‘Everyone wants a piece of me’
They’ve never said it to me. But I suspect it’s how they feel. The words are mine. But I’m pretty any one of the Christian family men in our congregation could have said them. Many of us are at that that stage of life where everywhere we turn someone is making demands on us. I think this is especially true for those of us who are parenting on the front nine (when our kids are aged 0 to 9).
Work wants a piece of us. They’re after their pound of flesh. And we’re especially susceptible to the pressures they exert because we want to ‘make it’. We’re at that ‘make or break’ stage in our careers. We not only need to do an adequate job, we need to show willing and be prepared to go the extra mile (and then some) for the sake of the company. We’re aware that there are younger men and women beneath us in the company food chain who will advance above us if we show any sign of weakening our strength of commitment to the firm. And so, if we’re honest, work gets teh best of us. It’s probably true that our employers exert their influence through our wallets and the fears that they need to be fuller than they are. Work exercises material leverage on us. But perhaps they also exert their influence on our ego.
Family wants a piece of us. Our wives want a break from a week of parenting difficult pre-school or primary school children. They’re done with the bickering, the bath time, the endless drink spills, the unscheduled toilet incidents. Our kids want some input, stimulation and attention from their Dads. Both requests are reasonable. But we just want a rest. I suspect that if you asked most Dads what they’d do with a Saturday morning, many of them would choose a quiet corner of Starbucks, a coffee and a paper. It’s not that they don’t want to be with their wives or their kids. It’s just that, at the end of a stressful week at work, they want to be alone even more. But our families exert their influence on us through our hearts. They exercise emotional leverage on us. And we know they’re right.
And then Church wants a piece of us. We can’t escape even on a Sunday. Everyone else gets a two day weekend. We don’t, we’ve got church. And they want us to take one new responsibilities, they want us to chair an action group, to read the Bible one to one with a new Christian, they want us to lead evangelistic lives and cultivate non-Christian friendships and they want us to set up church on a Sunday morning. Theologically we may believe in every member ministry. Our reformed credentials are impeccable. But honestly, we’d prefer to pay the staff to do it! We’re not being lazy, we’re just spent. But church, and the pastors who run it, exert their influence through our conscience. They exercise spiritual leverage through our guilt!
Although everyone wants piece of us, we accept that it’s the downside of having those things. We wouldn’t want to not have them! We want to be in work, we love our families and we believe in church ministry. It’s just wearying.
If I’m right then it raises questions about how we run church ministry in family congregations when parents are on the front nine. As a pastor of a church with an ‘All Age’ congregation that fits this description I’m constantly asking ‘what’s reasonable to expect?’ It came up in my thinking this week because we’ve just started a series in 2 Timothy. In the opening chapter Paul gently rebukes Timothy from stepping back from his responsibilities. They were things that he might reasonably have been expected to be doing given his Christian heritage, his role as a church pastor and his gifting by the Spirit.And eh wasn’t doing them. And so Paul had to tell him to get back in the game.
It’s much easier to apply that to the church pastor, it’s much harder to apply that to the church member. It’s just so much harder to pin down ‘what’s reasonable to expect’. Of course, it’ll be different for different people; their individual circumstances, their Christian maturity, their temperaments, their work ethic, the age and stage of their kids, how much sleep they’re getting, whether there are family issues that they have to deal with, their employment patterns and so on.
I’m a lot further on in identifying the issues than in coming up with the answers. I’ve got a few ideas about how to think about this but I’m going to sit on those for a few days and run them over and over before committing them to a post!