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John Stott was overwhelmed. He’d become pastor of All Soul’s Church at age 29, he writes, “to everybody’s astonishment (especially mine).” He soon felt the pressure of the demands placed upon him. “I guess that at the time I was not far from a nervous breakdown,” he said later.

Around that time, he heard advice from L. F. E. Wilkinson, the principal of Oak Hill Theological College. “Take a quiet day once a month. Go away into the country, if you can, where you can be sure of being undisturbed. Stand back, look ahead, and consider where you are going. Allow yourself to be drawn up into the mind and perspective of God. Try to see things as he sees them. Relax!”

In his book The Challenge of Preaching, Stott reports, “I went home, and immediately marked one day a month in my diary with the letter ‘Q’ for Quiet. And I began to enjoy these days, the intolerable burden lifted and has never returned. In fact, so valuable did these days prove that for many years I have tried to manage one a week. I use them for those items which need unhurried and uninterrupted time — long-term planning, problems I must think and pray over, difficult letters, preparation, reading and writing. These quiet days have brought immense blessing to my life and ministry.”

On Thursdays, Stott traveled to a house in north London where he was hosted by two elderly spinsters

“All I can say is that this little prudential arrangement saved my life and my ministry. . . . Although I was still challenged by the job, I was not overwhelmed by it.”

I’ve tried to follow Stott’s advice. Last year, I marked “Q” in my calendar, one day a month. A few months in, I realized that I’d filled those empty days with pressing appointments. Taking a quiet day is harder than it seems! I’m still working at it, but when I succeed it makes a difference.

We live in a hustle culture. The primary model for pastors seems to be that of the busy executive, rushing from meeting to meeting and making things happen. Combine the ordinary pressures of pastoring, unhealthy models of pastoral ministry, and the unique pressures of our cultural moment, and you have a recipe for burnout.

Stott’s quiet day is one way to counteract the forces that would destroy a pastor’s soul. If you don’t like the idea of a quiet day, Stott also enjoyed bird-watching. “I don’t think birdwatchers get nervous breakdowns,” he quipped.

As Jared Wilson notes, pastors are paid to stare out the window. “Pastoral ministry is more art than science, and as such, it requires deeply thinking and deeply formed people to carry it out.” Pastoring requires more than meetings and never-ending task lists.

For the sake of your soul and the church you lead, find a way to get away from the busyness, spend time thinking and praying, and relax. You — and your church — will be better for your quiet days away.

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