A couple of weeks ago, Sarah posted an article on the importance of missionaries finding rest. You can find that article here. It is a subject that is dear to me. I've learned over the years how badly I need it, and I've watched new missionaries struggle -- sometimes unsuccessfully -- with the rest & work balance in ministry.
Since starting Global City Mission Initiative (GCMI), I've been in a lot of conversations about our efforts to mobilize missionaries to lost people in cities. But even before starting this new organization, I've noticed over the years that there is a real concern by sponsors over the work ethic of young missionaries. I understand and share the concern as I train and mentor new young leaders. However, I think it's usually the wrong question. There is a bigger and more pressing question that needs to be asked. What about their 'rest ethic?' Are they driven by the idolatry of their own labor, or can they trust God enough to stop and rest? ...and indeed, do I?
On more than one occasion, I've spoken with new missionaries that feel that they must work all the time. Taking time off stimulates guilt. They feel a sincere responsibility to the people who support them financially; they are deeply humbled by the privilege of serving the Kingdom of God in this capacity. Sometimes they feel they are failing and working themselves to the point of unspeakable exhaustion seems somehow more noble. Frankly, I've been in their shoes. I've had more than one brush with burn-out, and one advantage I've had after years at this sort of ministry is detecting when the shadow of burn-out is rising before it over-takes me. I've learned to detect the cycle all too well.
I know that I've heard stories of missionaries that take money from churches and do very little work, but I honestly have yet to actually see it. That simply hasn't been my experience. Rather, I most often see young missionaries that want to work and don't know how to rest. They want to serve God with passion and dedication, and they feel deeply humbled by others' generosity. Taking time to rest sometimes results in a battle with guilt. Missionaries should work hard, but they also need to learn the value of an ethic of rest.
One thing that supporters can do is ask them about their rest and give missionaries the psychological permission they need to practice rhythms of sabbath. Mentors need to talk new missionaries through discerning healthy rhythms. Missionaries need to request accountability not only for work, but also for developing a rest ethic. A key truth that we must learn to embrace is: Our ministry doesn't suffer when we rest. Rather, we are more productive when we rest well, and our ministries are empowered.