by Ken Idleman
I like the way the Good News Bible translates 1 Timothy 3:1:
If a man is eager to be a church leader [elder], he desires an excellent work.
A companion verse that also applies and has always impressed me as a lifelong church leader is Romans 12:11 (NIV):
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
The New Living Translation is a little more common and confrontational in the way it translates this Romans text: Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.
As a church leader, I am both motivated and a little convicted by these verses.
I am grateful for the work ethic instilled in me by my parents. They set the example with their post-Depression era “early to bed and early to rise” approach to daily life. As a rule, my little brother and I were not allowed to stay up late, even on Friday nights. We had chores to do the next day. (That’s a word you don’t hear much anymore!) We were not permitted to sleep in, even on Saturday mornings. When the basement flooded, which was basically every time it rained more than an inch, Dave and I were the “drop and mop” brigade. When the green beans and strawberries were ripe, we were the two-man picking, snapping and stemming crew. In the summers I could play Little League baseball … in the evenings … as long as I had worked during the day cutting corn out of the beans, and/or weeding the corn for a farmer in our church.
But I have to say, as a result of the diligence and persistence of my parents, I got it. Some might say I got it a little too well. My problem has more often been achieving balance from the other direction. I used to feel guilty for taking a day off. I used to think I was a “shirker” when I would go on a vacation. Through the years I have mellowed. I now have no problem taking a Sabbath day at least once a week and a Sabbath week at least once a quarter every year.
On the other hand, for me, serving the Lord has never felt arduous – not like “work.” There is something that is regenerating in the process of working hard for God’s purposes. And I am thankful that there is no mandatory retirement age for doing ministry. I can do it voluntarily even after I have ceased to do it vocationally. My 99-year old mother, Lois, is in a retirement facility, but daily she carries on a prayer ministry, a teaching ministry, a reading-to-the-visually-impaired ministry and an encouragement ministry that she discharges for the benefit of her neighbors. I am still, to this day, challenged by her example of tireless, selfless service.
And through the years, I have become a huge admirer of local church elders for their work ethic. They typically volunteer many hours of their time for monthly elder team meetings, planning retreats, hospital visits, pastoral searches, crisis management and problem solving. Of course this does not even count the scriptural priorities of a church leader – the prayer and teaching ministry of God’s Word. We all get 168 hours in a week, which, in the light of such leadership demands, evaporate pretty quickly. For this reason, Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us to Obey them [our spiritual leaders] so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.