Shifting our expectations
For the last year or so, economic realities have created the need for me to work full-time to subsidize my ministry. I grow frustrated at times with this arrangement, but I am thankful for the opportunities my “regular” job provides–the chance to be with people in the work force, an income to provide for my family and benefits such as health insurance.
I’ve determined to do some things differently if I ever get the opportunity to return to full-time ministry vocation. For starters, I’ll value peoples time more. I’ve discovered that working a full-time job and a couple of part-timers (a reality for many in our current economic conditions) doesn’t leave much margin to participate in a lot of church activities. A block of time once a week, traditionally Sunday morning, is about as much we can realistically expect.
That said, if we are only going to get that one block, we better make sure it counts. It calls for serious evaluation of what we do with that block of time. Is it allowing us to encounter God? Build real community?
That deserves it’s own conversation.
I also have greater appreciation for those who struggle to cultivate effective, consistent spiritual disciplines. I cut my teeth in an evangelical paradigm that stressed private Bible study and prayer (aka “personal devotions”).
The message was clear. To prove your mettle as a serious Christian, to be a disciple, one had to carve out time every day to read the Bible and pray. Every day. No sacrifice of time and sleep was too much.
However, when folks work 40-50 hours a week, commute a couple of hours a day, hustle to attend their kids’ activities and try to have any semblance of a healthy marriage, there isn’t much time left to sacrifice.
There often isn’t much mental energy left for reading and prayer, either. I for one struggle with this.
This leaves me wrestling with those assumptions of my formative years. It’s easy to slip into believing that I’m not doing enough, not doing it good enough, and I’m a pretty poor excuse for a “real” Christian.
Thankfully, I shed that kind of thinking several years ago. But I know it torments many sincere followers of Jesus. They’ve told me so.
I blame, at least partially, pastors like the kind I was back in the day. Preaching that people should read their Bibles more and ought pray more leaves few, if any, other options. The result is unintended (or is it intentional?) shame that leaves our people feeling failure no matter how hard they try.
Those of us in full-time vocational ministry often lose perspective of how the bulk of our parishioners live. We get paid to think about church, to pray and to study the Bible. We expect our people to give the same kind of energy to the sacred as we do.
Then we get angry at them when they don’t.
Very few think about church during the week. They are just trying to survive another work week and squeeze time in for the kids. They might pray and read a Bible verse here and there, but it’s far from the ideal quiet time we think they should have.
In reality, they are probably a lot like I am–doing the best I can.
I hope I remember that.