According to a 2009 LifeWay Research study, you and I work too much. It said the average full-time pastor works 55 hours a week. And that’s just the average. Forty-two percent of full-time pastors work 60 hours or more.
You weren’t meant to work that much. You can’t keep it up. Yes, the Bible honors hard work but it also condemns workaholism as foolishness? Proverbs 23:4 says, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.”
What wisdom do we need to show restraint in our ministry work? Here are five questions to ask:
1 – Realize your worth. You matter to God, not because you’re a pastor and not because of what you do for him. You matter to him because you are a child of God. No one is insignificant in God’s eyes. 1 John 3:1 says, “See how very much our heavenly father loves us. For He allows us to be called His children. Think of it! And we really are!” (TLB) Faithfully believing you are God’s child will make all the difference in your life.
Key questions: How much of your overwork is tied to your self-worth? What are you trying to prove?
2 – Enjoy what you already have. You may not be striving for more money but you’re likely striving to build a bigger and better ministry. You won’t find rest until you’re content with what you have. That doesn’t mean you stop growing your church. You should never strop growing the church until everyone within driving distance has a relationship with Jesus. But being content means that you never let the size of your ministry determine your value. The Bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NIV)
Key questions: What do you think you need to be content where you are? Why do you think God placed you where you are? What are the positive things about your congregation that you may be over-looking?
3 – Limit your labor. Make room for other things in your life besides your work. Decide how many hours you are going to work each week – and stick to it. This decision has to be conscious. Put it down on paper and schedule it. Make yourself accountable to a friend or your wife.
Exodus 20:9-10 says, “You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to Me. On that day no one is to work.” (GNB) That’s a command from the Ten Commandments. You need one day off a week. Take it. No matter what.
Key questions: Do you take a one-day a week off? How often do I really relax?
4 – Adjust your values. You must change your thinking if you’re going to relax. Workaholics think differently. They have different values. You’re going to have to ask yourself, “What is really important me?” Not what’s important to your neighbors or the world around you—but what’s important to you. Jesus asked a very important question in Mark 8:36-37: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (NIV) Here’s the question for you: “What does it profit you to grow a big church if you lose your family in the process?”
Key questions: Why am I doing this? If I take a look at my work schedule, what values and priorities does it reveal?
5 – Expect God’s care. Sometimes Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:31-32) You can’t put your security in what you have.
No matter how much money you make or how much prestige you have in ministry, you will never have complete security. The economy could collapse, natural disasters could destroy everything you’ve earned, or bad health could come your way. Ultimately, security must be placed in something that can’t be taken from you.
Key questions: Take an honest assessment of your life and determine where your security is in Christ and where it may be in something else?
I know about workaholics because I used to be one. At the end of the first year at Saddleback, I physically collapsed. I was burned out. I had been working 18- to 20-hour days. I took an entire month off and took my family out to Phoenix where my in-laws lived, dropped them off and spent some time walking in the desert atmosphere. I kept asking myself, “What is it that’s driving me? What makes me work until I just collapse? Who am I trying to impress? What am I trying to prove?”
I remembered the verse in the Bible where Jesus said, “I will build my church.”
I told Jesus, “OK, You build the church. It’s your church. You’re the pastor.” God said, “Rick, you work on building people. And I’ll build the church.” It was a deal.
That was the most relaxing, yet crucial and frightening experience I’ve ever had. When I realized that my value as a person had absolutely nothing to do with whether the church got bigger or smaller, that was a life changer.