To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.
-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
In 2013 I sensed that God was telling me that I was going to be a pastor. Lots of incredible things happened to confirm that call, and for the next five years, I stepped slowly in that direction, studying at Vose Seminary, working in my church and growing in my faith. Finally, in 2018, the pastor thing happened.
At the beginning of the year, I started a new role at Baptist Churches WA as the ‘Women’s Leadership Pastor’. In this role, I support women in paid and voluntary pastoral and ministry leadership roles in West Australian Baptist Churches. The role is almost anything that helps women flourish in ministry leadership, and the formal commitment is 0.3FTE or 11.5 hours a week.
In January, after 20 years in the same church (where Leigh and I met and spent our whole adult lives) we moved to a new church. I’d concluded on staff at my old church and it felt like a time to start something new. At the new church, there were many wonderful opportunities to be involved in ministry. The people in pastoral and ministry leadership positions there are all good friends who I totally adore, and I could quite happily spend my whole week doing the work of church with them.
I began 2018 with so many opportunities. Endless options for living out this call to be a pastor. And I took many of them on. But as 2018 draws to a close I feel totally exhausted.
I’ve been working my way through Mandy Smith’s excellent book, The Vulnerable Pastor.
Smith knows this feeling of being exhausted by ministry:
Often we begin ministry with a sense of something huge- an immense task, a great need, a vision of God’s grandeur, an overwhelming sense of call- then we shape a ministry program to respond to that vast challenge. Out of a pure sense of survival, I tried starting the other way. What if we began with our human limitations and shaped a ministry from that? Like a child pouring pennies on a candy store counter, asking, “How much candy can I get with that?” we can look at the time, gifts, energy and ideas we have and ask, “How much church can we get with that?”
(105, The Vulnerable Pastor, Mandy Smith)
I love this image of Mandy pouring out her coins, asking God to show her how much Church she can get with what she has. This might seem like giving God our left-overs, but I think it’s actually a wise approach that is going to lead to greater longevity in ministry.
I started 2018 with an overwhelming sense of call and tried to shape my life to respond to the vast challenges and opportunities. I went all-in and I ended up exhausted.
Over 2018 my limitations became more obvious.
I need to go to bed by 9:30pm and need at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night.
I need to stay home with Leigh at least four nights a week.
Four little ladies depend on me for many things. I need huge margins for them and all the things- broken arms, endless bouts of tonsillitis and looooong conversations about all their feelings.
Sermons take me forever to write.
Assignments take even longer.
I need regular silence and solitude or I feel anxious and overdone.
Once a month, I get a headache that lasts three days.
I get sick easily and recover slowly.
When I go too fast or feel too anxious, I neglect healthy eating and gain weight quickly.
Mandy Smith points out that God knows all of this already. I know He invited me to be a pastor, and that when He did it, He already knew all the things that would slow me down and need my attention also. He didn’t invite me to be super-human so I could get it all done. He just invited me to bring all that and do what I can.
Smith says, “I have to trust that there’s a way to do this job without it destroying me. If he gave the church to humans, he must have a way for humans to do church.”
So in 2019, I’m going to try to go easier on myself. I want to embrace my limitations and remind myself that God knew me when He chose me. He hasn’t asked me to abuse my physical and mental health or ignore my family, my obligations or my friends. He wants me to bring what I can and He will work with that.
In the end, I do think this way of doing ministry will help keep me more connected to God and will be more effective over the long haul.