Ministry is tough. We all know that – we’ve been taught it, and we’ve probably said it to others, and to ourselves. We need to.
Although, I reckon that sells the truth short. Bits of evangelism are hard, I know. I find starting a conversation hard. Keeping it going is hard. Praying for family and friends for years – decades – can be hard.
But at core the real business in evangelism – converting people – isn’t hard at all. It’s impossible. I can’t argue someone into the kingdom, because that life-changing insight is God’s gift, not mine. I can no more convert people than I can raise the dead.
I can no more convert people than I can raise the dead.
Still, the weekly work of praying, speaking, preparing, meeting, pastoring, counselling, leading, can be hard, and lonely. And when people resist, or oppose, or walk away, then it becomes incredibly painful. We live at a time when most of the church graphs seem to be declining, and that is hard for morale. Pressing into the gospel hope becomes a daily essential.
Now, if I’m hearing rightly – pastors and their teams are tired and weary at the moment. I resonate and echo that. Right back atcha.
So we need to diagnose this properly.
We might be weary because of those inbuilt difficulties of the work, in which case we need to apply the usual soul-remedies. Don’t cut corners on praying. Keep your soul-life alive. Preach for the revival that will come, even if it doesn’t come in your lifetime.
But it is just possible that we are weary because of the season we might be just coming through. This has been a hard season. An unusually hard season.
Let’s list some of the challenges of the last 18 months, and give yourself some kind of a little score. Maybe find a way to calibrate the pressure that each area has created.
- The number of versions of your church that you’ve lead
- The number of rooms you’ve lead church in
- The number of ways you’ve had to learn to communicate and preach
- The number of technical lessons you’ve had to adopt
- The number of new bits of kit you’ve had to learn about
- The number of cameras you’ve learnt to speak to
- The number of theological questions you’ve had to address, from scratch and at speed
- The number of temporary decisions you’ve made
- The number of staging posts from where you were to where you are – and the next few that you see
- The number of press briefings you’ve watched to see if they’d affect next Sunday
- The number of plans you’ve had to make, knowing you’ve had to hold them loosely
- The number of times you’ve stared at the window on a lateral flow test
- The number of times you’ve run out of rope, or tether, or good humour
- The number of times you’ve forced yourself to lead positively
- The number of times you’ve wondered if you’ve just violated a core theological principle.
None of which have been choices you have voluntarily made. They’ve been expected of you, repeatedly. And you’ve had to do it all digging ever more deeply into your Christian maturity.
Now, those have become cultural universals. There probably isn’t a person in your church who doesn’t resonate with some of those – and many will resonate with most, of not a version of all of them. Ask a teacher.
And – if we’re honest – some of those things have been fun at times. If you’ve ever felt you were getting into a ministry rut, lockdown blew it out the water. Your sermons are predictable? Try preaching evangelistically to YouTube. Leading a service is routine? Wait till you start watching The One Show for tips on how to sit on a sofa. Church never raises your pulse? Then do it for real, in 10, 9, 8…
We’ve started making a list of things we’ve learnt through this season.
But we do need to be honest (and kind) to ourselves. Just because they’re common or fun doesn’t mean they carry no weight. We aren’t immune.
All of which means that we need to administer the right kind of care for ourselves too. It might be to do with others do, and take a bit of Time Off In Lieu. It might mean a few more evenings with no meetings, or slower mornings.
It might just mean sitting with a coffee and making a list like mine. and then being honest about the price tag.
And your list will be longer, and different, so pile in below. To quote one of my lockdown heroes, ‘What did I miss?’