What would you say about a pastor who jogged while he mowed his lawn? He was so committed to ministry that he wanted to spend as little time as possible on non-ministry tasks.
I know such a pastor. He’s an example of a pastor who works very hard in ministry. At first glance, it looks like he’s redeeming the time.
Is he an example for all of us?
I know that some pastors are lazy. Martin Luther evidently knew some lazy pastors in his day:
Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture…The call is: watch, study, attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scriptures; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well…the devil…the world…and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent…This evil, shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring.
There are so many ways that a pastor can waste time. The pastorate is a great hideout for lazy people. My jogging friend is a reminder that we shouldn’t fritter our time away mindlessly.
Another Type of Lazy
I’ll never forget reading this paragraph from Eugene Peterson for the first time:
The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront…. [It is] a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.
I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself — and to all who will notice — that I am important.
How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place? (The Contemplative Pastor
Busyness, he says, is a form of laziness. “It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It is filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s actions. It is taking charge.”
I know more pastors like my jogging friend than I do lazy pastors. Pastors face the temptation to overwork. This can come out of a healthy desire to fulfill our ministries with diligence. It can also come out of an unhealthy desire to measure up or to earn approval through the idol of achievement.
Overwork is just as big a danger for pastors as laziness. It may even be the same thing.
We Need the Gospel
This is, again, where we need the gospel. The gospel gives us reason to work hard, and the assurance that our work is not in wasted even when it seems so (1 Corinthians 15:58). At the same time, as Jared Wilson writes, the gospel frees us “to chill the heck out.”
Yes, people watch too much TV and play too many video games and spend too much time on the Internet and what-have-you. But the proper response to our media over-saturation is not a rigorous attention to the explicitly “spiritual” in every margin of life. Be a Christian, not an ascetic. Don’t be lazy, but realize that Jesus Christ did not die and rise for you so that you would stress out about whether you’re being spiritual enough. So take a nap. Watch some television. The gospel frees you to chill the heck out.
No easy answers. We need to learn the rhythms of hard work and rest, and ultimately to find our rest in the One who’s accomplished everything that we need and has earned our Father’s approval.