Great Expectations?…

I have noticed that there is a direct inverse correlation between the thoughtfulness of what gets posted on here and the amount of physical work I do.

It seems the harder and longer the work, the less headspace I have for thinking on the more significant issues of life. The last couple of weeks of blog posts probably exemplify that!

It might seem quite obvious at first, (that we will be tired and weary) but it isn’t always that obvious to those of us who have been in paid ministry.

I know that in my own days as a pastor I would be constantly thinking thru issues of vision, strategy and implementation so that we could keep developing our church. However I was often disappointed to rock up to a church leadership team only to find that the other guys (who work ordinary jobs) hadn’t given the same issues much thought at all – if at all. In my more despairing moments it seemed that the future of our church was decided once a month on a Monday night and that in between time it was business as usual – quite literally.

The last few weeks have been quite full on with both retic and forge work and I have often come home at night quite exhausted. My body is weary and because of that it is hard to get my brain into gear. I know the same is true for those who engage significantly with people or use their brain in their work.

‘Coming home’ is a chance to unwind and relax. More serious pursuits are over for the day and its ‘family time’ or ‘rest time’. I don’t think that’s unreasonable either.

And yet for those of us committed to the local community and to our churches, the evening is the time we have available to catch up with others or to have those (sometimes) necessary meetings.

As I listen to pastors frustrated with their congregations as to their ‘lack of commitment’ part of me agrees… and then another part of me says ‘you’ve got to be kidding! Live their life for a week and then see how you go…’

My mate Steve McAlpine is currently working a full time job while he seeks to plant a new household congregation, and is also pondering the challenges I have been writing about.

If we expect too much of people we leave them feeling overwhelmed and like failures. If we expect too little then the absence of challenge leaves people growing stale and ‘fat’.

I think it would be interesting to hear from both pastors and full time workers as to how they manage this delicate balance – given that work and church/community involvement are only two components of life. Let’s add in staying physically fit, catching up with friends, extended family, recreation… the list goes on doesn’t it?

Is this a tension you are aware of and chewing thru. If so what are you learning?

19 thoughts on “Great Expectations?…

  1. Here’s my life:

    1. Full-time pastor

    2. Father-in-Law with Alzheimer’s lives with us & I am his primary caretaker (Thanks to the Fellowship for allowing me to work from home so I can do this)

    3. I keep my 1 yr old granddaughter while my daughter (her mother) attends college classes (Mon: 3-6pm; Tue & Thur: 10-1pm & 6-10 pm)

    4. I’m taking college classes (12 hrs this semester) online toward a Psych degree. They are arranged into two sub terms of 8 weeks each semester so it’s like going to summer school all the time.

    5. Work as part of leadership team for local Christian Surfers chapter (This is actually part of a “saving grace” for me as I get to surf with them once or twice a week & that really relaxes me & clears my head).

    I agree with your statement, “If we expect too much of people we leave them feeling overwhelmed and like failures. If we expect too little then the absence of challenge leaves people growing stale and ‘fat’”…with this addition: In my surroundings, our culture of “gotta have an overly full schedule, if people have too little offered/expected of them, they fill it up with other activities. I live in the buckle of the Bible belt (Texas) in a small town (20,000) that still has a rural/country — dare I say “Red Neck” nature to it. As I struggle with doing the things that will lead to the expected “growth” & still find a “spectator” mentality, sometimes I just want to throw it all away, move all who will come back into our house & just be good neighbors in the community as our philosophy of ministry. I feel I haven’t covered the ground I’d like/fully answered the question but this is, for me, a great source of concern/frustration. I need a therapy session more than a blog response. If I come to OZ, will you buy me a cup of coffee & talk with me about it for a few days??? There are plenty of us over here facing the same dilemma so you might could drop that retic business & go into full time counseling/coaching:-)

  2. Hi Hamo,

    I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and my conclusions such as they are, have come to the point where I think there is something big that we’ve missed.

    The early church showed that it is possible to live communaly, to share responsibility for caring for one another, so in todays terms perhaps, my elderly parent is yours too, and my wage packet is also yours.

