By Ross Engel –
For twenty years now, I’ve had the same pair of companions accompanying me to the gym. My wife can’t stand them. They’re old, they smell like sweat and maple syrup, and they push me beyond the limits of what I can do on my own. Well, today my wife can rejoice, because those companions are no more. They ripped during my morning session in the gym.
For twenty years, this pair of lifting straps has accompanied me to the gym. When my grip would fail doing heavy deadlifts, weighted pullups, or some other heavy pulling exercise, I would put them on and keep on adding more weight. The straps allowed me to keep lifting heavy stuff in the gym long after my hands couldn’t grip the bar. They helped me push past my own limitations.
In Pastoral Ministry, and really in every arena of life, there are times when we are just not able, on our own, to do everything that we must do. You do all you can do, push as far as you can push, and do as many of the tasks before you as humanly possible and still find yourself coming up short. Limited by the amount of time we have or our own abilities or even our own strength and fortitude, there comes a time when we just can’t go it alone. It is in those times when we just can’t push ourselves any further that we need to have people that we can trust and rely upon. We need people who can give us strength to keep going—people who can help us step back from the edge so we can catch our breath and help us overcome and work through our weaknesses.
I’m reminded of the account of Moses and the Israelites fighting against the Amalekites. Exodus 17:9-12 records this event in God’s people’s history and we are told that as long as Moses kept his hands raised high, the Israelites were prevailing in battle. As soon as Moses let his weary arms drop, the Israelites began to lose and be overcome in battle. To ensure victory, Moses needed help. He couldn’t hold his hands aloft for the entire battle on his own, so Aaron and Hur stepped in. They put a stone under Moses for him to sit upon, and then the two men held his hands high. His hands were held steady by the help of these two men until the sun set and the battle was complete. Israel was victorious.
Aaron and Hur didn’t come in and do the job that had been given to Moses. They didn’t tell Moses to take a spot on the bench while they took care of business. And Moses wasn’t wimping out, looking to pass off his duties to someone else. He didn’t delegate a task that he himself didn’t want to do. But the fact of the matter was that Moses was spent. He had reached his limits. He was exhausted, and yet the job wasn’t finished. Aaron and Hur came to support Moses so that he could do his job. They didn’t come to take Moses’ place or to subvert his authority; after all, it wasn’t promised to them that their hands would create victory. They simply came to Moses’ aid in his time of need and helped him complete the task given to him.
There is something here for us to consider. Both pastors and lay people. Brother pastors, it’s hard to be in ministry when you’re alone. We are all limited by the number of hours in a day and even our skill set at times, and each week it seems that there is a smorgasbord of additional tasks that show up unannounced on our schedules. Most of us don’t like to ask for help or even admit that we need help. Like a strong-willed toddler we often like to imagine that we can do just fine on our own. We may be able to fake it for a while, but it isn’t long before stress rises, frustrations start to boil over, and you run yourself completely ragged. After all, we all do have our limitations. It’s ok to ask for support from others, whether that support be from brother pastors or compassionate lay-people.
Now do hear me brothers and understand that I’m not encouraging you to shove off the tasks that you’re supposed to be doing. I’m not telling you to deep six the boring or unnoticed tasks that you’re Called to do. Visiting the sick, teaching the young and old, and the dozen or so other things you promised to do in your Ordination Vows and that are listed on your Diploma of Vocation. I am encouraging you to ask for help so that you can, as the holder of the Office of the Holy Ministry, accomplish the tasks that God has given you to do.
Beloved lay people, please understand that your pastor probably won’t readily admit that he needs help or that he’s overwhelmed at times. At times, it might serve your pastor best if you just pop in and be a friend or ask if there is anything he needs some support with. It is highly unlikely that your pastor will even admit that he has any limitations! After all, many pastors were educated at a time in seminary when they were taught that Pastors were expected to work 80 hours a week and had to prove each day to their congregations just how motivated and dedicated they were to their calling and ministry tasks. I recall one professor even encouraged future pastors not to take their full vacation time for personal or family use. Rather, we were to use vacation time to plan the next six months of sermons and studies for the congregation.
A lot has changed since then though. A word of caution: the pendulum has swung away from that model of “work yourself to death” ministry. But let us make sure that the pendulum doesn’t swing so far that Pastors end up thinking that they need someone to hold their hand throughout their ministry just so that they can do the very things they were trained to do!
It can be a tremendous comfort in this often isolated task of ministry, to know that you have companions, folks who truly care about you and the ministry and who are willing to help strengthen you for your tasks. Just knowing that can be all the encouragement needed to keep pushing through the limits and accomplishing the tasks that have been prepared in advance for us to do.
So strap up fellas, we’ve got some heavy lifting to get to!