Yesterday was my first day back after a seven-week medical leave. Having time off was a great benefit to both my physical and mental health. Being away from the pulpit and active ministry for an extended time gave me time to step back and think about ministry. However, there were some parts of working that I did miss. One of the most significant things I missed was my church family. This was especially true because of how they had rallied around me during this time of medical needs. I missed being with my church family.
Being a pastor is a strange combination of employment and faith. It is a job with all the duties and problems that come with a job. However, our faith is connected to this job. Where is that boundary line? The doctor leaves the hospital and the lawyer his office. The policeman and nurse go off shift. One of the struggles is that I needed a break from the ministry job, but I also needed my church family.
In the past, I have said that the ministry was a lifestyle and not a job. I have re-evaluated that over the last few weeks. While it is true that we should not be professionals in ministry, we also have to be honest and aware of our own personal and family needs. I have worked as a chaplain for our local fire department and have seen how they approach their duties. They always watch out for their safety first.
While I was in the hospital, I had an echocardiogram. As I was talking to the tech performing the test, she told me that the human heart generally functions at 55% efficiency. I immediately realized that I was trying to live my life at maximum efficiency, and that was probably one of the reasons that I was in a hospital room having the test done. God made my heart to work at 55%, and I was trying to live life and do ministry at closer to 100%. The verses from Psalm 139 came to mind:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)
It is easy for us to become consumed with the work of ministry that does not focus on our people. We serve at presbytery and synod. The administration of the local church takes more of our energy. We have to have our fingers in every aspect of the local ministry. We take on community and civic responsibilities. We spread ourselves out so thin that we burn out. We start to take ourselves away from the people we love, both at home and the church.
Over the years, it has been challenging to see folks who were just sporadic in their attendance to worship. I was frustrated with these people who shirked from what I saw and still see as a clear duty. But since my time away, now I pray for them. I pray for them differently, not prayers that the Lord will shake them to see their duty, but rather that the Lord will open their eyes to the blessing that the church is to every Christian. They do not know what they are missing! What sweet fellowship there is among the saints as we worship and work together. It breaks my heart that they do not grasp the blessing of God has given us in the church. I am thankful for this needed rest, but I am thankful that it has reminded me how precious a gift is the family of God in the local church.
As I come back to the job, I am thankful for the people. I am thankful that we are a church family and that our lives are intertwined together. I am thankful for the job, and all that comes with it. I am thankful that the Lord has taught me the need for more balance and better boundaries in my life. I am thankful that ministry does not ultimately depend on my work but must be rooted in the work of the Lord.