Pastor, Your Time is Purchased
Shortly after I entered pastoral ministry, one of our members took me to lunch simply to encourage me. He had pastored before, he knew some of the challenges that lay ahead of me now, and he wanted to share some insights and wisdom. During this lunch, he said something that was probably just a passing thought to him but it made a lasting impression on me: “Matt, your time is purchased.”
I knew that was true in my previous career. But does it work the same in the church? Not quite.
NOT TAXATION, BUT REPRESENTATION
In Philippians 4, Paul encourages the church in their generosity. He thanks them for sharing in his trouble by giving to his ministry; this generosity, he says, is fruit that increases to their credit (vv.14–17). The money wasn’t forcibly taken from them, but they gave out of their love for him and their desire for his ministry to continue. They gave so much that he had to tell them to stop (v.18)! And this is what makes the church fundamentally different from my previous career in the non-profit public health industry: people give out of desire, not compulsion.
People offer their money freely to what they believe is truly worth it. No one forces me to buy new basketball shoes. I buy them because I believe they have value. I believe they’ll give me better traction, support, comfort, and joy. And this is how the church works.
Pastor, your time is purchased by God’s people who freely give their money so that you can continue to build up the body of Christ, maturing them so they don’t slip, equipping them for endurance in the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11–16). This ought to provoke a unique reverence in us as we work. Not a reverence that puffs us up, but one that humbles and motivates us to be worn out for those we shepherd.
WORN OUT, NOT WORN DOWN
The Bible’s teaching on Sabbath-keeping helps us to understand both the rest we need and the work we do. You recall the scuffles Jesus had with the religious leaders over his activities on the Sabbath. They emphasized the necessity to set aside a particular day. Jesus, on the other hand, shows us that we find ultimate rest in him (Mk. 2:23–28). God means for the Sabbath day to point us toward our deep need for the true rest we can only find in Jesus. Or, as Augustine put it, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Does this mean we don’t need physical rest? Of course not! But remember the example in the command: God worked for six days and rested for one (Ex. 20:11). In other words, sabbath is required when you’ve been working hard—but also, hard work is required once you’ve rested. The book of Proverbs tells us that it’s through diligence and hard work that we see gain, but poverty and shame come upon those who waste away while it’s time to harvest (Prov. 10:4–5).
Pastor, your time is purchased so that you can labor hard for the kingdom while resting securely in Christ. We profane the Sabbath when we’re unwilling to rest, and when we’re unwilling to work. So wear yourself out for the glory and fame of Jesus Christ, but don’t be worn down. Jesus is our rest. We plant and water, but only he yields the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).
HELPLESS FAITHFULNESS REQUIRED
Recently, my wife and I visited a church while on a family vacation. The congregation was small, the preaching wasn’t especially compelling, but the pastor was faithful. He was being spent for his congregation—the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made him an overseer (Acts 20:28).
We often slip into the lie that we’ve been called because we’re equipped. But the well-known saying runs the other way: “God doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called.” I’m afraid many of us believe that we must perform now that we’re in ministry. We must be the best preachers. We must have the most insight. Our words must be apples in a setting of silver. Thankfully, we’re not called to be flawless but faithful. Our job is to over and over again give people Jesus Christ and him crucified—a stumbling block to the religious and foolishness to the irreligious (1 Cor. 1:22). We’re called to remain faithful to the tasks God has given us as we trust that Jesus is building his church (Matt. 16:18).
Pastor, your time is purchased so that you can lead your people in helpless faithfulness. So that you can be an example to the flock of what it looks like to be weak, yet strong in the Lord (1 Cor. 12:10). Pastor, your time is purchased for you to joyfully pour yourself out for your people so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, they may be rooted, built up, and established in their faith (Col. 2:6–7).