As we begin our second year of serving at New Trails it has prompted some thinking and possible revisioning of why we exist and what we do. When I began to dream about this ministry, the statistics about a high rate of ministry drop outs was filling my focus. As time has gone on I have learned that those “Startling Statistics” are wrong. I should have been more diligent, remembering that the first book I had to read for my Statistics Class in college was How to Lie with Statistics. Now, don’t get me wrong, the people who have published and republished those startling statistics like 1,500 pastors a month are quitting are not bad people. On the contrary they are good people who were startled by what they saw and wanted to do something about it. The problem was that the statistics were taken from a small, select group of pastors in one particular time and place. In order for statistics to be valid, it needed to be a random survey, and it was not.
What does this mean for our dream and vision? In practical reality, not much, as you see the stress and strain of burn out remains a problem, and maybe a more hidden one as people who are burning out are not always quitting, they often attempt to keep going hoping that a little more work will be enough. Hoping that if they just try harder, things will be different. The reality is, that trying harder, working a little more, if you keep doing the same things you have always done only lead deeper into the pit you are attempting to climb out of. What is needed is a New Trail of Vitality. Our goal and vision at New Trails has always been to attempt to get ahead of the curve of burn out and prevent it rather than picking up the pieces later.
Ravi Zacharias, has made this observation: “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.” Think about that a moment. We all begin well, whether It is our first call, or the first phase of a new call. We begin well, the challenge is finishing well. We seem to have inherited, or adopted the idea that because we have a good start we will finish well. However, watch any race, foot race, auto race, just about any race, the person who starts the best is not always the one who finishes best, and sometimes, they don’t finish at all! Why because between the starting line and the finish line we encounter challenges. Racers know this, and train for it. In ministry…. Are we ready when the adversary throws up road blocks. Are we prepared when the obstacles to finishing well are in our way to be ready to run the race with perseverance? (Hebrews 12:1)
When Paul describes the race he is called to run he states he has gone intro strict training to make sure that at the end he is not disqualified. (I Corinthians 9:24-27). I wonder if you are like me when you read that, you think, well I just have to pray more, read more of the Bible, memorize more verses. That is what is needed, just try a little harder! Wait a minute what about Jesus words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30). What do you hear? Is Jesus telling us to try harder, to do more, or is he inviting us to a different approach? Maybe Henri Nouwen is onto something when he says, “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to him.” What could be more light than listening? No anxious struggle to memorize a verse, or accomplish a task, it is a call to set aside time and listen. If Nouwen isn’t convincing enough, what about G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy; “It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle.” Before you rush on, go back and read that again, it is the sick man who is not strong enough to be idle! But we have in our minds the old saying “Idle hands are the ‘Devil’s Workshop’.” So we dare not be idle, however if we are not idle neither can we be still and know that He Is God! (Psalm 46:10) Might that be at the heart of our problem, it is not that many others around us have dropped out, or burned out, it is that we cannot be still and know who is God! We cannot sit silently in our offices, or in the wilderness to listen to that still small voice of God!
At New Trails, we are not changing gears, we are not changing our format, we are still inviting and challenging you to come away, to be still so you can reconnect with the God who has called and empowers you to do ministry. We are inviting you to be strong and idle that engine of your life for a time so you can find a New Trail of Vitality. At the end of the day, we don’t need statistics to tell us that ministry can be tiring. We might need someone to help us understand that the very vocation we have been called to fulfill is inherently difficult. What we do need help with is the invitation to take time away to be still to listen to the God who has called us and still wants us to know that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I invite you today to take a look at your calendar and find some time to be still, to be idle. I also would invite you to think outside of summer as well. You see this year; New Trails goes to a 12-month schedule at our cabin where we will be able to provide you the opportunity to enjoy the winter season as well as the summer. I can tell you from experience the hike to Black Elk Peak is beautiful with a little snow on the ground, and besides there are fewer people as well!