I am by no means alone in my pastoral ministry – I enjoy the benefit of a Director of Family Life Ministry, whom in many ways functions as a partner (and certainly a confidant). Many other aspects of worship are serviced by an efficient team (organ, screens, camera operators, elders), but I am the sole pastor at my church. That means, as the only ordained man serving here, the responsibility of preaching falls to me one hundred percent of the time. That means Christmas, in addition to being “the most wonderful time of the year” is also the busiest.
This year Christmas Eve was on a Thursday, Christmas Day was Friday, I presided over a funeral on Saturday, and Sunday was regular church. So by the time I had prepared and preached the fourth unique sermon in as many days over eight services, needless to say, I was wiped. Now, it has always annoyed me when pastors complain about this seasonal work load, and that annoyance has often been with myself. When I feel this exhaustion (or my elongated sigh when a beloved saint dies the week of Christmas), I try to remind myself of three things: 1) Most every other pastor is experiencing a similar workload, 2) Only insecure men complain about how hard they work, and 3) No one held a gun to my head and forced me to be a pastor. These checks against my self-coddling has served my psyche well as I can focus on the task at hand and proclaim the gospel to the best of the ability God gives me. I love preaching, so why balk at the opportunity to do it more?
Part of this face-slapping litany is my personal reaction to a certain conversation I share with the people I serve. Without fail, each year I have several conversations with parishioners that go something like this:
Parishioner: “Busy week, Pastor. I hope you can get some rest soon.”
Me: (slightly embarrassed) “Thanks. Yes, it’s a busy week, but it’s not like I work at a stone quarry twelve hours a day. I’ll be fine.”
Parishioner: “Well, I’ll be praying for you especially this week. Thank you for everything.”
It is nice to have your overtime recognized, but I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. Most pastors don’t. Nevertheless, each year after the Christmas week Sprint, I wonder how I got through it without having some sort of collapse or nervous breakdown. Most pastors do. And each year without fail, after Christmas the memories of these December conversations suddenly flood back to my mind with the latent hiccup of an, “Ah, so!”
People have been praying for me. More often than usual. A lot of them. So of course I survived the Christmas Sprint. How many holy hands were lifted up for my benefit? How many bursts of inspiration were because the Spirit heard someone’s prayer for his pastor’s sermon? And how dare I consider for a second that my “tough-guy” dismissal of their concern is the real thing that fueled my tank and kept me going! Despite what I want to think about myself, I am not a machine. I need the same strength of the gospel that I deliver to my people. For with such comfort, I can comfort and be comforted (2 Cor. 1:4). The prayers of the saints are heard by God and are powerful and effective.
I hope I remember that during Holy Week, and just say thank you.