Thursday, October 08, 2009

On workaholic pastors

Not many members of Reformed churches would quietly boast if their pastor was an alcoholic or a drug addict, but it seems that people have a sneaking admiration for workaholic ministers. They say, 'Oh, our pastor is a workaholic. He never stops!' As if that was a good thing. It is easy for pastors to become workaholics. We don't have a human boss who tells us when to start and finish the working day. That could induce laziness as no one is keeping an eye on us, but I don't think that's a problem for most Reformed pastors. The work itself is never ending. Sermons need preparing, people need visiting, meetings need chairing, activities need organising, study, writing articles, admin, blah, blah blah. It is a great work (apart from admin) and we should throw ourselves into the ministry of the word. In terms of study and preparation we get to spend lots of time doing things that other Christians have to squeeze around their busy working lives. But pastors shouldn't become workaholics. It's not a good or admirable thing when that happens.
Workaholic pastors are a bad example to their people. If a minister is a husband and father, then he like all Christian men in that position will need to spend quality time with his family. Even Jonathan Edwards made sure that he spent time chilling out with his large family each evening. Take a day off. We can't often have Sundays off, but the Sabbath principle that man needs a day of rest still applies. 'The Sabbath was made for man'. Get in the car and go somewhere. If you lounge around at home on your day off the phone will ring and you'll get sucked into work. Get organised so that your sermons are prepped etc and take some time out with the wife and kids. Churches should be sensitive to this matter and try and leave their pastor in peace on his designated day off.
Workaholic pastors are acting as if their acceptance with God were dependent upon their frantic efforts. That is a contradiction of justification by faith alone. God accepts us on the basis of what Christ has done for us rather than on the basis of what we have done for him. We need to find the time and space to bask in the loving acceptance of the Father, rest in the finished work of the Son and delight in the witness of the Spirit of adoption. If our ministry does not flow out of communion with the triune God of all grace, then what's the point?
Workaholic ministers are guilty of a form of activism - the tacit belief that God's work is almost entirely dependent on our gargantuan labours. Perhaps we need to do less stuff and spend more time in prayer. After all our primary calling is to give ourselves to 'prayer and the ministry of the word' (Acts 6:4) - in that order. Business does not necessarily amount to fruitfulness.
Workaholic pastors make themselves inaccessible to their flocks as they seem to be far too busy to bother with problems of one kind or another. This may stop spiritual hypochondriacs from pestering their minister unnecessarily, but our people should know that we are available to them when they need our help and counsel.
Workaholic ministers need to remember that, 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy - and if he's a pastor, a dull preacher.' Maintain interests outside of pastoral work. Keep up with what's going on in the world. Enjoy sport. Listen to music. Watch a bit of TV. Catch the occasional film. Read a novel. People sometimes seem affronted that pastors have time to do anything else bar work. I'm often asked how on earth I find the time to blog.
Fellow pastor, don't be a workaholic. Don't be addicted to your work. The only permissible addiction for Christians is an addiction to Christ, Philippians 3:8. 'One thing is needful'!


Martin Downes said...


byron smith said...

Amen. This is so important. Our year group from theological college stays in contact via an email list and we have been discussing this issue at some length over the last few weeks.

Thanks for posting.

Exiled Preacher said...


That's what I could end up looking like if I don't take my own advice.

Thanks, Byron. Helpful thoughts.

Martin Downes said...

Very helpful post by the way

K.R. Pent said...

It would, I'd think, be easy for a Pastor to subconsciously rely more on his own abilities with this workaholic mentality. "The harder I work, the better my sermons."

I appreciate your admonition to pastors, as I'm thankful my pastor-father took time to minister to his family and friends, as well.

Gary Brady said...

Thanks for that Guy. I tend to have the opposite problem (being rather lazy). I think that what we all find difficult is relaxing. Spurgeon talks somewhere about the need to unstring the bow. We need to be taught not to remain taut all the time!

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks Gary. It's not good for pastors or any Christians for that matter to be too highly strung. 'Come aside and rest a while' was one of the Lord's commands to the apostles. The trouble was that 5000 hungry men turned up on their day off.