This isn’t the kind of post that is going to make a lot of sense until you read it through to the end. In fact, if you stop halfway through, it will sound narcissistic and self-aggrandizing, so stick with it to the end or give up now.
Upon the Lord’s Day
On Sunday, I go to worship, but not as an ordinary congregant. I am a minister, so in addition to helping my wife round up an infant and a six year-old in time for Bible class, I am also on duty from the second I hit the church grounds. My wife (what a gem!) typically becomes a single mother at that point, though on this particular morning, I managed to take care of our infant while my wife taught a children’s class. Next quarter, I will be teaching the young adult class and she won’t be teaching at all, so we will switch who is parenting.
The busiest fifteen minutes of my week take place between 10:15-10:30 AM on Sunday, between the end of Bible classes and the beginning of our worship. I walk around trying to say a few greetings to incoming members and guests. I try to make some small talk, which is no small feat for an introvert like me. Fifteen or so people will walk by during this time and tell me something I am supposed to remember later on. It might be a prayer request, a problem with the copier, something I forgot last week, or a subtle hint of a deep spiritual need. This is also an opportunity to scan the crowd for faces needing a word of encouragement or just recognition. This doesn’t include the small but vocal few who will be miffed if I don’t single them out for a handshake and warm greeting.
When the announcements start, I fret a bit about some of the details, hoping they are just right. I fret a bit more about the length of the announcements, knowing that every minute included there is expected to be compensated for in my prepared message later. While we sing, I try to focus on worship, but inevitably my thoughts drift to my sermon notes. I end up pulling up my PowerPoint slides on my iPhone and glancing at them to make sure they are just right and just as I remembered them. During communion, I try not to think of my sermon at all, but I don’t always win. Sometimes I have found it helps to take my thumb and rub the skin of my palm. The physical sensation is a reminder that this is a time to think about nail-scarred hands. The song before the sermon is wasted on me entirely. I may be singing, but by mind is rehearsing. What will my opening line be? Why didn’t I think to script it? Should I tell a joke? People like jokes, but this is a worship service, and maybe jokes have no place here. Before I know it, the Scripture reader has reached the podium and is pressing his way through the text. On a good day he gets most of the words right.
Have I mentioned that I love preaching? This is my favorite part. Don’t get me wrong, I am nervous and frightened like a deer in headlights, but I’ve learned to push through that. If I can forget that I am terrified for the first five minutes or so, I usually get into a rhythm and survive the rest of the lesson. I went with a joke this time, and that helps calm me down a bit. Unless the church doesn’t laugh, at which point my anxiety escalates exponentially. Once the sermon begins in full, I feel more alive and more at home than at any point in my week. The Scriptures are a marvel, and if I did my prep well during the week, I can just get out of the way now and let them convict and convert without me. Before long, my allotted time is up and I have to start worrying about landing the plane. I may never forgive Charles Finney for the mandate of the altar call, but he isn’t here to hear me complain. I should have scripted this part of the lesson, like the joke at the beginning, but I always forget to do so.
And then it is over. We stand and sing. I stare expectantly and clutch my Bible. The song ends, and I walk to the back of the auditorium. After the service ends, folks stream out. Some want to chat, others want to shake hands, and still others want to brush by me hurriedly. On the way home for lunch, I ask my wife (what a gem!) if the sermon sounded okay. She is my chief critic and encouragement. Today, though, our infant was noisy, so she has no comment to offer, having heard exactly none of the sermon. At home, I get to enjoy a quiet afternoon. This is rare, as Sunday afternoons are often good times for meetings with elders and deacons. This time there is nothing on the schedule. That evening I return to the church, lead a devotional, and teach a Bible class on Isaiah. The prophet has a surprise waiting for me tonight, and the class ends up in a tense discussion of Syrian refugees and illegal immigration (Isaiah 16:3-5). It was a healthy discussion and needed.
