A man comes into the lunchroom, opens his lunchbox, and gripes, “Aw man, tuna sandwich—I hate tuna!” He turns to you and asks if you want to trade, but you don’t like tuna either, so with a sour face he chomps down on the tuna sandwich.
The next day? Same situation. He opens his lunchbox and again cries out, “Sick! Tuna again!” He grimaces but needs to eat, so down it goes.
Pastors, you make your own sandwiches.
From where I stand, I can’t see over the mountain of “complaint blogs” pastors are writing these days.
“13 Reasons Pastors Cry at Night”
“Your Pastor Probably Wants to Quit”
“What I’ve Always Wanted to Say as a Pastor”
Maybe we aren’t trying to complain, pastors, but I imagine the church members who read these articles perceive a subtle (or not-so-subtle) air of grievances: “My job is miserable. No one understands me!” Or even worse they hear, “You all really suck the life out of me with your problems and sin.”
I would be the first to amen the confession blogs, as I am overworked, often discouraged, and take everything in the church personally. But the reality is, I make my own sandwich. My church isn’t to blame, I am. My schedule isn’t to blame, I am. It’s a sandwich I made, and instead of complaining and chomping through it, I want to find joy in it.
Joy of Ministering
The writer of Hebrews points the way: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).
The writer of Hebrews develops this need for endurance by showing us that Jesus had a race—a race that was hard, a race where no one understood him. Yet it was a race that he ran with joy. Jesus’ joy is offered to you, dear pastor. He desires it to be full, vibrant, and evident to others (John 15:11).
In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the wizard has a lot of pressure. He is tasked with traveling to gather the world's powers to defeat Sauron and also to do what he can to ensure Frodo and Sam destroy the ring and thus halt the daily advance of evil in the world. (It is exactly like a Wednesday for pastors.) But at one point in the book, all the pressure builds on him, and Gandalf begins to laugh. And he laughs heartily. It’s a joy that explodes in adversity, a joy that we as Christians have been given by the Holy Spirit.
Working Toward Health
How do we get there?
1. Make the Sandwich You Like
There are times when our schedule is nailed down, and we can’t change the circumstances around us. But more often than not, we really can. You can change your daily rhythms to reflect the health you hope for. The greatest change you can make is to be laser-focused on spiritual freshness.
In Problems of Christian Leadership, John Stott reminds us that “discipline is often at the root of staleness.” He goes on to remind us we need the spiritual discipline to rest, cultivate hobbies, and spend time with our family and friends. We often neglect those parts of our schedule.
We also need to make prayer and Bible reading a major function of our daily discipline. Spiritual health is not birthed out of busyness for God but by creating space in the soul to hear from God and talk to God. Health comes from making healthy sandwiches.
2. Eat the Sandwich You Made
If you made a bad sandwich—in other words, if you didn’t schedule time for prayer and Bible reflection, time in the woods, dates with your wife, meeting with your elder team, and so on—do not blame the world around you. Own it! Own up to the reality that you made an unhealthy sandwich and commit to making a new one.
3. Share the Sandwich with Others
Finally, share. Are you sharing a bad sandwich or a healthy one? Are you sharing weariness, exhaustion, and anger? Or are you sharing care, compassion, and joy? When you eat unhealthy, bad sandwiches, that’s what you share with your church.
It really is hard to be a pastor. There are a lot of dynamics at play, and my hope is that I would be the first to heed my own advice, that I would make a sandwich that is not only good for me but also for those around me.