I’m sure some of you cringed at the title of this post. Even still, this is truth for many pastors and their families. In addition to regular work and family schedules, the additional services and programs can quickly turn Holy Week into Holy (h*ll) Week! Most pastors and their families dread church holidays because they are anything but celebratory or relaxed. If truth be told, they’re exhausting, and not just for the pastor-parents or spouses, but also for the pastor-kids.
A few years ago, our family found ourselves in this place. Passing one another like two ships in the night on the hamster wheel of ministry: going and going and going. Just like the Energizer Bunny, only not so much. We were tired! No, we were physically exhausted. We read our Bible and we prayed, but spiritually, we were dry. Actually, personally speaking, it was more like completely and utterly parched. We laughed when we read the verse, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That just wasn’t our reality as we navigated the journey of ministry. Still, we continued to keep at that pace. Erroneously justifying it all by believing since it was “for Jesus,” then, it was okay.
But, one day, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “If this is what vocational ministry is all about, we don’t want any part of it! There has to be more to life, more to ministry than this. What’s this business about ‘missional living’? Heck, we don’t even see each other, much less our neighbors because we are never home! We are always at church! Something’s got to change.” And something did: We did! In fact, many things changed.
We realized Jesus never called pastors to sacrifice their marriages and/or families at the altar of ministry. And that boundaries weren’t merely nice, they were necessary. No, actually, imperative. Even if others didn’t respect them or understand them. We discovered we could love and serve our church and community with our whole hearts without burning out or ignoring our marriage and family. After all, what good is it to have a thriving ministry if our marriages and families are dying and going to hell in a hand basket?
Oh, yes, something changed! Our hearts changed. Our schedules changed. Our jobs changed. Our ministry philosophy changed. Our priorities changes. And while change can sometimes be a four-letter word, in this instance, it was a welcomed oasis in the desert that was our lives during that season.
Since then, we have been on a mission to simplify all areas of our lives, but especially the excessive busyness around holidays. Now, some may say the holiday schedule that pastoral families face just comes with the territory. Others may think our efforts to bring about change is futile. Still, simplifying is our goal. (Have you read the book Simple Church written by fellow La. Tech Alumni, Eric Geiger and Thom Rainer? If not, definitely one to pick up!)
It’s our desire to change the paradigm both within our nuclear family, but also within the church(es) that we serve. You see, we don’t believe that busyness = godliness. And we have vowed not to sacrifice our marriage or our family at the altar of church ministry. Ever. It’s our belief that effective, Kingdom-impacting ministry doesn’t have to result in complete and utter exhaustion for anyone: pastoral staff, lay people, or even the congregation.
Although we we are proactive to guard our family time and purposefully include ‘white space’ on our calendars, the nature of our jobs requires that we work church holidays. As pastors’ kids, our children know the days leading up to holidays can be all-consuming for the parental units, and not really family-friendly, if truth be told. Easter Brunch doesn’t happen around here. (Well, unless, they’re noshing on the free donuts in the foyer at church.) And Christmas Eve dinner is usually take-out in between services. But this year, instead of Chinese food, I actually cooked. Well, my crock pot did: Vegetable Beef Soup! Our holiday traditions may not be of the Normal Rockwell variety, but we still try to make them fun for our kids because they have not one, but two, pastors for parents!
Due to the nature of my job(s), I work several evenings a week either at church or in my music studio. As such, I’ve never attended a Maundy Thursday service. However, I just found out that my last three piano/voice students are unable to attend lessons today; so, after 6PM, I’m free! In texting back and forth with my husband, we have put together a Maundy Thursday service and dinner menu for our family this evening.
Lamb (Pesah): No lamb in the house, but I’d already defrosted chicken legs. So, baked chicken, it is!
Bitter Herbs (Maror): Covered! Thanks to the big ole bag of mixed power greens in the fridge.
Unleavened bread (Matzah): Well, in a pinch, saltines crackers are gonna have to suffice.
Wine: Instead of grape juice, the kids will have Martinelli’s Apple-Cranberry. That’d be a good substitute, don’t ‘cha think?
Haroset (Charoseth): Now, this sounded complicated at first, but I discovered it’s simply apples and cinnamon with raisins tossed in. Got it! Tonight, it just might be cinnamon-flavored applesauce and raisins. 🙂
This evening, we want our kids to know–now more than ever–as much as we both adore our vocational roles as pastors and the church we serve, we are their parents first. And they are our priority. Along with an improvised Passover Meal, we are creating a Maundy Thursday service. With a simple internet search, I found a few service templates to pick and choose from, in order to create our own family service. Two elements that we are including are Communion and foot washing. Our kids are familiar with Communion, but foot washing will be something new for them. Jesus instituted this ordinance for His disciples, to illustrate His willingness to unconditionally serve and love us. In washing our children’s feet, I hope they realize our love for them, but more importantly, the depth of Christ’s love for them.
Easter Sunday is just around the corner. For our family, the buzz of the alarm will go off early in the wee hours of the morning to begin a day of work and service. But this evening, we are going to slow down, simplify and savor the moment. And as parents, we are going to serve our kids and share with them The Story that changed our lives, the gift that was freely given, and the grace that continues to flow over us even though we don’t deserve it. To us, training those two up is of more importance than having a church filled to the brim on Easter Sunday or any other Sunday, for that matter. Sometimes, we have to take a step back ourselves, ya know, to regain perspective of what matters most.
So, to my ministry friends, I know this week has been full and, quite possibly, frantic for you and your families. It is my prayer that you, too, can slow down, simplify, and savor the reality of this week. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.