I continue to be haunted by a question Tim Rice, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, asked me at the Hunger Games (also known as the PCA Assessment Center). As one of our assessors, he asked me during our two-hour interview, "When was the last time you had fun?" Put differently, "When was the last time you took time out for yourself?" For many, perhaps even most, that question provides no cause for alarm, but for me, as well as many other pastors, that question shakes us at our core.
Once the question was asked, I responded in a bit of amazement. It was not with words, however. I turned to my wife with a look of confusion; my mouth was still closed; she nodded in agreement as if to say, "I have been thinking the same thing." Since my wife knows me best, I could not escape the reality of Tim's question and the subsequent answer. Apparently I do not have fun. I do not take time out for myself.
What do I mean?
Pastoral ministry requires a lot of you. Although our work cannot be measured in the same manner as other vocations (e.g., a real estate agent, construction worker, etc.), we, nevertheless, spend many hours on the job. As a pastor, someone is always bidding for your time. Those unexpected visits at your study that turn into two hours; emails that need to be sent, counseling conducted, home visitations scheduled and executed, session meetings arranged, disputes settled, checks written, the scriptures properly interpreted (i.e., exegesis), prayer properly utilized, funerals conducted, marriages officiated, so-called important questions that people must have answered, and on and on. This is only a part of pastoral ministry. There are many other aspects to it; nevertheless, all of the aforementioned, and more, are extremely time consuming.
You see, I enjoy what I do. Because of that, I do not mind putting in long hours. My vocation does not seem like work often times. Before my family awakes, therefore, I work. When they retire for the evening, I work. Like the navy, pastoral ministry is a 24/7 calling. But unfortunately I have not learned that my work will always be there and I need to take time out for myself.
When do I turn off my phone and go for a walk with my family? When do I stop checking Facebook, Twitter, and email to take a drive and/or walk in the wilderness (in Virginia) and simply thank God for his creation? Why don't I go to the neighborhood park to play basketball more frequently? Why don't I set aside more time to take hikes, take my wife out for a date more often, travel...have fun?
It is because I have developed a bad habit in pastoral ministry. I have not learned how to punch the mental clock-out card. And regrettably, if I keep going and going, like the Energizer Bunny, for the sake of pastoral ministry, I will not be a pastor that long. I will burn-out. My wife seems to agree.
Pastor, can you relate?
Perhaps if I put it differently you can. What is your off-day? According to my session, it is Thursday, but what happens when Thursday arrives? I am still sending emails, making home visits, receiving phone calls, and the like. Thursday really is not an off-day then. Perhaps I check my email a bit less and I do not feel pressured to put in as many hours, but I do work. Yes, I do work, and even as I type this, Pastor Rice's question rings in my mind, "When was the last time you had fun?" When was the last time you took time out for yourself?
Pastor, can you relate? I hope you cannot, but my gut tells me you can. In the past, I have tried to make sure I take a day off. That does not last long, however. I end up working. I am not sure what to do presently, but I am working on it. I hope that through counsel and actually implementing what I learn from older and wiser pastors, I can begin to have fun, that is take time out for myself.
Pastor Rice, thank you for asking me this question. It still penetrates my heart.