“You only work an hour on Sunday!”
I’ve heard variations of that phrase since the beginnings of my ministry. A generous version of it is, “Hey, pastor, you just work one day a week.”
An hour! One day! Folks worship on Sunday (likely their day off) and there’s the preacher! An hour or so later, they are headed home and the preacher’s “job” is done!
When I was younger, just starting out in ministry, that phrase could really rattle my cage. I remember being in the middle of a walnut grove, picking up zillions of walnuts for a youth group fund raiser, and hearing a parent from that youth group “adventure” gleefully chortle: “Hey Larry, what a cushy job you have, you only work an hour a week!”
I forced a smile, grumbled something, and kept shoving nuts into a bottomless bag. Inside, I fumed! My muscles ached. My fingers were stained from walnut hulls. There I was, in the middle of some stranger’s property, hours from home, with a bunch of youth and their parents, picking an eternity of walnuts! Grrrr!
One of the annual activities for that youth group—and the youth were one of my responsibilities—was a fund raiser “inherited” from the Senior Pastor’s friendship with a farmer who owned walnut orchards. After farm workers and machines had gathered most of the walnuts, the youth group was invited to come and get the leftovers. Oh, joy.
Then we sold the walnuts to church members after shelling and bagging them.
If I only worked an hour on Sunday, what was I doing dragging a bag around from dawn to dusk on a Saturday? How could he joke about an “hour on Sunday” with me?
Now, on my best days, I revel in my lack of work. I know that many observe me doing something on a typical Sunday that astounds them: I preach. Public speaking, in any form, usually ranks near the top of phobias. A lot of folks would rather be trapped in a claustrophobic space, or surrounded by spiders and snakes, than talk before a crowd of people.
I am vividly aware that compared to others, I do very non-productive activities. I listen to people, I pray, I encourage, I visit, I write information in church newsletters or web pages that few read, and I do a whole host of other work-related events that don’t add one penny to the gross national product.
Teachers come home and can say, “My kids learned about fractions today!” Carpenters come home and can say, “Finished the framing today.” Stockbrokers come home and say, “Sold a gazillion shares today.”
Me? I picked walnuts today. For free. Or, I visited a person in the hospital and . . . listened to them.
Yes, there are the bad days. Earlier this week, when I seemed to be mostly pushing the same unfilled papers around on my desk, I looked out my office window and was jealous. Members of our volunteer Tuesday Crew—retired guys who do odd jobs around the church—were repairing a broken bench. How I envied them! What a wonderful, specific job, with a clear goal (this bench has to be torn down and replaced) and a clear moment of completion (the newly built bench is painted).
Yup, I envied their well-defined task. But, still, what a privilege I have to engage in “useless” ministry.
Today, though I suspect I’ll also procrastinate, I have scheduled preparation time for sermons I’ll do in September and October. I’ll discover what Biblical scholars think about certain Biblical accounts. I might attempt word searches on the original Greek or Hebrew meanings. Or maybe, for a stretch of silence, I will ponder Jesus’ stunning “the meek shall inherit the earth” or Jeremiah’s confession in the opening verses of his namesake book, “Ah, Lord God. Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.
How will I interpret the words to be preached? What will I imagine? What will I dream? Will God, in ways mysterious and blessed, nudge me toward a new truth or a forgotten hope? Here in July I will do work that will show up in October, for that “one hour on Sunday.”
No nail will be pounded. Benches will still need to be fixed. Children will soon discover fractions. The stocks will rise and fall.
Will my work today help another, when they hear what I dare to preach, deepen their relationship with the Holy? I pray so. But I also know it won’t appear on any time card. Will that visit, sitting next to a person’s hospital bed, listening to their hurt, and praying with them, make a difference? I pray so. But it won’t make a big splash on my resume.
Yup, most days I don’t do much. Ministry is a nutty job.
*Written in 2006. Though not serving in a church now, it’s still nuts out there!!