    In isolation all these things of work, finance, family duties, church become heavy burdens. We go to meetings to try and find a way of working together, when what we really want to be doing is sitting on our sofa, perhaps having a chat, or just thinking.

    I cant say exactly how this all should work, but I feel strongly that while we live and act in relative isolation, my house, my job, my family… we are never going to get the freedom we need to flow in these things.

    In community – with all its ups and downs – our house, our work, our family should become shared burdens, and meetings can be held on the sofa after many minor ones have been held over the washing up or digging the garden…

    There’s something there guys, our society doesnt encourage it, because it encourages us to consume less, but if we can find it, or come close to it, maybe then we’ll move forward?

  3. Pastors talking about their frustration about lack of commitment? Well, that should be of no surprise, many want “their” congregations to sing to a different tune, certainly not one found in the NT.

  4. Hamo, Mark R and others. What I find myself, and amongst my peers, hard working pastors who believe in what they are doing…is that many of us stand prophetically against the tide of materialism as families battle to buy the latest “Tom Tom” and fathers work away in the quest to keep up, and meanwhile sons and daughters grow up with an absent or disengaged fathers.

  5. I think there are heaps of valid points above – especially relating to materialism and its effect on those within the church. But ultimately I think Hamo hit the nail on the head with his comment on community.

    I am a local church pastor, leader in a missional church plant and manager and youth worker for a successful youth drug program now in its 4th year of operation.

    I too at times ring my hands when people tell me their “too busy”, I often find myself thinking “well you should try and live my life, yet somehow I manage to fit it all in”.

    But in really thinking about this, I think one of the things that makes it possible for me to be able to do all that I do and still maintain an (imperfect) presence with my family is that we are blessed to be a part of a small, caring community.

    We have people, immediate family and Christian brothers and sisters, who share the load with us. I sometime take this for granted, and shouldn’t, because I don’t know where we would be without this.

    Alyssa and I have been quite sick on and off over the past few weeks and in that time this has really come to the fore. People have looked after the kids for us, provided meals, taken kids to training, offered to drive us to doctors, and the list goes on.

    When I look at the majority of those who say they “don’t have time” I can, almost down to the individual, also say that these same people are the ones least engaged in our community. They are essentially the fringe dwellers when it comes to the day-to-day stuff we do. Even though many are very involved in the Sunday side of things.


  6. Mark E, fair point, but with the average mortgage in Perth now around $3000 a month some people don’t have a choice. Plenty of the time it is about materialism and being a slave to culture, but not always. I think people can make choices to release the pressure valve–both my wife and I work part time so we can still pay the bills, but it’s not just one of us hammering it. This is a deliberate choice to try and create space for community, sustainability, church and people.

    I like your thoughts Simon.

  7. Yes – I think Simon has some great and challenging thoughts there.

    If were able to live more fully in community then perhaps we would be much free-er (in one sense) but then also more bound (to one another).

    The flip side of this is that many people in ordinary jobs are not very aware of the complexity and stresses that accompany a local church pastoral role.

    Sometimes expectations on pastors compel them to be people they don’t want to be.

    Its a tangled complex world we live in – because we must engage with the ‘system’ as it is.

    As Morgs says – we have to live somewhere – which in Perth costs a fortune. So then we have to work… but then there is the lure of a ‘little bit more’…

  8. Hamo – good thoughtful post

    I wonder if the answer lies somewhere in the idea of ownership? Like my car I look after it because it is mine, I keep my yard tidy because it is mine, I work hard at the Bridge because I feel ownership within the structure.

    A sermon orientated pulpit-pew styled church service does not lead to ownership, even a house church that is strongly elder led does not lead to ownership , all beleivers having all things in common.

    As we know the EC met for mutual edification ( 1 Cor 14:26, Hebs 10:24-25) where every member participated in the building up of the body ( Eph 4:16). On the Sunday we have the active few and the passive many, then we expect during the week the passive to become active. As Watchman Nee says, a church meeting has the stamp of one another upon it.

    The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is in fact a sterile truth.

