I will be frank with you, there are some activities that don’t weary me. They might make me sore physically or challenge me mentally, but I can walk away refreshed and invigorated.
But there are also a lot of things that just wear me out. One of those things is relational ministry. Don’t get me wrong. I love the people of our congregation. There is no greater joy for me than to see God’s people engaged with His Word and His Work. It is just that being with people exhausts me.
I can spend a day in the mountains hiking up rugged terrain and come home refreshed and renewed. Put me in a counseling session or a personal conversation, and I am wiped out for at least a day. Pastoring at the relationship level is hard work for me. Just ask my wife.
Now, before people get all riled up about the pastor saying he doesn’t like people, let me again say that I love the relationships I have in our congregation and the people I have those relationships with. I endure the work of relational ministry because 1) Jesus called me to it, which means he equips me for it; and 2) Jesus did it too and it exhausted him as well.
Exhausted Jesus? Yep. Just check out how many times the Gospels record him slipping off somewhere alone. He does it all the time. Why? Because real relationships are exhausting.
When I sit with a single dad struggling to make sense of his current lot in life or work alongside a grandmother dealing with the pain of seeing her grandchildren in a bad home situation, I share the weight of those people’s journeys. Often I walk away from these kinds of conversations in a heart-rending mixture of frustration at my own inadequacy to meet these people’s needs and please to the Lord to understand why he allows this to happen.
It’s not just the good stuff that is tiring, either. Celebrating with a young couple united in marriage is exhilarating, but also reminds me of the passing of my own years (especially
if the couple is people I knew when they were children!). Seeing people transformed by God’s Spirit from irreligious to faithful is tremendous, but there’s still an exhausting relational journey there.
It would be so easy to cut myself off from the people God calls me to serve. There have been days when I have said in my heart that I would not pursue relationships anymore, that I would just pull out the stock answers and quotes that I learned in college and go about the task of ministry in the cliché that I so despised as a young pastor.
After all, at 35 years old, I have more than my fair share of stress, anxiety and aches. Since becoming a pastor in 2004, I have gained nearly 40 pounds and it isn’t because of potluck dinners. It is because sometimes I am too exhausted to exercise and too burdened to release the tension of all these lives God has chosen to intertwine with mine.
But I can’t turn my back on relational ministry anymore than I could stop breathing. Exhausting? Yes, but it is worth every exhausting minute. Worthy things generally are exhausting. In fact, if you’re not exhausted in ministry from time to time, you are probably on autopilot.
There are a lot of people who will throw a super-spiritual answer – well, just rely on the Lord and you won’t be weary. That’s a nice, pithy way to talk but I wonder if David’s Psalms or Paul’s Epistles represent the nature of human leadership? After all, aren’t these books full of statements of concern and relationship? Don’t you feel the weariness of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians or his broken heart for a congregation’s troubles in 1 Thessalonians? Don’t we hear disappointment in his letter to the Galatians? If anyone relied on the Lord, it was Paul; and yet, I find a kindred pastor’s heart in his writings.
(One verse that is often quoted as if it teaches that “ministry in the spirit” won’t tire you is Isaiah 40:31. For those who might quote it, I ask them to read also verses 29-30 which say, “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall…” In other words, you will get weary in the work. God bears you up and renews you but there is no need for renewal if you are not first tired. The verse is a promise to those already tired from working.)
Sometimes a pastor just gets tired, just like any other person.
After eight years of constant ministry involving church renewal, mergers and massive paradigm shifts with hardly a break…
After the past year of facing personal struggles with my wife’s various illnesses and the impact it has had on her and our daughter…
After a decade of my parents being separated with seemingly irreconcilable differences…
After struggling to control my own capricious nature through spiritual discipline and work…
After watching some of my dearest friends turn their backs on me for pursuing God’s vision for our congregation…
After sitting dumb, struggling for words in living rooms and bedsides as people I consider my friends went through tragedy, loss and pain…
After doing the long, hard work of learning to love and grow together with my wife over thirteen years of marriage, in which most of the problems were of my own making…
After many sleepless nights and long days…
After all that, and so much more, if I wasn’t tired, I would be worried.
That does not mean that I am giving up or that my passion for Christ’s body has fizzled. It just means I am tired. For some reason, people think you are not allowed to be tired in our world. You’re not supposed to admit that you need to rest.
It is a good thing that I am tired of listening to what they say as well.
This summer, my family and I are going to the Northwest to visit my grandfather and his wife. I am leaving my computers and gadgets behind, taking some paper books (unless I get a Kindle for my birthday) and my hiking boots. I plan to tramp around the forests and shores of Oregon and rest. I plan to let my family rest.
In the meantime, I think that once I am through Easter, I might take a weekend and spoil my wife and daughter (two of my favorite things to do). I might go for a couple of long walks without my phone and just listen to the world for awhile. I might just buy that hammock I have always wanted and start taking afternoon naps.
I might just do those kinds of things, because I love the church of Jesus Christ too much to ever give up serving her, because I am tired of being tired and stressed, because it is time for me to get refreshed and ready for the next stage of my role at Bedford Road (and make no mistake, I still have about 50 years worth of work left to do among you!)
Don’t be mistaken. I am not writing this to get pity or to make people feel guilty. I could choose not to be in relationships if I wanted to. That’s not my point at all. My point is that people get tired.
I get tired – nothing more.
Too often, we don’t want to admit our weariness and pretend that we are superhuman.
Happy Monday to you all! And if you’re tired, why not rest?