I get quite tired being a vicar (that’s classic British understatement for often suffering exhaustion). I’ve noticed others talking about being tired or stressed in ministry, (see Mez McConnel’s post from last week, 15 ways to avoid burn out when working in hard places). I know am not alone in being generally worn out.
I am not tired of being a vicar but do I regularly ask myself “why am I tired?” I’ve tended to think that there is something wrong with me, but now I’ve begun to draw a different conclusion. It’s also got something to do with the definition of roles within society.
We all once had clearly defined roles to make society work. Being a vicar was just one of those roles. In a well designed society, where people served one another, care was organised for the sick, education was made available to all (where education was more than reading and writing but involved a daily act of Christian worship and moral standards from the bible). Local councils were set up and organised to serve the people. Libraries were provided to give everyone the chance to read. Bankers were good, as Ian Hislop recently told us on TV. Licences were issued for everything which moved, including dogs. And in this developing Victorian “Christian” society, vicars had one role amongst many others such as doctors, teachers, councillors, lawyers, nurses and all sorts of public servants, including chief sanitary inspectors, who worked together to make that society work.
So why am I tired? I am tired because, as I have shown in my recent blog post What do vicars do all day?, a vicar no longer has one clearly defined role amougst many others for the good of the whole.
We have all replaced the general ethos of the service of God and the service of others with the service of the economy and the service of self. When this happens, everyone suffers. Sir Jonathan Sacks said in a Radio 4 interview when he retired “Secularism leads to individualism and individualism leads to the break down of institutions.” Individuals work harder, for longer hours, to compete with others. We work to keep our business, council department, government office or, dare I say it, church, in business (yes, of course, today churches reflect much of the business ethos of our culture). Our local library was even rumoured to have been told to provide more services to compete and justify its existence! The OECD (why doesn’t the “C” stand for Competition?) today said that Britain is falling behind in the race. We are not competing on the world stage. I’ve said it before, this sort of economic competition is not good for us.
And so, I am tired. It is hard to work to keep an institution, the church, alive in an undefined role in a society which cares little or nothing for God, the Chief Architect. As long as money is the god of our age, the vicar’s role will look and feel lots like the busy, competitve people around him.
What is the solution to my exhaustion, and the exhaustion of 44% of the people my age? Jesus tells us that we should all repent of chasing money, serving the economy, and turn back to love God and love neighbour. It’s all about first principles. Jesus Christ must be Lord of all, and then all must work together for him and not for dosh or for self.
Now I am a realist, so I don’t think this is about to happen any time soon, though God might surprise me.
In the mean time I must be careful to define my role. I need to be accountable to God and to self. And so I will:
– Pray, develop a godly character and morals – I will resist the devil and walk closely with the Lord (James 4:7-8)
– Focus on Christ – Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1)
– Study the word of God – Do my best to be a workman approved by God (2 Tim 2:15)
– Call people to repent and believe (Acts 2:38) including the leaders of the nation (Ezekiel 33 and 34)
– Teach and train believers who will in turn teach others – model living and entrust the word of the Lord to others (2 Tim 2:1)
– Be willing to suffer – Share in suffering with Christ as a good soldier (2 Tim 2:2)
– align our local mission (evangelism and social action) with gospel priorities (Matthew 28)
– encourage the use of gifts in others (Romans 12)
– take and model rest (Genesis 1 and Exodus 20)
Does anyone want to add to the definition of a vicar today? I need to refocus or risk collapsing in a heap.