Sunday night is difficult for me. I don’t ever sleep well, despite being tired. I tend to sit up with preacher’s insomnia, replaying conversations and editing my sermon in my mind. Shouldn’t have told the joke. I also missed an important application of the text.
Monday, I wake groggy. Few people know that more ministers quit on Monday than any other day of the week. Its because they are tired, I suspect. I take my son to school and so don’t start my day until around 8:45 AM. I try to spend meaningful time in conversation with my son while we wait in line at school. This is my one chance at being a parent for today. My first event is a scheduled morning at the shooting range with a church member. Why the shooting range? Because he likes to shoot guns. I don’t own a gun, but I like the little game of trying improve on my aim. I’m not there for guns though. This is an opportunity to talk to a brother and friend. We discuss politics and the church. We also make preliminary plans to go on some visits together, because he wants to be more involved. Back at the office, I start making arrangements for that evening’s Monday Night for the Master Program. It is an opportunity for members to show up and invest themselves in various projects, but there are a few setup items that need to happen first. Also, I get a message that afternoon that the speaker for our April youth rally has to cancel due to a scheduling conflict. I start hunting for a replacement. At 3:30, my wife (what a gem!) stops by after picking up our son from school. She knew that I had forgotten to eat any lunch, and graciously has brought me a burger. Back to work. I need to place the order for the books for my upcoming Wednesday night class. Come to think of it, I need to prepare a workbook of some kind for my Sunday morning young adult class. The notes are finished, but I would like to have it printed in a bound workbook-style handout. That shouldn’t be hard. So I thought, but eight attempts later I have all the pages turned 90 degrees and shrunken on mismatched page sizes. That’s when the first member walks in for the Monday Night program. I didn’t realize it was already 6:30 PM. They carry on and get lots done without me. What wonderful people! I finally get the workbook printed and prepare to leave. I get home just before 9 PM, and realize I also forgot to eat dinner. My kids are already asleep, and my wife (what a gem!) makes me a sandwich to end my unexpected twelve hour day.
Tuesday, my six year-old son wakes up sick. I figure that the twelve-hour Monday probably allows me to take the day off to stay home with him. I answer phone calls and texts from my recliner. I use the time to message prospective staff members for church camp in June. Turns out a couple of my regulars need to skip this year, so I start beating the bushes for volunteers. I had intended to go spend some time in prayer with a fellow minister today, but that doesn’t pan out. My wife (what a gem!) was up all night with the infant who decided sleep was not a luxury he could afford, so she is grateful for the help today.
Wednesday begins when I walk into the office at 6 AM. I meet an elder and a deacon for coffee in my office before they have to go to work. It is a great time for discussion of their lives, the church, and my own life too. I get a call at 7:30 from the nearby post office. They have 12 boxes of tile I had ordered for our church camp’s kitchen floor. However, they are at the wrong post office and to make a long story short, I need to go pick them up. I drive over, load the boxes, and then drive back. Finally, I get to start working on my sermon for the week. Thanks to the Revised Common Lectionary, I don’t have to make a choice about what to preach, only how to preach. This week, I am a little stumped on Luke 13:1-9. I have always treated it as an individual call to repentance, but closer reading makes it clear that this is a national text, relating to messianic expectations of the first century Jew. Does it still fit into my series on trust? I’m not so sure now. I meet the writer’s block head-on by avoiding it. I go outside and rearrange the boxes in my truck. Turns out the 12 giant boxes were all filled with two smaller boxes each (thanks, Amazon), so I spend some time sorting that out. The wind is blowing pretty hard, so I also spend some time chasing empty boxes across the parking lot. My wife pulls up with another burger. Turns out it is mid-afternoon, and I forgot lunch again. I spend the rest of the day writing and formatting the workbook for this summer’s church camp. It will be on Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” My wife and children stay home from Bible class that night because our son is still feeling puny, but I am there until just after 8 PM. I arrive home and my kids are asleep. It was a fourteen hour day.