    And maybe, just maybe, if in the meeting we give and recieve mutual edification within the Body, that we will discover, that it is in our lives, in our workplace, in our homes – that we are the hands and spokespeople for Christ, reconciling the world to Him.

    Mark E – I work from home 5 days a week not to keep up with the Jones but because I strongly believe God wants me to be there.

  9. I have no problem with someone working to live, and live ‘well’…..we all need money, for expensive houses etc….

    But, there needs to be a balance.

    I drive a 94’ Vitara….I would love a new 2008 V6 Vitara (see I lay at night dreaming about it)….but am I willing to sacrifice time with my son for it? No friggin way. At times he wonders why his dad does not have as good a car as some of his school mates. But their dad only drops them off at school every 3 weeks…when he is home, and it is in a brand new cruiser.

    I dont think that is how God intended it.

    I know I am raving, and I have blokes, good blokes, who work away a lot. I just wouldn’t want to have to make that choice myself.

  10. Hamo, you hit another nail on it’s head with:

    “My body is weary and because of that it is hard to get my brain into gear. I know the same is true for those who engage significantly with people or use their brain in their work.”

    I used to attend mid-week home groups religiously every week, but found it difficult. My IT job was very hectic, mentally demanding, and stressful through dealing with both customers and management, whose demands conflicted. When I got home after a 7:30am start and a long tiring day, I felt drained.

    Yet at home groups (8-10pm) some couldn’t understand why I wasn’t engaging in vibrant meaty spiritual discussions … at a time when when I’d normally be winding down and going to bed. I wanted to contribute, but my brain had clocked off hours earlier. With home groups only occurring on Wed nights, I eventually stopped going. Some saw this as a lack of committment – but I was just knackered!

    Should I have changed jobs or reduced hours so that I could attend more church activities (and be awake enough to contribute)? In my case, I don’t think so. I knew I was in the right job for that time because God put me in it, equipped me for it, and called me to be salt and light in it (well, I tried!). If my colleagues were going to see a Christian life in action, it would most likely be me they were going to see it through, not my church’s leadership team (I was there, they weren’t). I certainly wasn’t wearing myself out just to gain lots of stuff – I still drive a 1986 car with duct tape over the rust!

    We all have different gifts, and different callings to devote ourselves to. For some it might be apathy that stops them appearing fully committed to their church. For others, acting out their God-given calling may limit their involvement in church activities. I’m responsible for getting my own balance right, and am thankful I don’t have to be the judge of anyone else.

  11. I’m beginning to believe that unless we employ radical alternatives to how the majority of people live/survive there will be no choice but to join “them”.

    In perth, you cannot get into the housing market from scratch with the hope of owning your own house unless you are willing to work very hard, for a number of years, very busily trying to pay it off.

    The problem is – renting offers you no alternative peace, other than for the term of whatever rental contract you can secure. So renting isn’t the alternative I’m talking about.

    No, if you want to live in suburbia in Perth, and not succumb to a manic, materialistic existence, unless we are prepared to consider sharing houses, cars, food supplies, energy sources, clothes, toys etc etc i think all we will successfully do is reshuffle the deck chairs aboard the titanic.

    And it’s interesting who determines what “manic” is – I remember when I was in full time paid pastoral ministry and I was trying to get my brother and his wife to reconsider pulling out of our young adult voluntary ministry team, I pleaded with the best argument I had – “but look at us… we manage to do it”, to which my sister in law simply replied, “we don’t want your life!” Now that i am out of that place, I understand what they meant (and all the people who have since told us how concerned they used to be when they saw how busy we were).

    And it’s interesting to see who determines what “materialistic” is – Unless churches challenge the (although good intentioned) blatant consumerism/materialism that lies at the core of many of their theologically camouflaged core values, asking people to want less is no offer of hope at all. Because, all we’ll ask our congregants to do is substitute their “secular materialism” for our version of “spiritual materialism”?

