Boat-time: Finding Refuge at Church Council

January 29th, 2012
Image © by axhixh | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

When was the last time you viewed a church meeting as a place of refuge? How about the last time you experienced fatigue in ministry and life? Many of us have experienced the fatigue while few of us have experienced a meeting as a refuge in the midst of life’s demands. But what if it could be?

During a Church Council meeting earlier this year, I listened to people celebrate growth in their areas of ministry while reporting the growing pains occurring as a result. Even as our prayers were being answered beyond what we had imagined, the fatigue of many of our leaders was apparent.

Being someone who burned out in professional ministry eight years ago, I cannot help but keep a watchful eye out for signs of pending burnout in lay and staff leaders. So I left that meeting wondering what God might be inviting us to that could help with the stress that often comes from constantly ministering to others. What if we needed to go beyond prayer requests at the end of the meeting or verbal encouragement to “hang in there” or even the wonderful practice of sharing stories of “God-sightings”? What if the actual time together needed to be different?

Before attending the Council meeting, I had noticed there were few opportunities to rest in between ministry events; one would end and we would be on to the next. Whether or not many noticed this, I cannot say because the energy of a growing church is exciting which can add fuel to the fire (no surprise that “burnout” happens under such conditions). In our workaholic culture we rarely create time to rest by ourselves, let alone together. It just seems impractical. If things are going well we think we need to keep the momentum going! If things are not going well we need to “make things happen!” Both of these motivations expose our addiction to doing which ultimately reveals a lack of trust.

Given my curiosity as to what God may have to say on the subject, I was reminded of the Gospel of Mark with its action-packed descriptions of things happening “immediately,” “just then,” and “now.” As I started looking through the Gospel, it wasn’t long before an image seemed to float up from the pages…a boat.

Jesus and his disciples spent time in a boat both during and especially between ministry events. The boat was significant. As we read the stories, we see that the boat was important for reasons beyond transportation. The boat offered…

  • A place from which Jesus could teach the crowds.
  • A place of separation where it was possible to take a break from the crowds, even leaving them behind.
  • A place for the disciples to learn by experience lessons like trust and faith.
  • A place of refuge where there could be rest and sleep.
  • A place to work and struggle “against the waves” together.
  • A place the disciples used to provide rest and protection for Jesus and a place Jesus used to provide rest and protection for them from the crowds that were often pressing in on them.
  • A vehicle to take them to new places and introduce the disciples to new experiences that were out of their comfort zone.
  • A vehicle to take them to a place to rest and heal after a time of constant activity.

Noticing the boat made me wonder where boat-time was for the leadership of our church. It seemed to be missing. Our church does a good job of encouraging individual times of rest through opportunities like silent retreats but I wondered what would happen if we viewed Church Council meetings themselves as boat-time? What if our meetings were not only a vehicle for decision-making, but also a place for teaching, rest, and healing? The answer to help ministry fatigue might be already scheduled and right in front of us! If we could let go of our addiction to doing and our current view of meetings, this time together would allow us to be tended to and directed by the Holy Spirit in ways including, but not limited to, agendas, reports and decision-making.

If we feel resistance to the idea, we’re not alone. It didn’t seem to be easy for the disciples either (whether it was they avoided it or they couldn’t escape the crowds), in reading you’ll notice that right after Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” rather than going they ended up feeding 5,000 people! But then we’re told “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the crowd.”

There’s not a formula to boat-time, it is more like a different way of viewing the time together. As it was mentioned earlier, the boat served many purposes as well as getting Jesus and the disciples to where they needed to be. Doesn’t this sound like the purpose of Church Council or a Steering Committee? Given our current culture, a starting place is picturing boat-time as offering transition from our own individual busyness of the day to being together in the moment. This can be done through guided prayer, listening to some instrumental music whether live or recorded, soaking in Scripture, sharing a meal, story-telling, breathing deeply, being silent together, healing prayer…the less words the better given most of us don’t suffer from the lack of them.

Interestingly, after introducing this concept of boat-time to my particular Church Council, it was not very hard to implement because people intuitively knew the need. We needed to be tended to along the way rather than strictly focused on “getting somewhere.” It made the time much more enjoyable and our decision-making was influenced by the spirit of generosity, creativity and care that came much more easily after being cared for. The look on people’s faces afterwards was different, too; they seemed refreshed…something you would expect from a place of refuge.

The following guided prayer is one example of how we invited the leadership into a time of rest before we looked at the work to be done.

Let’s close our eyes. Take a deep breath or two, remembering to not raise your shoulders but to breathe deeply from your stomach. Just allow yourself to breathe a while, letting go of tension in your body, heart and mind with each exhale…breathing in the breath of life with each inhale.

Now in the quiet, listen to Jesus speak the same words to you that he spoke to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” (2x)

Imagine yourself leaving whatever or whoever has kept you busy, worried or even excited today or whatever or whoever is presently keeping you preoccupied, imagine leaving it and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

You might take a moment to notice what the boat and your surroundings look like (they might be old or modern day). You might notice where you choose to sit, who else may be on the boat, just take in the scene…

Now imagine the place where Jesus takes you to rest. It might be a familiar place to you or maybe it’s a new place. In your mind’s eye, take in the scenery with all of your senses…what do you see, hear, smell, touch, taste…

Allow yourself to rest awhile in that life-giving place, knowing that you are invited to take a break and entrust your day, your family, job, ministry, tasks that still need to be done into the hands of Jesus while you rest awhile. Let go of each one and rest awhile. Perhaps Jesus speaks to you or you may be invited to simply enjoy & soak in your surroundings. Just be there in the quiet for 5 minutes.


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