The Perils of Church Work

I was talking to one of the retired pastors in my congregation and he was telling me a story about another pastor he knew. This pastor was being interviewed by a pastor search committee, and part of that is being asked all sorts of questions about leadership, theology, and relational skills. After about an hour of conversation (grilling) the candidate, one of the committee members asked, “Well, what is it that you don’t like about the ministry?” The pastor answered, “I don’t like church work.”

I got a good laugh out of that, and enjoy rubbing shoulders with the dozen or so minister types in my congregation who know what it’s like to stand before the people every Sunday. They listen to me politely and with great patience. I’m thinking of having some shirts made to show our solidarity.

Every pastor has his or her way of doing things, and for this reason I found Amy’s article appropriate, especially the part of crossing certain ministry tasks off the list upon completion. You don’t ever get through with the pastorate, but there has to come a point where you simply decide to “stop” at the end of the day. Those who don’t find it particularly difficult to continue in the ministry, and one of the most useful presentations I’ve heard about this is from Dr. Robert Perry on the subject of “brownout.” Brownout is a precursor to ‘burnout’ and there are indeed warning signs that should be heeded in order to avoid going down in a blaze of glory.

This week I’m preparing a message on Jesus’ calling of those first disciples with the simple admonition: “follow me.” I find it remarkable that Jesus gave so little details about the nature and direction of this new line of work, but those men decided to “leave their nets behind” and follow after him.  They left their identity and livelihood on the sand to take on a new line on work.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a pretty decent amount of education, and have a whole shelf load of books in my study. There are constant demands on my time with people to see, places to go, things to do, and deadlines. There is a certain amount of productivity that comes with the territory and expectations that when I get to speak there ought to be something coherent that comes out of it. Usually this work involves preparation for others, but every now and then an epiphany takes place. So, what I’ve been reminded of today while standing at the intersection of Mark 1 and Amy’s article about ministry, is that life in Christ is still about following Jesus.

I’ve lost track of the book I had on what it means to follow Jesus, but one of the statements read “If you’re the leader, then you’re not the follower.” Every now and then it’s easy to get caught up in the list of things to do and forget about the relational aspect of being a disciple. It’s a privilege to serve others, but it can a difficult process in dealing with egos, agendas, and expectations. People are going to be disappointed as well. It’s a reality that regardless of what pastors do that they are going to disappoint someone.  That’s church work for you, and it’s also ministry too. At the heart of it, though, is being a follower of Jesus. Sounds simple enough, but takes a lifetime to accomplish.

I try to be good at church work, but really want to be good at following Jesus. These two aren’t necessarily exclusive of each other, it’s just that I can’t always see the value of the former. There are meetings, plans, visioning, visits, supervision, building issues, and other things to stay busy doing. Most days go by pretty fast, and it can be challenge carving out enough time to prepare for Sunday. It will be that way this week, but I will head toward the weekend hoping and praying that what I’ve experienced this week has had to do with following Jesus and that as we revisit the call of those first disciples that we will be inspired to renew our desire to simply “follow Jesus.”

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