My father always said it’s important to do work you love. For most of my career I’ve been blessed to do that, first as a pastor, and then as a teacher and coach to pastors. But I’ve also had jobs that I was bored by and at times actively hated, mostly doing what was then called secretarial work. I’m grateful for those jobs now, though at the time I was only grateful for the paycheck. It helped me to understand deeply what it was like to get up and have to do a job that sucked out your soul. This was a blessing in pastoral ministry.
My dad did the work he loved, as an industrial salesperson. He loved calling on prospects and selling them a product he truly believed in, security systems for factories, schools, and other institutions. He worked full time until he was 72 and part-time until he was 85. After that, almost to the day he died at 97 he would say, “I miss working!”
On the other hand, my mother didn’t have work she loved. She wanted to be a history teacher, but all the history teachers were men because they were sports coaches, too. She spent years working as a senior pastor’s secretary, for several pastors. She liked some aspects of it, especially when one pastor had her do research for his sermons—but much of it was tedious. Mom was the kind of executive secretary who today is an executive. She was the oldest child of a pastor, and I suspect if she had been born later, she would have been a pastor herself. She married late, and was happy to have a home and family—but she did NOT like housework.
Work can be a mixed bag. Many people in this world, maybe most, do their work not because they love it but because they need to support themselves and their families. Even a job you love can become a drag—witness much of pastoral ministry during lockdown, or ministry through a time of church conflict. Most of the clergy I talk to these days are worn out, without a lot of reserves to do the important work of discerning how to minister to a changed congregation and wider church context.
My friend Israel told me recently his son had a summer job he hated, collecting shopping carts from a supermarket parking lot. Israel said to him, “You love to work out—can you think of it as getting paid to work out by pushing around the shopping carts?” It changed the young man’s attitude toward his work as he built muscle by pushing the carts.
Pandemic life and ministry has lasted longer than a summer job. There is much you can’t change about the reality of this ministry challenge. Still, consider how you might change what you bring to it. You can cultivate your own agency and look for what you have control over and the choices you can make. You can let go of the responsibility for what others do and what might happen in the future. My grandmother used to say, “Do your best—angels can’t do better!” I’ve found those words encouraging at times when I didn’t know if my best work was enough.
Here a few questions to consider:
What did you learn about your work from your parents or other family members? How might that be a gift to you now?
What can you do to shift your perspective on the work you are doing now?
What ideas do you have to bring some joy into your workday today?
Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.
Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash