We live in an unprecedented time of technological advancement and expanding opportunities to fill our time. In a given year in the United States, 25 percent of Americans regularly volunteer their time, and 32 percent of these volunteer hours are contributed to religious organizations. This means those who have responded to God’s call to ordained leadership as deacons and ruling elders in our congregations are part of this 25 percent. Volunteers average about thirty hours per year.[1] According to these statistics, we can assume that those who have chosen to share their energy and human resources with the church contribute, on average, about 2.5 hours per month to these ministries.

There is an immense wage gap between those who have a great deal of resources and time to spend them and those who have very little and are scrambling with multiple jobs and responsibilities in order to make ends meet. It is likely that the leaders of our churches represent the full spectrum of this reality. Much of our leaders’ energy is consumed daily by their demanding work and/or home lives. Some of our leaders are caring for aging parents as well as growing children. Others are balancing physical and mental health issues with their commitments to caregiving for others and service in the church. And still others are in the midst of financial or relational crisis.

But what if the church was a place that did not acquiesce to our cultural norms of productivity and efficiency over wholeness and wellbeing? What if facilitating good leadership in our churches might become an opportunity to slow down, to teach and learn more sustainable practices? To relinquish the hold that capitalism and scarcity have on us?

In his book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann offers us the opportunity to reclaim sabbath as a faithful practice of work stoppage—unhooking ourselves from the relentless nature of busyness and productivity, rejecting the notion of scarcity, and embracing the reality of God’s abundance.[2] God’s gift of sabbath offers a model for more sustainable practices of ministry, inviting our leaders to not only pour themselves out in the service of our community but to be replenished as well. The question of serving with energy might mean that rather than imagining ourselves as being in competition with the other parts of our leaders’ lives we begin by sharing stories about our lives. We begin by creating a culture in which we tell the truth about how and where our energy is being poured out and where (or whether) that energy is being replenished. We might need to have honest conversations about where our capacities are and whether we have the energy to meet all the needs of our organization right now. We might need to name and remind our leaders that their worthiness is not determined by how much they give or how hard they work. Collectively, we might need to adjust our expectations of ourselves and one another.

When we invite our leaders to be self-reflective about their own relationship to time and energy as well as reflect on what the congregation as a whole truly has energy and passion for, then we can begin to faithfully discern what our priorities will be for this particular season of our congregational life.

For Reflection and Discussion:

What gives you energy? What depletes you? When you consider the ecosystem of your congregation, what requires the most energy? How might you replenish it? What might you need to let go of in order to be restored?

Tell a story about a time you experienced restoration. Where were you? Who were you with? What did you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or feel in this place?

Engage together in “A Sabbath as Resistance Meditation” (see Prayers and Spiritual Practice Resources).

Additional Activity: Energy Inventory

Invite the leaders to make a list of all the areas in their lives in which they give energy. This might include jobs, family, hobbies, friendships, volunteer work, caregiving responsibilities, etc. Ask them to circle the things that require the most energy—which may be different from the things that take the most time. Encourage them to consider not only physical effort, but emotional, spiritual, and intellectual energy as well. For the visual thinkers in the group, invite them to make pie graphs to illustrate their lists. Invite them to reflect on what in their graphs surprises them or resonates with them.

Now invite them to do the same activity collectively, reflecting on the time and energy of the congregation. Take into account not only where the bulk of time and energy is spent but also the financial resources. Take time to reflect as a group on how the matrix of time, energy, and resources spent might match what Frederick Buechner describes as the intersection of the congregation’s deep gladness and the world’s hunger.

[1] Huffpost. January 31, 2017. Joseph, Marc, America Does Not Have Enough Volunteers.

[2] Brueggemann, Walter. Sabbath as Resistance. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press; 2014.