Rev. Howard-John Wesley, senior pastor of the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, surprised his congregation earlier this month with an announcement that he is stepping away from his ministry for a season because he feels far from God, tired in his soul and needed to recuperate mentally and physically.
“From January 1 (2020) to April 1. I am walking away from every responsibility I have as pastor,” Wesley announced in his sermon on Dec. 1.
“You can’t pour out of an empty cup. It is very dangerous for your pastor to be on empty,” he told congregants. “I need to take care of me.”
He further noted that: “I’m tired. And I’m tired in a way that one night of sleep ain’t gon’ fix. I’m tired in my soul.”
Prior to making the formal announcement to his 10,000 member congregation, Wesley, who has led the 216-year old church since 2008, preached on the value of rest in his sermon called “Selah.”
In the sermon he noted how common pastoral sabbaticals are in white churches while pointing out how rare it was in black churches. He argued that many black pastors don’t take sabbaticals because they are afraid attendance might dip and affect the bottom line or the church may just function just fine without them.
Wesley argued, however, that taking time to rest is a biblical requisite for holiness and that busyness, which recent studies show has become a status symbol of our time, does not honor God.
“The enemy in an attempt to block your holiness, wants to remove rest from your life and push you back into slavery. And here is the greatest deception of the devil – to convince you that the busier you are the more important you are. That the more you got to do, the more high up on the food chain you are. That if you’re working yourself to the bone somehow you are glorifying God. And God says you are not being holy if you don’t know how to rest,” Wesley said.
“Selah. And the word to somebody today is if you really want to be holy you gotta learn how to rest. I don’t know who I’m preaching to right here but don’t you leave vacation days on the table. Don’t you leave PTO in somebody’s hand! You take every mental health day they gave you. It is ungodly not to use up all your vacation,” he said to affirmation from his congregation.
“I fell prey to the satanic trick that busyness honors God,” he said.
Wesley went on to he explain how difficult pastoring is before elaborating further on his need for a sabbatical.
“I’m not leaving you. This ain’t nothing but an intermission baby,” he said wrestling back tears. “One of the greatest mistakes of pastoring is to think that because you work for God you’re close to God. That you allow your work to be mixed with your worship, and I feel so distant from God. I feel like Jacob when God wrestled with him. I’m struggling with God with some issues right now. And God gets Jacob because God wants to change Jacob’s nature. But he’s got to get Jacob in a struggle by himself so Jacob will surrender and then the Lord can break him and then his walk will be changed,” Wesley said. “Sometimes God engages you in a struggle so that God can remove you from people to teach you to surrender, so God can break some stuff and make you walk differently.”
Wesley said he believes the call to rest is coming from God.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair