September 15, 2006

The Monster's Knock

It's that feeling that won't go away. The twisting of the stomach that shakes your mind just as you're trying to fall asleep. It's the monster within that keeps knock-knock-knocking.

I first noticed it in high school. But as long as I kept up on my schoolwork, it didn't knock too loudly. In college, though, the knocking got worse. The monster screamed at me: “Deadline coming up! You've got work to do! You're running out of time!”

After I graduated from seminary, the monster quited down. I thought I had got rid of him for good. But in recent years, he's been making a comeback. The knocking has been growing louder and louder. The monster has been sending messages: “You're not doing enough! Work harder! You'll never keep on top of things at the rate you're going!”

Know the feeling? A lot do. Pastors, I think, are among those who are especially vulnerable to the monster's knocking. We lie awake at night, lamenting all that we weren't able to do, all that we still need to do. There's always something that needs to be done.

So when a church member commented over the summer that “our pastor is really just a part-time preacher,” I fumed. True, most country pastors like me are only paid what many would consider a part-time salary, yet I knew that I was working my butt off, and it was making me tense, anxious, angry, and stressed.

I decided to keep track of all my hours spent doing church-related work, starting from the day the comment was made. “I'll show them,” was my reasoning. “I'll prove that I'm working hard.” I started keeping track of every minute I spent doing ministry.

I had trouble deciding whether or not certain things should count. For example, does going to a community event, such as a high school sporting event, count, if part of the reason I go is to be a “visible presence” in the community? I decided to count it if I would not have otherwise attended were it not for my being a minister in the community. If it's something I would have gone to anyway, then it didn't count.

Seven weeks have gone by. In those seven weeks, I've averaged about 65 hours per week of church work. Granted, the first of those seven weeks, I was directing church camp, which skewed the average. But if you take that out, it's still 45-50 hours per week, on average.

Something strange and unexpected happened as a result of all this. First, the monster's knocking as quieted down. Oh, he's still there, but when I look at my tally, and see that I've already worked over 40 hours this week, I realize that the monster has no right to knock, no right to keep me awake at night.

Second, since most would consider a 40-hour week to be “full-time,” I'm learning to consider anything above 40 hours to be “volunteer” time. Yes, I love my church and its people, and yes, I do volunteer time above and beyond what is called for. However, I no longer feel pressured to do so at the expense of my family or my own peace of mind.

Third, I've learned an important fact about this congregation. I should have realized it years ago, when a member told me, “You know, when our previous pastors (a clergy couple) were here, they worked 90 hours a week between the two of them.” That should have been a clue! This congregation is used to having everything done for them. Why on earth would a small country church need 90 hours a week of professional ministry?

This congregation has many needs. One need is for the pastor to do less, which actually is hard for me, being somewhat of a control freak. I need to let go of some things, and let others become more involved. If I love this congregation, I will let go of these things, even if it is hard.

Now, seven weeks after that comment was made, I'm glad that it was made. I have learned something new about what I'm called to do here. I'm still keeping track of my hours, but no longer is anger over that comment my motivation. I may not even show anyone the records I keep, although if members begin to question whether or not they need a full-time pastor, I will show them to help them decide. A small church like this may very well be able to get by with a part-time pastor, but not unless the members are willing to change their expectations and take on a lot of added responsibilities. Meanwhile, I'm learning once again how to balance home & work, and how to sleep at night. And the monster is learning that he is no longer welcome.

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