are preoccupied by their work and an overwhelming sense of busyness and exhaustion. He writes:

The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new atheisms. Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.

 What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.

While there’s nothing wrong with honest hard work, the search for meaning in purpose in our vocation and status of busyness sets us up for disaster. As Thompson says,

The problem with this gospel—Your dream job is out there, so never stop hustling—is that it’s a blueprint for spiritual and physical exhaustion. Long hours don’t make anybody more productive or creative; they make people stressed, tired and bitter. 

Those of us who are influenced by this gospel of workism are going to have a very difficult time understanding and applying everything the Scriptures say about rest. In her book Finding Holy in the SuburbsAshley Hales says it this way:

In a knowledge-based economy, the way we make ourselves seen and even validated is through more work. Busyness shows us that we’re valuable, contributing members to society. So whether we can’t stop checking our email or driving our children around to every extracurricular activity in the suburbs, we’ve equated our busyness with value. We stay busy to stay valuable.

When we start to believe the gospel of workism, our allegiance shifts toward our vocation and other commitments to maintain a status of busyness. Busyness, after all, means valuable.

From A Leader’s Perspective

I’ve often heard pastors and leaders talk about how important it is for us to rest. I’ve seen very few actually model it themselves. However, I recently heard a story which left a huge impact on me.

When we start to believe the gospel of workism, our allegiance shifts toward our vocation and other commitments to maintain a status of busyness. Busyness, after all, means valuable. Click To Tweet

I know of a large (and growing) church in a popular suburban environment. They have a large building, multiple campuses, and an enormous staff. One of their staff shared with me recently how the senior pastor makes rest and play for the staff team one of their greatest priorities. One of the ways he does this is by calling out members of his team if he finds out they were working (even checking or answering email) on their day off.

This example really stood out to me. The gospel of workism says that in order to pull off a large organization with a large staff team, you need to be overworked and constantly busy. But in this case, the senior pastor is prioritizing rest for the entire organization. By making rest a priority for his staff it will be modeled for the members of the church. The priority of rest – which is obedience to Jesus’ call for us (Matthew 11:28) – is counter to the gospel of workism.

In Dare to Lead, Dr. Brené Brown explains the 16 differences between what she calls “armored leadership” and “daring leadership.” Armored leadership is fueled by shame and it is an expression of how we hide from being hurt, vulnerable, diminished, and disappointed. It manifests itself in leadership when we do things like drive perfectionism and fear of failure, hide behind cynicism, use criticism to protect ourselves, or needing to be the one with the right answers all of the time.

Two of the biggest characteristics of armored leadership are when we make people “hustle for their worth” and when we reward exhaustion as a status symbol.

Hustle for Your Worth

What does it mean for a leader to model hustling for her worth? Brown writes:

When people don’t understand where they’re strong and where they deliver value for the organization or even for a single effort, they hustle. And not the good kind of hustle. The kind that’s hard to be around because we are jumping in everywhere, including where we’re not strong or not needed, to prove we deserve a seat at the table.

 When we do not understand our value, we often exaggerate our importance in ways that are not helpful, and we consciously or unconsciously seek attention and validation of importance.

Hustle is what happens when the people we lead (be they employees or volunteers) do not know their value or place on the team. To quote Brené Brown again, “Unclear is unkind.” If we are not clearly defining the roles, expectations, and responsibilities for those in our care, we create a culture where people have to compete for attention and worth. If we are not regularly telling those we lead how valued they already are, then validation is earned rather than given. If we are not giving people a voice and space to present their ideas in a safe environment, authority will be taken rather than given.

Hustle is what happens when the people we lead (be they employees or volunteers) do not know their value or place on the team. Click To Tweet

Rewarding Exhaustion as a Status Symbol

How do leaders reward exhaustion? When they show no signs of rest themselves. Brown writes:

When worthiness is a function of productivity, we lose the ability to pump the brakes: The idea of doing something that doesn’t add to the bottom line provokes stress and anxiety. It feels completely contrary to what we believe we want to achieve in life – we convince ourselves that downtime, like playing with our kids, hanging out with our partners, napping, tooling around in the garage, or going for a run, is a waste of precious time.

One of the greatest responsibilities of leadership is showing those whom we lead that the good life of flourishing and value isn’t found in a frantic state of business and over-commitment. But if we aren’t prioritizing rest ourselves, the people we lead aren’t going to know what rest looks like. The responsibility falls on us to show others what a life or rest and play could look like.

One of the greatest responsibilities of leadership is showing those whom we lead that the good life of flourishing and value isn’t found in a frantic state of business and over-commitment. Click To Tweet

How Will You Lead Others to Rest?

Jesus’ life reflected how important rest and play is. We read in the gospels of how often he got away from the crowds to be alone and rest, pray, and play with his closest disciples. If it was a priority for him, ought it not be a priority for us?

I’m grateful for my days off on Monday. I have the great privilege of being able to stay at home with my son and spend time with him. If I did not have the responsibility of caring for him, I would likely be working on my day off. I am someone who finds value in being busy and who struggles to rest well.

Jesus’ life reflected how important rest and play is. If it was a priority for him, ought it not be a priority for us? Click To Tweet

Yet even with my son to take care of, I still find my mind wandering to work on my day off. I check my emails hourly. I answer texts and phone calls when I should be unplugged. I stay inside around my technology (where I can get pulled in by work) rather than exploring the flowers with my son.

Leaders – how will you show others what it means to rest and play well to the glory of God? What are habits or leadership styles you need to change? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you have a day of rest each week where your people know not to bother you? Or are you “always on”?
  • Does your own schedule reflect a frantic state of business? Does your family struggle to keep up with your schedule?
  • Would your own sense of value or worth change if you were less busy?
  • Do you have margin in your weekly schedule to relax and spend time with people?
  • Do you consider whether people are already too busy before asking them to commit to doing more for your organization or team?
  • Does your organization celebrate people who rest well? Or do you only celebrate people who do a lot for the organization? What message does that send?
  • Pastors and ministry leaders – does your ministry philosophy reflect rest and play? Or is your church’s life together built around a chaotic web of people who are over-committed?

If we want to care for the people we lead and create counter-cultures to the chaotic, busy world we live in – it has to start with us. It isn’t enough to simply tell other people what to do. We have to show others how it is done. If we lead by example, then we have a real chance of proving to others that the good life is a rested life. If we don’t, the people under us will suffer (from exhaustion, depression, anxiety, etc.), our mission will go unfulfilled, and we will burn out.

Much is at stake. How far are you willing to go to make rest a priority for your own life and the people you lead?

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Leaders Who Rest and Play

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Leaders Who Rest and Play

by Ben Hein time to read: 7 min
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