A few years ago, I completed a B.D. at MTC. Most of my classmates are now serving around Sydney (and various other bits of the world) leading congregations as full-time paid ministers of the word (some are translating the Scriptures in other lands, some are teaching in schools, some are being full-time parents, some are doing other excellent things here and there).
We keep up with each other through an email list whose discussions have at times been very amusing, very useful (as people share resources and ideas and struggles) and occasionally very contentious. Over three or four years studying together, we developed a healthy mutual respect and learned to rely on each other's insights.
A day or two ago, a new debate started (or restarted, as it has been discussed a number of times before) concerning the appropriate number of working hours for those serving as pastors of Christian congregations (which includes the majority of the group). A number of excellent points have been raised and discussed and a number of models suggested. I thought I would post my contribution to the discussion (slightly edited to remove references to specific names).
Dear all,While writing this post, my message on the list received this reply:
Coming from a bunch of girls and guys who only work on a Sunday, I don't know what the issue is!
But then again, I'm approaching my 31st birthday and have spent the grand total of 11 months in full-time employment, so I don't know why anyone would listen to me on this matter. Thus, everything said here ought to come with a sodium warning for the amount of NaCl with which it must be taken.
And so, more seriously, thanks to M for raising what I think is up there as possibly the #1 long-term danger for pastors, presbyters, priests and paid-ministry-of-the-word staff (does that cover everyone? Hmm, "PhD students" also starts with 'p'...). And thanks M for your honesty about your struggles with this issue. It is not easy, and the fact that the kinds of roles that many of you fill do not have obvious distinctions between work and non-work only makes it harder. Furthermore, it is easy to seek quick answers through adopting a one-size-fits all approach, as well as easy to repudiate such an approach as legalistic and believing that my situation/character/marriage/church is unique.
And even if we don't set ourselves up as superior to our classmates and colleagues (able to handle constant pressures that others need a break from), perhaps we sometimes (consciously or unconsciously) set up our work as more important than the work done by our congregation members. If I am serving God's church and proclaiming his good news for the poor and teaching his word and ministering his holy sacraments and so on, then how can I stop for anything other than death (and its foretastes in hunger and tiredness)?
However, even leaving aside the highly problematic (and self-serving!) division of "gospel" work over against "secular" work, this question fails to note an even more important distinction: between work and rest (as P has so eloquently reminded us). In the beginning, the culmination and high point and goal of creation is not humanity, but Sabbath. And in the second creation account, the 'adam was created and placed in the garden to work and serve the ground, but also to enjoy the trees. We are made to smell the roses, not just put manure on them. We are first recipients of all God's good gifts (beginning with the breath of life and culminating in the holy Breath) before we are co-workers with him. We are first his children before being his servants. We are first those whose feet are washed by Christ before those who will die with him. In these ways, passivity is more fundamental to our creaturely (and Christian) existence than activity. And being presbyters, priests or PhD students doesn't change that. Christian leaders are Christians before being leaders.
Taking a slightly different tack, as someone who struggles more with laziness than workaholism, I wonder whether both sometimes arise from a similar source: the desire to please others (as M as suggested), otherwise known as status anxiety. While the workaholic may (as well as having wonderful and godly motives) fear the disapproval of others and so keep working, the lazy freeloader like myself may fear the discovery that even trying as hard as I could I would still not please others and so hangs back from trying too hard in order to avoid having to face this reality. Both the workaholic and the bum are (partially) motivated by a good desire (the desire for love and approval) that has been misplaced. It is good to be loved by others and to delight in being delighted in. But we are the delight of God."YHWH your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
- Zephaniah 3.17*And so being loved (or hated, or - worst of all - simply ignored) by others can take its secondary place. Held in God's embrace, we are freed from constant anxiety and constant activity, freed to enjoy, to receive, to be. Our work is good and rightly takes time and care, effort and attention. But our rest is better.
*Yes, this is said to Israel, but onto this tree we have been grafted.
And yet, the Sabbath which is the high point of God's creative project is one in which he continues to work (cf. John 5.17) and is the (temporal?) context in which he invites humankind to join him in that work. Is it rest as passivity or rest as shalom, toil-less, peaceful labour which has the prior claim on our agendas? After all, the first command is to fill, not contemplate, creation; and although the trees of the garden are aesthetically pleasing before bodily nourishing, 'adam is placed there to work and not to watch, but watch over.Here is my reply:
It was neither passivity per se nor (self-serving!) contemplation that I had in mind, but rest as receptivity that I was particularly arguing for. That, although it is more blessed to give than to receive, we can only give if and because we have first received (and continue to receive) everything from God. I am quite suspicious of turning "rest" into "doing more work" (even "gospel" work) because it sounds like the addict justifying her habit through special pleading. My point is that unless we acknowledge and dwell in the fact that we are creatures whose every breath comes as a free gift, then our frenetic activity can quickly become self-justification.
Before the first command came the first blessing. And that is what I am saying. Being blessed comes before obedience.