Do Not Let the Train Wreck (Newsletter 4-8)

by Rodney Shaw

The past few days I have felt some of the stress that comes upon us ministers at times. I have been trying to finish this magazine so it will be on time. But I have had other substantial engagements as well. Our church purchased land last week, and I am preparing for the initial meeting of our building committee. I will be
leaving the country in two days for a missions trip, and I will be preaching tomorrow night. I have a social function to attend tonight, and two of our parishioners were thrown in jail this week. One of them called me from a cell phone while being arrested. This all is in addition to my routine responsibilities. But whether I like it or not, Sunday night is coming, so I will, by the grace of God, walk to the pulpit with my game face on, smile, and proclaim the good news. I am a
minister, and that’s my job.

But more important than the way I walk to the pulpit is the way I walk through my front door. Last night my twelve-year-old daughter tried to show me something she had learned on the computer, but I declined, citing fatigue. I went to bed. Some days I spend all my energy and emotions during the day only to go home an empty shell. I somehow find the strength to approach the pulpit with my full attention, but it is very easy to go home and be a million miles away.

This can only go on for so long before the train wrecks. Just because there are no obvious signs of failure does not mean one is not in trouble. Many times our families internalize their frustrations and disappointments. We put in long hours, spend our emotions on others, and give our families what is left. Our families may not say anything, but this does not mean damage is not occurring. It seems to me that we are often more driven to succeed than to work for the kingdom. It is easy to dignify our work with religious terms and say we are all about saving souls, but even in this holy task there can be a strand of competitiveness and a desire to gain our worth from what we have accomplished. How many did you run last Sunday? How big is your building? How many got the Holy Ghost? How
much did you give to missions? Are you on a district board or committee?

All these things are important, but it is easy for these things to become a way of keeping score. When this hap­pens, we have fallen prey to pride. C. S. Lewis noted that pride is essentially competitive. It is not so much that people want to be wealthy, for exam­ple; rather, they want to be more wealthy than the next person. If every­one were equally wealthy and all lived in the same kind of house and drove the same model car, this would not appease the proud. It is the competi­tiveness that keeps them going. This is human nature, and we can approach ministry with this same attitude.

We work, we spend, we empty our­selves, we get stressed, we have tension at home, and then it happens:

We have an innocent e-mail exchange with an attractive lady in the church. She has needs. You are helping her. She appreciates all the work she sees
you doing. You exchange pleasantries. She stops by for advice on a church project she is working on, and you had better hope you are half-way spir­itual when she does. (By the way, did you pray today?) Okay, so you may not commit physical adultery, but these mind games and emotional affairs drain you even further of your ability to connect with your family.

It’s not all about sex, scandal, and embezzlement. There are plenty of other ways to abandon our families while we pursue our ministry. It is easy to settle for what we can get away with, not on maximizing the potential in our relationships. In a slightly different context, Eugene Peterson said, “We run all over town,
from committee to committee, confer­ence to conference, organization to organization, doing all manner of good work, scattering seed in every­body’s field but our own.”

Who has the liberty to tell you the train is about to wreck? I am not talking about a distant friend or “mentor” who only knows what you want him to know about your life, but who is in your immediate context who can say, “Hey, Stupid, your fam­ily needs you! Quit playing the preacher game. Go home and spend some uninterrupted time with your family.” Do you have such a voice in your life? You only have your chil­dren for a brief time. Your wife is more important than your ministry. Don’t squander this precious time competing with others and trying to impress the world.

Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets! Somebody please tell me if my train is about to wreck.