The joke wears a little thin sometimes so I have to remind myself that people mean well and that they are really just having some fun at my expense. In this case the joke came up in the context of my being retired. The person suggested that it really shouldn’t have been all that different for me to retire because I only worked one day a week anyway. I was waiting for the rest, but it didn’t come so I filled it in for him: “And even then it was only just one hour a day.”
Fortunately most people in our churches know better. But the joke continues to make the rounds. There’s even a story of three young lads bragging about their dads in the playground at school. One boasts that his dad is a pilot and that he makes just one flight a week to New York and back and for that he gets $2000. The second youngster, not to be outdone, tells the group that his dad is a heart-surgeon – and that just one open-heart operation brings in $3000. The third lad trumps the others by reporting that his father is a preacher, works just one hour on a Sunday but that it takes four people to carry all the money to him.
Over the years people have often been surprised when I answer their question: How long does it take you to make sermon? I tell them that it is rare for me to produce a sermon in less than ten hours. When they express surprise I ask them to think back to written assignments they had to do in year 12 at High School. I ask them to think of the hours of research and reading and then draft after draft of their paper until finally they handed in their finished copy.
The reality is that these days many demands are made on pastors – it’s not just the preaching. Fifty years ago if a couple wanted to get married they called on the pastor, set a date and filled in the necessary paper-work. The next time they saw him (apart from Sundays at church) was at the wedding service. In my case we didn’t even have a rehearsal the night before the big day. These days the pastor is typically expected to take the couple for half a dozen pre-marriage sessions.
Some years ago a colleague complained that we ministers worked too hard. He held up as an example for us, the clergy in the Church of England in the 1800s. For example the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould was a faithful and much loved pastor. But he collected folk songs and used them as inspiration to write hymns – including his best-known song, “Onward Christian Soldiers”. He produced a book of 53 folk songs that was widely used in British schools. But his interests outside of his clergy work didn’t end there. He wrote many novels, a collection of ghost stories and a 16-volume “The lives of the saints”. On top of that he inherited the role of a Squire which meant he had to manage a property. And then I should add that he and his wife parented 15 children! My guess is that Sabine Baring-Gould didn’t spend ten hours on each sermon
Why am I writing these things? Because I know that most of our ministers work hard. They teach young people; they mentor leaders; they counsel couples with marital difficulties; they visit the sick; they give some leadership to their elders and deacons and usually chair Session meetings. And when the Lord’s Day comes around they usually have to have two more sermons ready to preach.
Please pray for your pastor. Pray especially that in all his busyness he might not lose sight of the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the very heart of his ministry.