I called to talk to Julie a moment ago to see if I could come by and see her father again. “Dad passed away this morning.” It left me with a feeling of guilt that I’ve experienced often before.
On Monday, my supposed day off, I got a call from the father of a man who used to attend our church. His wife’s uncle (great uncle?) was sick and he asked me if I would go over and “lead him to Jesus.” I tried to explain that it was a little tougher than just showing up and automatically leading a guy to Jesus but I said I’d go. I did.
Early Monday afternoon I met with Jim in his room at the assisted living center and spoke to him about Christ. He was not able to respond, other than by making faces. His daughter assured me he understood what I was saying. He was a man in his late 80s who had never had much time for Jesus. Frankly, it’s easier to preach the gospel when the subject can’t talk back, isn’t it? I shared the gospel story, told him about the thief on the cross who looked to Christ moments before he faced eternity, explained that even at this late moment in life, the grace and love of God extended to him. I asked him to trust in Christ.
Then I left. When I did, I told his daughter that I’d try to come back Tuesday to talk again. Tuesday turned out to be one of those days. I got a middle of the night (well, early morning) call from the alarm company and had to get up and go over to the church to check things out. When I finally got back to bed I switched my alarm off and slept later than usual. I had a bunch of stuff to do at the office and pretty soon it was late afternoon and I’d not made it back to Jim’s. My grandkids were headed to the house (Hurricane JohannahEllis) and so I told myself I’d just put it off until tomorrow, which is today.
I spent today dealing with our church’s insurance. Our company messed up and then messed with us. Because we had an open claim (we haven’t been able to get the company out to complete the repairs after the massive storm that damaged our entire area in June of 2017) they raised our deductible sky-high and changed some of our coverages. So, I met with a new insurance company and fielded a plaintive call from the old company begging not to lose our business.
Finally, a few minutes ago I thought again about going to see Jim, as I’d promised to do yesterday but procrastinated. It was too late. His eternity has been settled.
I’m not a megalomaniac. I realize that I couldn’t have saved Jim by showing up and if he is under eternal judgment today it isn’t because I didn’t show up. I’m not trying to take onto myself guilt or credit for his salvation. I just want to reflect a bit on the nature of the ministry and the pressures we face as pastors.
We like to talk as if we work harder than anyone else, a claim I doubt is true. There are other people, other professions who work long hours and hard hours and have great pressures. But on Monday, I told a woman I’d visit her and talk to her dad again about his eternal soul. I procrastinated a day and suddenly he was experiencing the reality of the verse, “It is appointed unto man to die once and after that, to face judgment.” His destiny was settled.
Here are the realities of ministry.
- We live daily with the pressure of the eternal souls of men and women on our hands. Paul claimed that as the greatest of his pressures in 2 Corinthians 11. If that doesn’t weigh on us, we shouldn’t be in the business. Again, I realize ultimately its all in God’s hands, but our ministry has eternal consequences.
- There has never been a day in my nearly 40 years of ministry in which I got my work done. There was always more to do. More people to visit. More prayers to pray. More papers to process. More studying. When you are a pastor, your work is never done until God calls you home. I’ve never laid my head on the pillow at night with all my tasks complete.
- There are always people who think I am doing a horrible job. I’ve tried to preach God’s word and live with integrity but someone is always there to remind me of my imperfections. Remember, people condemned Jesus to death. You and I will never be universally celebrated. Jesus promised that.
- Ministry in a struggling, traditional church does not offer the kind of ego-boosting rewards that guys get in the fast-growing churches. I read a couple of guys recently who said that we should give up on churches like mine, close them, and start over. Made me feel good. I’m grinding day by day hoping God will open heaven’s blessings on a church that needs a fresh start and people are saying churches like mine aren’t even worth the effort.
- We have the joy of being called to jobs of eternal import, but often get mired in mundane things. Did I need to deal with the church’s insurance issue? Yes. In our church, I needed to work through that to bring a recommendation to the admin team. It would be nice if I could spend all my time in my office studying and preparing sermons, but I’m called to minister to people. It is a constant battle balancing the eternal and the temporal.
- I often think of the old Dawson Trotman tract, “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” Things that are important are seldom urgent. Things that are urgent are seldom important. We have to complete urgent tasks without being sidelined from the important ones. I don’t think I’m very good at that.
- A big part of ministry is learning to deal with my failures. I, like many pastors, am prone to messianic leanings. When I fail it reminds me that I serve the perfect Lord of all, I am not him! Someone said that there are two lessons each of us needs to learn. There is a God. I’m not him. Times like this help me to remember that.
I am glad I went over to visit Jim and share Christ with him on Monday. Maybe he heard me and responded – it is something I won’t know until I reach the other side. But I am reminded of that constant struggle I have between what I’m doing and what I should be doing, the ideal of ministry and the real, administration and ministering to souls. I’m called to do both and finding the balance is not always easy.
No, I’m not depressed right now. I just felt bad about procrastinating and it got me thinking about the stresses of ministry. Our job isn’t harder than everyone else’s, but it is unique. There are things about it I love and things that wear me out. I just wanted to share my burden with you a little – maybe some of you feel what I feel.
Jim, I hope I see you again.