I’m just about to begin a new ministry gig.
Once again, I get to immerse myself into the lives of a particular people in a particular place. I get to hear what they imagine and what they dream and how God is calling them to live into the future. I get to coax them along and remind them and myself of the presence of Christ in the community meals, the potlucks and the committee meetings we will share.
But, before we get too far into the dreaming, I look for who is tired.
I look for who rolls their eyes in committee meetings. I listen for the heavy sighs released when a new idea is shared. I pay attention to those that have been carrying the work of the church for far, far too long.
It doesn’t take much after a pastor leaves. When there is no one in that ministerial role, but only pulpit supply on Sundays, it means there are a bunch of tasks that have to be managed by the members. The heating and electricity bills still need to be paid. Worship still needs to be planned, and mission doesn’t stop because there isn’t a pastor to lead.
So, I look for those people that have been carrying the weight of the work of being the church through the transition. And here’s what always surprises me: we survive by inertia.
What has been set in motion, we dare not drop. We keep those plates spinning up in the air. We juggle and juggle until we find ourselves ragged.
I don’t know about you, but ragged doesn’t inspire me. It’s not what makes me most want to sign up for being a follower of Jesus Christ, because then, I too could be completely and totally exhausted by this ministry. Um, no thanks.
I’ll find somewhere else. I’ll find something else that doesn’t sound quite so tiring—except I’m not quite sure what that is.
A recent Gallup poll found that Americans work more than anyone. Our average workweek isn’t 40 hours long. It’s 46.7 hours, or nearly a full extra eight-hour day that we somehow manage to squeeze into the week. With statistics like these, is it even possible for us to imagine not being completely and totally exhausted by our work? Is this just who we are as Americans?
In a recent conversation with UCC minister Rachel Hackenberg, Carol Howard Merritt shared this thought on her blog:
“I know sometimes we need to talk about how much we work, because people don’t understand our job any longer. But then we can lose sight of how the rest of the world lives too.”
She’s talking particularly about clergy. That maybe American clergy have lost sight of how the rest of the world lives, but might it be a little bit bigger than that?
Could it be instead that we—clergy and laity and all kinds of followers of Jesus—are trying so hard to fit into an American ideal of work that we’ve forgotten what our faith teaches us? Aren’t we supposed to live by a different ideal? Aren’t we supposed to embrace another way of being in the world?
Aren’t we reminded to consider the birds of the air, how they neither sow nor reap, as much as we are supposed to pay attention to the lilies of the field without toil nor spin? Are these things not supposed to focus our hearts and minds on how we might strive for the Realm of God right here in this very world?
As much work as there is to do for justice and peace, it is not work that should run us ragged.
We should not be toiling and spinning to the point of unraveling, but should be asking ourselves how this good work realizes the Realm of God.
It’s the question that I ask to those that I see spinning every plate in the churches I serve.
How does this work help you strive toward the Realm of God?
This isn’t just about self care. It’s a question about what actions we might take that remind us of our own value and our own worth enough to be honest when we’re tired. And then, it’s time to put down the spinning plates and find another way to strive toward the Realm of God.
The Rev. Elsa A. Peters is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who has served churches in New York City, Maine and Washington. She believes in the power of community, that poverty can end in our lifetime and that everyone needs a little more love. Follow along in her adventures in ministry at http://revelsaanderspeters.com. You can also find her on Facebook at /elsa.a.peters.