There are many good jokes out there about pastors that have been around for a long time. I’m sure you’ve heard a bunch yourself. The one, in particular, that typically causes me the least giggles though, would probably be the “only one hour of work a week” one. Well, it was kinda funny, until I became one.
I remember being very concerned about the possibility of never getting a reprieve from work while in the seminary, asking professors again and again, “What was your schedule like when you were in a congregation?” And repeatedly they said the same thing, “Being a pastor is not a set 40-45 hour/week job.” My experience so far is that they were right.
I guess I wasn’t really ever concerned about putting in a lot of hours. Hard work wasn’t something I was afraid of. My concern was that I’d never be able to get away from it. The feeling of not being able to ever get away from something that could potentially cause you stress is like the feeling you experience in a dream when you’re being chased or drowning. Not a fun sensation.
Going into becoming a pastor, I knew that you’re “on call” around the clock. Much of the time it’s work 7 days/week. Much of the time work starts in the mornings and work ends after the last meetings/classes in the evenings. Many congregations with older buildings even provided parsonages for pastors that were literally connected to the church. I guess someone might look at that as convenient. For me, it’d be suffocating.
Now, personally, I can complain about working long or strange hours, but the truth is, I know that my congregation doesn’t expect me to work ridiculous hours. They’ve NEVER put that pressure on me. Where does it come from then? 90%+ of the time it comes squarely from me. Often I want so desperately for things to be a certain way, that I’d be willing to break my back in order to make them so. The end result is that I’m attached to my laptop and phone from when I wake up to when I go to bed, taking emails, texts, & phone calls. In between I may sometimes spend wasteful minutes tweaking and formatting things to make them “just so” when in reality the only one who really cares is me. Or I may be putting in some efforts that I’m convinced will change the world when I eventually come to find out once again that I’m not perfect.
Now please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that most of the work I do as a pastor is worthless. Not by any means. Studying God’s Word, preparing sermons and classes, teaching classes large and private, various appointments and counseling opportunities, organizing a variety of ministry items, etc. It’s all good stuff. What I am suggesting is that the further any of my work gets from 1) studying God’s Word, 2) modeling a life for God’s people, 3) clearly communicating God’s Word to God’s people, the more likely I am to be unnecessarily filling time, despite it seeming essential to me at that moment. In other words, I think I’m more important to the world than I am, I stress myself out thinking if I let my guard down for one minute the world itself will fall apart, and I get to the point where I feel like I can’t breathe. Then I get cranky. And a motto I’ve learned to adopt is “No One Likes a Cranky Pastor”.
My guess is that this feeling of drowning from the daily grind is far from a pastoral thing. My guess is that many of you too have hearts in the right place but are working like dogs to provide the best life possible for your family and seeking that ever-elusive ideal of “faithfulness”. You put in many hours a week at work. You spend hours running the kids around. You spend hours trying to make the house just right. You spend hours trying to become the person you think you should be or at least who you think the world wants you to be. And at times, weekend and evening events and projects come so fast and furious that your job is almost a break from your off-the-clock hours. And then you spend hours (and maybe pop pills) trying to fall asleep at night because you’re too stressed out by the ways you’re spending your days.
Why do we do this? Why the necessity to always be going? There are plenty of reasons I guess. Rarely is it ever “because we truly HAVE TO” though, but because we choose to. Maybe it’s a lifestyle thing – the extra hours at work affords a more lavish existence for us. Maybe it causes us to feel more important in the world – that my business couldn’t survive without me. Maybe it’s a peer pressure thing – “If my landscaping or living room doesn’t look a certain way, what will the world think?!” Maybe it’s a “being a good parent” thing – that if my children aren’t in umpteen activities where I can update others of how proud I am of them, I’m not doing my job. There’s a million bad reasons that we run around like decapitated chickens.
Whoever or whatever circumstance of life you find yourself in, this schedule-packed hysteria can hit. If you’re a doctor working in the ER and are on call 80 hours/week or if you’re a stay-at-home mom and don’t ever get a break from the “Mommy, Mommy’s”, at some point in time, you’re going to feel like you’re drowning in life if you never get a break.
The Bible is more helpful here than you might know. If we start with the creation of the world, we notice something when God gets to day 7 – he rests (Genesis 2:2-3). By virtue of his “omni” attributes, God doesn’t need rest. But he creates humans so that they will. Physical, emotional, and mental rest are all part of his design, even before the fall into sin. So, by direction, he sets aside the 7th day (which eventually became the Sabbath Day) as a day for rest as well as spiritual rejuvenation. Notice how, in combining rest with a day spent with God’s Word, God is establishing for us the picture that we always find refreshment in him.
God was so serious about this rest that he actually programmed it not only into the week, but also into the very fiber of human beings. We simply can’t go non-stop or our bodies give up. Bodybuilders know that they need to alternate the days on which they work certain groups of muscles, because those muscles need a period of rest to build themselves back up and recharge. Otherwise, you’re literally just destroying yourself.
In one of his books on principles for healthy churches, Nelson Searcy refers to this very theory of “Stretch and Release” and says that “people perform closest to their full potential when they are given periods of rest between stretches of growth” (Ignite, pg. 93) Again, the idea is that going all the time does not make you faithful. Going much of the time and then resting is actually more faithful.
Perhaps the best example of all in this is none other than Christ himself. It never ceases to amaze me how Jesus spends his time during the course of his 3 year ministry on earth. If it were me, I probably would have had my timer set from the moment John “the Baptist” got me up from the water and I would have been sprinting from town to town in a massive advertising campaign telling everyone I was the Messiah. This was not Jesus’ approach. His was more balanced and less panicked. More faithful. He went into the wilderness for 40 days and heightened his focus. He gathered a support team to whom he could delegate ministry responsibilities when he was gone. Perhaps most brilliantly, he regularly takes time out (seemingly entire afternoons or evenings) to meditate in prayer. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Here he seeks the blessing of his Heavenly Father on his work. This rest was time well spent. As a human, he needed rest. He needed breaks. He needed to be recharged so that he wouldn’t stress about the responsibilities – son, friend, teacher, Savior – that God had called him to. This balance that involved taking care of others by also taking care of himself was supreme faithfulness.
Obviously no one is encouraging laziness here. Scripture has plenty to say about that too. But our concern here today is to not be burning the candle at both ends, to have balance, time away from certain responsibilities to take care for the health of the mind and body that God has blessed us with. In Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, the wisest man to ever walk the planet (short of Christ himself), Solomon, made a statement about the benefit of a balanced, non-workaholic life. There he writes: “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.” Solomon, in all his wisdom, reasons that work is a good thing for mankind, but not to the degree that you’re never able to enjoy the fruit of your labors. Hard work is good. Rest is also good. BOTH are necessary to be 1) healthy, and 2) in line with God’s will.
So………….don’t be afraid to power down the laptop and Blackberry. The world won’t fall apart. It doesn’t need us nearly as much as our pride sometimes wants it to. Find refreshment in good management of the resource of time that God has given to us. Relax with your family. Relax just by yourself. Relax with your Lord in moments of prayer. In those moments, ask God to turn you into a faithful employee, spouse, parent, student, or whatever other responsibilities he may have led you to. And then ask him to give you trust in him as he watches over your life and allows you to take breaks from these responsibilities from time to time. You will benefit from these breaks. Others will too. After all, no one likes a cranky you.
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