What we need for the work
Over the years we've used a variety of words to describe it. The buzz word today is multi-tasking. Some call it juggling. Others refer to balance. In the new world it isn't such an odd performance feat. Today it's the norm. Call it what you will, but it's work. You know, work!
Not too long ago myth overlaid the world of work. Seers predicted that work weeks would be shortened in the new millennium and citizens would be fidgeting through a new world of leisure and down time. An article in the Washington Post last year reported that Americans actually work an average of 46.7 hours per week, an increase of nearly one workday per week. That's the myth. We're working more and not less.
Thirty-seven years ago when I left the business world to enter seminary another myth was a smackdown from just about every one of my banking and hospital administration friends: "you ministers only work one day a week." Give me a break. In a survey by Thom Rainer in 2013 the median work hours for pastors was 50 hours per week, meaning half worked more than fifty hours and half less. Other studies indicate higher work hours for most pastors. But, the point is the same. Myths about our time are often just that, the mythology of stereotypes and personal biases.
Ministry is hard work, a double whammy of difficulty. Jesus promised it would be hard, and the work part is a central theme of the New Testament, the Lord's teaching included. Harvest images inter-lace his parables and lessons. What is more, a work ethic for believers is taught. But, for now, let's amplify the expectation of work among those called to kingdom service at another level, the pastors and spiritual he assigns to his church. There's ample mention in the New Testament---
When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is
doing the work of the Lord, as I am.
1 Corinthians 16:10, ESV
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over
you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly
in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, ESV
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer,
he desires a noble task.
1 Timothy 3:1, ESV
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have
shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.
Hebrews 6:10, ESV
These are just four uses of the Greek word ergon is verses applying to the work of an overseer or spiritual leader. It's not a mysterious term and is used extensively throughout the New Testament, 174 occurrences. Generally it means what it means. Work is work. That's also without mentioning the corollary terms like energy, labor, diligence, toil, serving, and the negatives about sluggards, and slothfulness. The idea of kingdom work is significant in Scripture. Preaching and teaching, in addition to pastoral care and administration, are considered acts of labor (see 1 Timothy 5:20).
It's somewhat of a gloss over today, this talk about ministry and work. In the first place, we're a little sensitive about this talk because of our particular doctrinal stance about work as a means of gaining God's favor. People dependent on God's grace can't depend on work to earn our salvation. Second, work implies business, and we're leery of corporate models and management strategies as leadership systems in Christ's church. So, ideas about careers, advancement, compensation, vacation, job descriptions, training, marketing and branding, and other system processes are whispered under the surface of church budgets and personnel policies.
But, there it is, the work of the kingdom. It's hard, and it's work, no matter the spin we try to put on the biblical terms. But, there's promise in it too. Paul the Apostle knew every side of it, through the chains, beatings, and personal hardship, to the unique and special blessings that attend such labor. To the Corinthians he wrote---
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.
On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the
grace of God that is with me.
1 Corinthians 15:10, ESV
That's it, the grace of God that is with me! it's give us strength and prepares us for the work. For thirty-five years I've thanked him for His abundant grace for the work. And, when it got hard, when I was tired and weary, there was this wonderful promise---
But he gives more grace.
James 6:6, ESV
More grace, what we need for the work.