    And I say this from my own humiliating experience – as a pastor of a big contemporary suburbian church, we could never have enough lost people come and join us – I mean who can argue with “every number is a person” and “lost people matter to God”?So, we needed to make sure we were offering the best we could – which by definition had to be at least equal and on par with what the world had to offer (enter spiritual materialism vs, secular materialism) We needed bigger buildings, better sounds systems, more projectors, punchier sermons with multi-media tools, electric video screens, newer carpet, better air conditioning, funkier cafe areas, fuller new comers packs, more individualised programs, more services, nicer gardens, better pamphlets, more professional video editing etc etc. By necessity, all of these things need to be run by people, and because you can only afford to pay so many people to be pastors, you always need more volunteers to make it all happen.

    So, maybe we need to rethink our foundations before we ask others to rethink theirs.

  12. Interesting to see various people talk about the cost of housing etc. We just figured it was beyond us (Busso) 18 months ago, when my in-laws put their hand up and went 50-50 with us.

    There is NO WAY we could make the repayments by ourselves, and there is NO WAY that we could even rent here without serious ramifications.

    But it gets me thinking – we all want the house, right? And even the ‘most holy & humble’ need to spend 300k even on a basic one.

    So why are we all slaving our guts out to make it happen?

    I can hardly claim any superiority here… cos I didn’t think of it, didn’t ask for it, and hadn’t done a lot to make it happen, but the whole ‘sharing the load with others’ idea has some serious merit!

    Not sure how to ‘make it work’ (sounds like a program!) but it is times like these when the EC ideas of community, sharing, communal living etc come to the fore.

    94 model or 06 model – house in Busso or house in Laverton – there has GOT to be a way of making these things happen with God-honouring, community-thinking people.

    Is it possible for others to do this?

    Like I said, I kinda fell into our situation…

    If the current home owners (as opposed to ‘home-payer-offers’) put their heart towards it, are they able to make a Y-Gen (or slow-learning X-Genner’s) dream come true with this stuff?

    Haven’t even touched on the ‘head-space-for-church-structure’ yet, but maybe another time.

    I’d love to hear some other thoughts regarding this, cos I see the answer – I just don’t know how to encourage others towards it!

  13. Ahhh.. so many questions and seemingly so few solutions! I loved reading through this post and related comments because the words articulate a deep ongoing “aagghh” within me. I feel a deep resonance with these questions of work, time, busyness, affording a house, balancing the demands and desires of life, seeking first the kingdom, maintaining friendships, building new ones, encouraging fellow Christians on our mission and then still having the time and energy to actually engage in mission…..

    Somethings gotta give and I have no $#?%! idea what it is 🙂

  14. “the whole ’sharing the load with others’ idea has some serious merit!”

    “the EC ideas of community, sharing, communal living etc come to the fore.”

    “No, if you want to live in suburbia in Perth, and not succumb to a manic, materialistic existence, unless we are prepared to consider sharing houses, cars, food supplies, energy sources, clothes, toys etc etc i think all we will successfully do is reshuffle the deck chairs aboard the titanic.”

    “Sharing” seems to be the key word here and also seems to get a good rap in Acts 2: “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.” and again in Acts 4: “All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.”

    So what are we waiting for???

  15. I like this post Andrew. It shows understanding of how other people actually live. At times I have questioned other people’s commitment to things while not really understanding the life they live and the hard slog it can be at times. I found this to be more so when I had a brief stint in paid full time ministry in a church.

    The thing that seems to work best in our situation is to work part time in a secular role and then be part time in a ministry position. It helped me to find more balance, enjoyment and an understanding of those I served with because I worked too.

    Also, by working part time I felt like I was helping the church and also reaching the community through my work relationships. When I was in full time paid church ministry I felt isolated from the community I was called to reach.

    In regard to the big mortgages in Perth. We moved to the country 9 months ago. We sold our house in Perth and with the equity brought a great house that we own. No more huge mortgage and a much more enjoyable and freer lifestyle to boot. That might be worth considering for some too? It certainly helped free us up financially and as a family.

  16. Dave,

    I really like the idea of any missionary/minister etc having part time “non-church” work. I’m not convinced that it is healthy for anyone to be paid for being in “full time ministry”!

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