By Rusty McKie
Men and women in our churches are suffering from the self-inflicted pain of their addiction. I’m not talking about sexual addictions, drugs, or alcohol; I’m talking about the binges, withdrawals and cravings to make an identity for themselves through their work. How do we pastor people who work 50, 60 & 70-hour per week? How do we help those who come home and can’t stop thinking about work?
Men and women need a pastor who models how to step into God’s rest.
There’s a strange paradox here for pastors. We seek to help others avoid work-a-holism, yet we often can’t stop looking for our next fix. It’s not just the hours we work but the recognition we crave. “How’s your week going?” spirals into subtle yet dangerous comments like, “I’m good but tired; worked another 70-hour week.”
When planting a church, there is no shortage of doings to do, dreams to dream and meetings to meet. Every month or two, I shock myself by sharing how tired I am, hinting at how hard I work or explicitly stating the amount of hours I’m putting in. After the fact, I wish I could pull my freshly, formed words out of the air to put back into my mouth. People don’t need to hear about my work ethic; they need to hear about Jesus’ work ethic. Yet, I want people to know how hard I work; you want people to know how hard you work. But why?
As pastors we overwork and make it known because we are insecure and don’t trust God.
We Are Insecure In Our Identity
Your life can never be defined by what you do. However, the American psyche says that you can. That’s why we ask others, “What do you do for a living?” and why we drive conversations back to what we’re doing or not doing. “Actions speak louder than words,” we think. Our obsession with making an identity for ourselves through doing is tempting because we can control the image we create and take credit for the end result.
But, it’s all empty.
You must work harder and harder to keep up the image you’ve constructed or to meet the growing expectations of others once they label you a “high capacity leader.” There is no rest in the business of identity construction; in fact, we become slaves to the work.
As pastors, you can deceive yourself because your work is oriented toward others. Your identity becomes wrapped up in how much blood you spill for others rather than in the One who spilled His blood for you. Pastors, your church needs to see you finding your identity in the work of Christ rather than in your own work. They need to see that you are covered with the dried and caked blood of another who was once dead but is now alive (Gal 2:20). They need to grasp that no matter how high or low life takes you, you have embraced the steadfast, never-changing gift of your identity in Christ. As you model this rest and confidence, you will find more peace in life and your church will long for that peace too.
We Don’t Trust God With Our Future
I don’t know many men who become pastors for the money, but I do know a lot of pastors who desire to provide for their families. The fear of losing security can be strong, and the result is a lack of faith in God’s faithfulness and provision. When fear sets in, a natural response is to work harder.
In the dark corners of our hearts, resides a shady loan shark with pen and pad keeping tabs on everything we do. He is quick to remind us that we still owe a debt and need to pay in full. As pastors, this manifests itself in just “one more” hour of sermon prep, just “one more” counseling session, just “one more” meeting and on and on and on we go. We start spinning the plates that others tell us we should spin, as well as a couple of our own, all in an effort to prove that we’re worthy of the job. Next thing you know, you’re skipping days off and running beyond your limits.
Jesus did not feel this need to perform.
After a grueling day of work, He got away unannounced with His Father to rest (Mk 1:35). The disciples went looking for Him and upon finding Him said, “Everyone’s looking for you” (vs.36-37). Translation: why aren’t you working, Jesus? Jesus didn’t justify or seek to prove Himself. He modeled rest and then simply said, “Let’s get back to work” (vs.38-39). Jesus’ trust in God allowed Him to enter God’s rest. Can you? Don’t let your own propensity to prove yourself run you into the ground. Instead, remember that God has called, equipped, and proven you before Him and men because of Christ (2 Cor 3:4-5).
Model Rest And Trust God
If you need to work a 70-hour week, then work a 70-hour week. Working hard is a gift from God; and pouring out your blood, sweat and tears for a church is a joy. But if you don’t have to work a 70-hour week and you do it anyway, what’s driving that compulsion to overwork?
And if you find yourself sharing in generalities, or specifics, about how much you’re working, what are you trying to prove?
Constructing an identity around pats on the back and ‘at-a-boys is a feeble foundation.
Proving your worth to your church while telling work-a-holics to slow down is a terrible model. Jesus died so that you don’t have to work yourself to death. Rest in Him.
The next time someone says, “It must be nice to only work on Sundays” or asks, “What do you do all week anyway?”, before you answer take a deep breath, remember who you are in Christ and trust God with your life and work.
Work hard, and rest well, pastors. Your people need to see it.
Rusty McKie is the founding pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Chattanooga, TN. Sojourn is a part of the Sojourn Network, which is a network of churches committed to planting more and healthier churches. Rusty received his MDiv from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to his lovely wife, Rachel, and is a father to his son, Justus. You can follow Rusty on Twitter @RustyMcKie.
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