Never an Idle Moment
Thinking about the forty years since I was ordained in 1982, I was wondering about how the pastor’s work ethic has changed over that time.
I write at a time when there is lots of talk about the value, or otherwise, of working from home. Some argue that working at home is the best way to get things done; others see it as a slacker’s paradise.
For most of my pastoral life I worked in a study at church. (Did you notice that word?)
I did not call it an office; I called it a study. Language shapes our expectations. One of the main things I did in my place of work was to pray, reflect on Scripture and read good books. I found that this was the way that I stayed spiritually fresh, nourished and stimulated.
The net result of this was that the other work that I did, working with my team, seeing visitors, speaking on the phone, writing emails, doing admin, was all shaped by my attempt to listen to God and speak to God each day.
It might seem that this sounds like the ‘life of Riley’. Did Church members begin asking, “Is this what we are paying him to do?”
My brief answer is, “Yes.”
This approach to work meant that my leadership was not based on pragmatism, my pastoral care was not a rehash of pop psychology, and my sermons were not superficial.
At times it seems as if the work of a pastor is effortless. The prayers come so easily, there is a response for every question and a sermon for each Sunday. The art of pastoral faithfulness is being helpful without drawing attention to the effort required in being fresh, available and worth hearing.
I have enjoyed reading a variety of books on the New Testament written by the American author Luke Timothy Johnson. It was, therefore, a great joy to read his recently published memoir The Mind in Another Place. I like that title for a variety of reasons, but particularly because it reminded me that some of the times which were most helpful in my ministry were when I was in another place. The world of Scripture and prayer can seem like a parallel universe, but it is one that often yields insights that are unavailable to us in this one.
It takes hard work to live meaningfully in two places at the same time. Luke Timothy Johnson talks about his own work ethic,
“I never stinted in the effort to make a difference in how important issues are understood. I know that I have employed the gifts God has given me — a modest intelligence, a wealth of energy, a passion for truth and beauty — as fully as time and circumstances have allowed. I have never wasted time, and have never allowed circumstances to be an excuse for less than full effort.” (The Mind in Another Place, Eerdmans, 2022, p. 184)
We only have one life. We do need to take care how we spend it.