I remember being in a seminar as part of my ordination process where the speaker was teaching on rest and pastoral wellness. I can’t remember who it was specifically, but it is an all too common story: pastor becomes a workaholic burning both ends of the candle until he burns out and endangers his health. He then adopts a slower pace and a commitment to rest and soul care. It’s a story we’ve probably all heard many times. And it’s an important one. But on this occasion I remember looking around the room at the young pastors that were there and thinking, “right message, wrong audience.”
In my short time in ministry I’ve noticed a significant emphasis from denominations, schools and leaders on pastoral wellness and the need for rest. I’ve heard many conference and retreat messages on rest, guarding your family, and avoiding burnout. This is good. These are important things. But I’m noticing a pendulum swung too far. I believe we have missed an important biblical tension. In our effort for pastoral wellness we have neglected the New Testament call to work hard in the ministry, and I fear that in North America we are training a generation of lazy and entitled pastors.
I’ve met young pastors who work their 37.5 hours and not a minute more. If ministry calls them in on a Saturday, they want time in lieu. Everything is a negotiation. For some, it seems like their goal is to put in the minimum effort. How little effort can I put in to get by? I’ve heard these same lazy pastors use language of guarding their family to justify their lack of effort.
My contention is that while rest and family are of great importance, we see a very different theme emerge in the New Testament instructions for pastors. When we address pastors we tell them to slow down. When Paul addresses pastors he tells them to work hard. “Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this…” (1 Tim 4:15-16). And again, “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus…. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Tim 2:3-6). Paul’s instructions are filled with these types of admonitions. Train yourself. Devote yourself. Toil and strive. And in the end Paul reflects on his own ministry, saying “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:6-7). Paul left it all out on the battlefield. He emptied himself in ministry. He worked harder than anyone else. There was nothing else to give.
I’m not suggesting we all need to become workaholics that neglect rest and family. Far from it. I’m certainly not calling us to build our identity on our work instead of on Christ. We are not defined by the hours we put in.
But brothers, work hard. Young men, put in an effort worthy of your calling. We are being raised in a lazy and entitled generation. Rise up against it and devote yourself to something other than your weekend.
And Rest Well
Now this is not to say we should burn ourselves out running at a pace that will kill us. The pastor giving the seminar on rest was right. If you care for your body and your family you will have a longer, more productive ministry than flaming out in a few short years. This is an important message. I think it is particularly appropriate for the older generation who was raised to work hard. These men were told: “take care of the church and God will take care of your family” and similar nonsense. We do need to rest and replenish. We do need to turn off the phone and not check the email. We need quality time with our family away from the pressures of ministry. But all this assumes that we are working hard and facing those ministry pressures, not putting in the minimum effort.
And so I say work hard, young man. Pour yourself out in ministry. Devote yourself to it. Persist in it. Sweat. Labour. Work hard. Let no one accuse you of being lazy.
And yes, rest well. Spend time away. Turn off your phone. Spend quality time with your family. Play with your kids. Get exercise. Laugh. Sleep.
And then be ready for another day of pouring yourself out for Jesus.
This post originally appeared at Grounded in the Gospel.