On Thursday and Friday of last week, I drove back to my home in Prince George after fulfilling a pastoral transition role in Saskatchewan that lasted almost two years. In fact, it was exactly two years ago as I was finishing a similar stint in another distant location when communication began with the church in Saskatchewan which I ended up serving. Now that I am actually finished (except for some on-going connection as needed and preparing to lead this year’s AGM later in June), I am rather amazed by the sense of emotional and physical fatigue that I’m experiencing.
Though the experience of the last two years was personally very fulfilling and satisfying I was conscious of its constant demand and intensity. I find myself wanting to simply rest a good deal partly also, possibly, because I have developed what appears to be a kind of tendonitis in my left shoulder. I know of no particular injury that might have precipitated that pain; it seems to have developed slowly and then continued through most of the past six months. By the doctor’s advisement, I am currently seeking treatment for it from a physiotherapist. I don’t know, but the tightness in my back and shoulder muscles feels like it may be stress-related.
While it is true that I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of my work with the church in Saskatchewan, it was not a particularly easy time of service. Several elements contributed to the intensity of this time. One had to do with the size and location of the church. Though not large by some standards, it is a substantially-sized church of more than 300 people. The diversity of the congregation in terms of the age demographics also contributed to the sense of challenge.
Much of it also had to do with seeking to achieve unity amidst divergent views on various theological or practical issues. While the process of assessment and search moved along methodically and encouragingly, the Search Process itself turned out to take longer and proved more complex that at first anticipated. Then there was the fact of distance from my home, living away from home for extended periods, and regular travel. Because of the length of time involved in the process, the pastoral aspect of the role increased as time progressed, which added to the sense of responsibility.
Despite the challenges alluded to here I very much enjoyed the sense of dependence on God for this work and what it means to be led by His Spirit. The congregation appeared to acknowledge and accept my pastoral leadership well through this entire period of time. And I grew to love the church and the people very much. I found the church generous in its hospitality and care for me. Though we had to work through some difficult matters, the church seemed to genuinely appreciate the value of this commitment.
But this experience makes me realize afresh that pastoral ministry or any genuine service for Christ over time, especially if it is of a long and intense period, is not easy. I give glory to Christ Jesus for His sustaining grace for what was needed during this whole time. My journal reflects many instances in which I felt fully dependent on God’s wisdom and strength for what was required. I am amazed by the many instances in which I felt His presence and power. And because of that, I have every reason to believe that He is going to bless the life and ministry of this congregation in the days ahead.
I read of instances in Scripture in which Jesus and others felt the reality of ministry fatigue. I think of Moses, David, and Elijah to name only a few. Paul too writes of being pressed on every side so that he despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8). These examples lead us to the conclusion that while God provides all that is needed, true service for Christ is physically, spiritually, and emotionally taxing.
With that, while thankful for God’s goodness in all of these experiences, I’m heading off to get some rest — a special gift from God.