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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

These verses are a familiar passage to many of us. Yet they extend an invitation to something that rarely comes easily in our fast-paced, productivity-obsessed world: rest. When busyness is worn as a badge of honor, the choice to seek rest can feel counterintuitive or even wasteful. Deep rest requires intentionality, self-compassion, and practice—lots of practice.

In the Faith Practices Project offered by Thrive, the Christian Reformed Church’s ministry agency, Thrive co-director Chris Schoon puts it this way: “When we rest, the Spirit works to realign how we value ourselves (and others) in connection with work, with cultural definitions of failure and success, and with material possessions. In resting, we begin to remember and believe that our real worth is found in God’s love and care for us. As we learn to trust God’s loving care, the other labels used to define us (either to make us feel more important or less important than others) lose their grip on us.”

As an agency dedicated to equipping and encouraging congregations and ministry leaders, Thrive is committed to offering camaraderie and resources to those feeling the ache of tiredness and need for deep rest. One such opportunity took place in late 2023 through the first Pastors’ Conference that gathered CRC parish pastors, regional pastors, and chaplains for a centralized event with space for mutual encouragement and connection.

Held Nov. 14-16, the event was a time of refreshment and support for ministry leaders who were invited to step away from the demands of ministry to spend time reflecting on personal well-being and cultivating their own relationships with God.

Pastor Mary Hulst, chaplain at Calvin University, spoke on strength through spiritual habits. She guided pastors in listening to the Holy Spirit and offered opportunities for pastors to listen to one another as a way to pay attention to what God is doing in their lives and shared experiences.

Lesli van Milligen, Thrive co-director, provided leadership for the conference. While there were some training opportunities available, she said, one of the conference’s main goals was simply to give space for spiritual renewal.

“We were able to offer individual coaching to participants as well as individual prayer support to those who asked for it,” van Milligen said. “Participants commented on how there was room to rest and reflect throughout the event and told us on many occasions that they felt truly cared for.”

Nicole Romero-Johnson, an attendee who serves as a chaplain for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Michigan, echoed this. “I appreciated the intentional encouragement to take a nap and to have a snack,” she said. “One of my main takeaways was to pay attention to my body and soul and to prioritize time for replenishment and rest.”

Romero-Johnson went on to share more about the ways she has been craving time for rest in her life and ministry. “The nature of my job can be really heavy, and while I do feel called to chaplain ministry, hearing story after story of all the suffering that people go through has left me with far more questions than answers,” she explained. “However, it has been a powerful experience to wrestle with God and to be intentional with my own self-care. This includes setting hard boundaries about work and home and giving myself permission to rest and unplug. Some days this is easier said than done. Practices currently in my life that help me feel connected to God have been being outside, even if it is a short walk to feel the cold air on my face, as well as spending time with loved ones, usually around a warm beverage.”

Another takeaway for Romero-Johnson has been “to ponder ways to be more contemplative throughout my day and to close my day with reflection, even when I feel ‘reflected out.’”

Gary Hoeksema, a commissioned pastor at Church Rock CRC in New Mexico, was rejuvenated by the connections he made at the conference. The 75-year-old recently celebrated his first year as a commissioned pastor.

"Meeting pastors from all across the U.S. and Canada, reconnecting with others, and renewing old relationships was memorable,” Hoeksema said. “I reconnected with a man I had met 25 years ago when we were both on the Young Calvinist Federation board [now called ThereforeGo Ministries], and reconnecting with others in our classis was great."

Romero-Johnson agreed. ”The conference was a great place to meet other CRC pastors/chaplains that are outside of my everyday contexts,” she said. “There were some who were new to ministry and others who were about to enter into retirement. Some were feeling passionate about their calls, and others were feeling burnt out and weary of ministry.”

The Pastors’ Conference offered breakout tracks for each role represented. Schoon worked with parish pastors, ministry consultant Dave Den Haan with regional pastors, and ministry consultant Tim Rietkirk with chaplains. There were also sessions available for spouses that Romero-Johnson’s husband, Keegan, and Hoeksema’s wife, Carlene, both attended.

“The breakout sessions were intriguing and informative,” Gary Hoeksema said. “The plenary sessions were instructive and personally applicable. I appreciated the unity of thought and focus without a hint of division.”

The conference included a free afternoon to allow attendees to explore the beauty of their surroundings in Albuquerque, N.M., to continue fellowshipping with one another, or to retreat to their hotel rooms for extra sleep.

“We were delighted to be able to offer conference participants a setting that encouraged conversation, rest, and reflection,” Den Haan said. “We wanted participants to experience great content and the time and space to sit with that content in conversation with others, with nature, and with God.”

Overall, Thrive staff felt that the conference addressed a longing among ministry leaders for rhythms of rest and retreat and for opportunities to step away from the daily routine to share space with others who could bear witness to looming exhaustion, provide encouragement in seasons of burnout, and point one another to Jesus, who offers true rest.

“It was a blessing to many that Thrive was able to host this important opportunity for pastors and chaplains to step out of their day-to-day routines, breathe, and be cared for,” said Kim Rankens, a Thrive staff member who provided operational support for the event. “Nearly everyone I talked with commented on how much this was needed.”

Thrive hopes to regularly offer the Pastors’ Conference as a signature support event for all ordained clergy throughout the denomination. The next conference is scheduled for 2025, but in the meantime there are several supports available to pastors desiring rest in their ministry. A list of those supports can be found on the Thrive website.

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