For pastors the weekly grind never stops.
Hours after your Sunday message, your talk prep for the following weekend starts. Your schedule is filled with pastoral appointments, elder/deacon/team meetings, and the dozens, hundreds, infinite multitudes, of voicemails and emails waiting to be answered. And so you lower your head and work harder, answer emails after everyone goes to bed, allow your sabbath to become more sabbath-ish, all with the hope you’ll get more done for God and His kingdom.
On day 2 of Willow Creek’s annual Global Leadership Summit, White Space at Work CEO Juliet Funt challenged leaders to see constant busyness as a vice, not a virtue, that needs constant attention. Funt spoke on the concept of “white space,” intentional times of non-productivity that creates space for creative thinking. As she put it, “white space is a strategic pause taken between activities that become the oxygen that allows our ideas to catch fire.”
Funt may not have realized it, but she was indirectly encouraging the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude. A core rhythm of the spiritual journey that traces back to the life of Jesus, most of the apostles, apologists, priests, pastors, and theologians in church history have all practiced a form of “spiritual white space,” withdrawing from the tyranny of the urgent and entering into an unstructured time of quietness and connection with God.
Funt clarifies that white space is “not meditation. It’s not mind-wandering where your mind slips away without your permission. It’s not mindfulness where you take all your senses and energy and put it on one thing. White space has no rules or roles. It’s where we allow our minds to run and play and think the unthunk thoughts.”
One Christian application to this is spending extended time away from all distractions whether through prayer, Bible reading or just pure stillness allowing the “still, small voice” of God to be heard. While most church leaders know this practice is deeply important, it’s easy to feel we have so much to do for God we don’t have time to simply be with him. In her talk Funt discusses four different “thieves” that steal us away from white space, and they are applicable to those in ministry as well. These things start out as good things in and of themselves, but when they are taken to extremes, they cause huge problems.
According to Funt, there are four main thieves that fuel busyness overload—drive, excellence, information and activity—and four questions we can use to combat each one:
Is there anything I can let go of? (drive)
When is “good enough” good enough? (excellence)
What do I truly need to know? (information)
What deserves my attention? (activity)
An added spiritual element to this is the question “who do I really believe is running my church/ministry/community? Who do I truly think is in charge?” Funt’s four thieves don’t just rob pastors of their work productivity, they rob us of a Christ-centered view of the universe where we remember that there’s only one Savior…and it’s not us.