I love churches and I love serving in the church. On family vacations each of my children would "put his foot down" and proclaim— “No more churches!” I really can’t blame them because we did love to visit churches and see the effort and beauty that individuals put into creating a unique edifice to glorify God.
I decorated my home with beautiful church art. Paintings, sketchings, replicas of glorious or simple buildings that represented a love for God filled my home and office.
I have worked for churches for decades. Church work is very rewarding, but it is not always easy. First of all, church work never gets done. When I worked as a counselor and shut the door to my office at the end of the week, I had done everything I could do. I filled out all my forms, returned all my calls and made all my notes. This has never happened since I have been in church work. There is always more to do. I never quite feel finished. I just choose a place to stop.
That I why I am so impressed with my co-worker Nat Burns. Nat is retiring from fulltime church work this summer. When he retires, he will have spent 50 years working for several churches. That kind of longevity in any occupation is rare. It speaks volumes about the man who has accomplished this feat. 50 years in church work is huge. I could not even come close to that reality.
Every day I learn about much younger men who have had enough. They decide to move on to an easier occupation even after spending many years and thousands of dollars on seminary education. (Did I mention that seminary training is very expensive and the income is not proportionate?) What did it take for Nat to hang in there so long? Knowing Nat, I’m sure as he approached what we consider retirement age he realized that the goal of making it in church work 50 years was worth striving for. Even when his wife retired, he showed no signs of wanting to quit.
That’s the reason I have so much respect for him. He didn’t just pursue a goal of working in the church 50 years as a personal accomplishment. He maintained a passion for his work and is even sad about making the decision to stop working full-time. The decision is not the celebration of freedom you would expect. I recognize a bit of a loss in many ways. I’m sure once that day comes, he will adjust to the freedom from the commute, and he will experience all the gifts God has for him in a non-day-to-day church working life, but he’s not there yet. He already knows where he will volunteer (in one of our most needed vacancies—substitute teacher). He wants to be there for people for the rest of his life. Didn’t I tell you church work is never done?
This is what following God’s plan will benefit you. When you don’t give up on your ministry to the church, when you plow through the disappointing outcomes of your hard work, when you continue in the face of the lack of passion others might show for the God you introduced them to, when you go on in spite of the nitpicky details that come along with any vocation but distinctly in church work, you end up loving God and God’s people in a unique way. You have a compassion that Jesus demonstrated. It is a commitment that takes decades to form into the kind of minister like Nat Burns. How do you get to that point? You do not give up. You love God and you work for Him and not the people or your pastor. You connect deeply to God’s crazy plan that the church should take His precious news to the world. (How He trusts us, I will never figure out).
Nat is a rarity in this world, but he shouldn’t be. His service convicts me to think about my petty grievousness and change my focus. I want to be the kind of servant that Jesus can reward as in Matthew 25:21: “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” I may never work in church settings for 50 years like Nat; but I want to have a love for God, a compassion for God’s people, and a desire to do His work until my dying day.