After next week, things slow down a bit at First Baptist Church of Gadsden, the church I serve as pastor. VBS is over, and we have a large community-oriented music camp for kids next week. I love the busy seasons of ministry, however I have come to realize how important the low tide of a slow season can be.
However, I have also noticed that it’s easy to coast during slower seasons. You’re tired. You just want to relax a little. So, you cruise through the slow season and *BAM* it’s the busy season again before you know it! This year, I am trying to be more intentional in the waning weeks of summer. Your work may not slow down in the summer, but almost everyone uses this time of the year to slow down in some way–whether that be vacation, some long weekends, or just soaking in the extra daylight hours in different ways. Here’s how I am using the slow side of summer this year.
Reading is therapy for me. I love to read all sorts of books–but I especially use the summer time to read for sheer pleasure. I am excited to read Lauren Groff’s new collection of stories, “Florida.” I also plan to finish “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward and “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. Fiction helps me in so many ways. It gives me the opportunity to see the world from another perspective and it also gives insight into the realities of a fallen world that non-fiction simply cannot afford. However, I also love non-fiction books. Right now I am enthralled with Tim Keller’s newest book, “Making Sense of God.” I have also recently began using audio books as a tool to “read” more. I am excited to finish listening to “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee and a duo of Erik Larson titles: “Dead Wake” and “The Devil in the White City.”
Rest is underrated. And I don’t just mean sleep. This summer, my plan is to rest physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I plan to be more intentional about unplugging from the things that cause me the most stress. I plan to lay off Twitter and Facebook more, be more intentionally disconnected while on vacation and off-time, stay disciplined about my bed time, and engage in activities that help foster and enhance restfulness. Most importantly, I want to use these times to reinforce a theology of rest–sabbath, rest in Christ, and the anticipation of the sabbath rest of the Kingdom of God!
3. Lingering Quiet Times
The kids don’t have to be dropped off for school, the coffee is ready, and the Scriptures are open and ready to be pored over. What ample opportunity the summer provides for me to enjoy unhurried, lingering time with the Lord. My basic operation goes like this: Bible reading plan (currently F-260 from Robby Gallaty), deeper study (currently Isaiah), devotional reading (currently “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Eugene Peterson), and then a time of prayer (including a prayer from “Valley of Vision”). With less responsibility, and a more flexible summer schedule, I am able to arrange my days around long, lingering quiet times.
4. Deeper Connections
Summer is the perfect time for me to make deeper connections with the people around me. I am using the uniqueness of the season to take a trip with senior adults, spend more time in “non-urgent” pastoral care, invest in our student ministry, and generally look for opportunities to have better and more time with individuals. We won’t be having any Midweek activities during the month of July, which means less broad connections with lots of folks, but what an opportunity for deeper connections along the way!
5. Big Picture Planning and Evaluation
Just this week I have begun looking over and evaluating my goals for 2018. Earlier this year, I shared these goals with our staff and deacons, asking them to pray for me and hold me accountable as I seek to be faithful to what I see as the Lord’s direction for me this year. Right now, without very many urgent issues, I am able to spend time with those goals again. Further, it’s a good time to focus on things that are important, but not urgent. In his book “Unstuck,” Matt Perman writes, “Urgency crowds out importance. The reason you aren’t making progress in what matters most to you is because urgency is crowding it out” (p. 66). I think it’s important to take advantage of seasons where there’s a low tide of urgent tasks to focus on long-term, big-picture important things.
6. Staff Development
We have a great mix of high-talent, hard-working full-time and bi-vocational staff. We run the gamut of age, experience, and responsibilities outside the church walls. Because we are not all full-time and at the office all the time, and because the generally hectic nature of a church calendar is constantly pressing on us, it can be difficult to take time to develop and grow as a staff. It’s important for me as the leader of the staff to make sure we use the summer months to develop, learn, and grow together as a team. Ideally, this includes one-on-one time, goal feedback and review, meetings, and a staff retreat.
7. Planning for the Fall
The busiest season of the year for our church will be upon us before we know it–in fact in a sense it is already here! We are already dreaming big and anticipating what God will do in the fall. We have some great ideas for outreach, growth, and refining our practices around our mission that I think are going to help us leverage our resources and energy for kingdom impact. Now is the time to refine and hone those things to help them have the maximum level of success! It’s easy and sometimes even necessary to wait until they’re pressing upon us, but we are using the slow side of summer to prepare for top rate execution in the fall.
This is my favorite part of the slow side of summer. Movie nights, game nights, trips to the lake and beach, playing on the church playground, lunches together, grilling out, reading books, and more define the summer months for us. We get extra time with our kids. Our kids get extra time with their grandparents. My wife and I get extra time together. Some of the best and most vivid memories I have from my childhood are from the summer. I want to be sure that my kids have plenty of memories in like kind. God is so good and so kind to give us families. I want to take full advantage of the season to celebrate and take joy in such a sweet gift from the Lord.
Ultimately, my goal this summer is the same one I always have–to work hard by God’s grace to invest my life in the things that matter most. I think, though, that these 8 things show the way that the slow side of the summer provides unique opportunities to joyfully pursue these goals for God’s glory and maximum impact for His kingdom!