Thursday is my scheduled day off. Hurray! But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to do. We have a men’s breakfast scheduled for Saturday morning. Other people are in charge, but they don’t have a Sam’s card or the church’s tax exemption info, so I need to go get the groceries. Also, one of the people in charge has had a loss in their family this week, so I am happy to assist and relieve them of this small burden. Fortunately, my wife (what a gem!) notices the crazed look in my eyes after a hectic Wednesday and suggests that she does the shopping while I get our infant to take a nap. She isn’t a paid member of the staff, but she is as much a part of the ministry of the church as me. I couldn’t do it without her. Other than that, it is mostly a day of peace. I get to play video games with my son and eat dinner with my family. I take some time that night to work on the weekly church bulletin after the kids go to bed.
Friday, I sleep in just a little extra. I arrive at the office by 9:45 AM, and I put the finishing touches on a retreat for ministers that I am helping to host in May. I start getting the word out about that. I finally get my head wrapped around Luke 13:1-9 and finish that sermon. Then I have an idea for a blog article, and I start writing it (yes, this one). Another minister had suggested that I write or teach something about how I get things done in my work, so this is partially a response to that. It is a way for me to put it on paper and see what I am doing, because often a week passes by and I don’t really know what I did. Later tonight, I have scheduled a “Nerd Night” at the church building. We are getting some folks together to play board games and watch Avengers. I will be here the rest of the day. I will probably forget lunch (its already 1:48 PM I just noticed) and my wife (what a gem!) will probably bring me a burger (possibly part of my weight problem). Hey, honey, a Mt. Dew as well if you would be so kind. I will be here until at least 9 PM tonight.
Saturday, I’ll be here for the men’s breakfast. Looking forward to that actually. Someone else is giving the lesson, and one of the topics is on the need for rest and personal devotion. The irony is not lost on me. After that, I have another scheduled visit with a church member. I’m going to help install her TV.
What’s the Point?
Let me explain why I bothered to write this with a few observations that apply to whomever your minister may be. Believe it or not, this wasn’t a blog post about me.
First, next week will be completely different. And the one after that. Every week is strange for ministers. There is no normal. There is no routine. There is only the intersection of the grace of God and the chaos of human life, the sacred in and through the ordinary. Some weeks have twenty hours of scheduled work, while others have eighty. The irony is that some people will know nothing about my week except that I wasn’t in the office on Tuesday and Thursday. Your minister has weeks like this too. All of them actually. Don’t assume you understand his work or schedule. Be generous in your judgment of him.
Second, I’m not complaining. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my work. I love my church. I don’t want you to say “poor thing” or compliment my work ethic. I’d prefer you didn’t actually. Statements like those may stroke the minister’s vanity, but they do not restore his soul. This is what I do, and its supposed to be this way, more or less. Your minister feels the same way, I hope. Instead, appreciate your minister, but don’t worship him. Give him the freedom to manage his schedule and do the sacred work he is called to do. Help him when you can. Look for ways to be a blessing to him, his family, and especially his wife (what a gem!).
Third, in other weeks, things are much more calm. In those weeks I get to spend more time in prayer and study. My favorite thing to do on Tuesdays is to read on my back porch and drink coffee. That is where the really good sermons get written. If you were to look at my iPhone for my daily schedule, you would notice I have prayer, writing, and study all built into my day. It is not a waste of time, and I do not give it up easily. Why? Because, to quote R.E.C. Browne, “All speech that moves men was minted when some man’s mind was poised and still.” Good ideas don’t happen when I am busy being busy. The Lord leads most when I am busy being quiet. Your minister too needs time for devotion and contemplation. You want your minister to be Mary at the Lord’s feet, not Martha setting tables.
I do not write this to call attention to myself. I write this for the host of ministers who approach their vocation with mingled awe and frustration. God bless all of you, and may your congregations bless you too.