Ministerial Health

   There’s an oxymoron for you: “Ministerial Health.”  According to some researcher somewhere the “average” minister puts in 55 hours a week.  He vicariously experiences divorce, death, and disease more times a year then he would like to remember. And besides all this there is the daily pressure on him of concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28).  Ministerial health?  Nope.  There’s ministry and there is health.  They don’t go together.  To bolster my point I cite one comic and one fact. 

   A shriveled man is sitting on a park bench next to a woman.  The caption reads, “No, I haven’t been ill; I’m in the ministry.”  The fact: World War II chaplains had the third highest causality rate behind only fighter pilots and submarine sailors.  Even in modern times at the Army’s National Training Center chaplains have the highest “death” rate.  They say that’s either because chaplains move across the battlefield not up and down it or because they can’t read maps.  I say it’s because they are in the ministry.

   The ministry is not healthy.  In fact, it’s for the dying from the dying.  It is from dying men to dying men, women and children.  Paul has his eye problems, Timothy his stomach, Moses his thick tongue, and Jeremiah his tears. Paul says of ministers that “we are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:10).  That’s why we have a frequent celebration that proclaims the death of Christ.  The sweet savor of the death of Christ wafts from all that we do and teach having the effect of working life in the dying we minister to while working death in us ministers (2 Cor. 4:12).

   And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  A young, vibrant Moses who knew for certain that he was to be Israel’s deliverer was of no use to God.  No, he had to spend 40 years being pounded by the winds and sands of Midian.  Paul thought he was ready for the ministry after a visit from Ananias and 3 years in the Arabian dessert. “Sorry,” says the Lord.  “You need many more years at home in Tarsus.  You’re still too lively for Me to use.”

   God only uses the dead and the dying, earthen vessels that easily crack and break, “so that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from themselves” (2 Cor. 4:7).  If you want pictures of health go to the temples of the Greek gods.  There you’ll find vitality and life.  There you’ll see what priests of living gods look like.  But if you want to see what priests of the God who dies and baptizes into His death, then look in the mirror.  A novel about St. Paul has this statement from a man in the crowd when Paul preached at Athens: “Do not the gods love beauty?  Do they not choose the handsomest of men to be their priests? And is not every handsome man himself a god?  How come this creature is talking to us of divinity with that face and that body?”  Luther too wasn’t on the lookout for robust ministers; he said that the reason we are called fishermen is because God sends us out into the world as “little worms” (AE, 8, 93).

   Ministers yes; health yes; ministerial health no.  We’re in the business of dying.  We don’t teach people how to live, we teach them how to die. We are dying men reaching out to the dying, so we can expect to be plagued with death. And this is the way it is supposed to be in this fallen world.  Ask yourself: why did God drive Adam and Eve out of the Garden?  So they might live?  No, so they might die.  He wanted death to work in them so they would not live in a damned state forever.  The true punishment would have been life in a damned state.

   That is why Luther said that if our opponents knew us better they would threaten us with life not death. If you really want to make a minister of the Gospel miserable threaten him with life.  Tell him he must be healthy, vivacious, and alive!  Tell him that a sine qua non of faithfulness is healthfulness.  That’s what Satan said, isn’t it?  He said that if Christ were really the Son of God He would live.  Make bread and live.  Bow down and live to rule.  Cast yourself from this temple and let angels keep you alive.  Years later on the cross the temptation is the same.  Come down from that cross and live!

   Sorry. We preach a crucified Christ, bear about in our body His death, fill up in our bodies the sufferings that Christ would endure (Col. 1:24), and proclaim His death each week.  This death that we live and preach; however, is life to the dead.  That’s why our ugly feet are nevertheless beautiful to some (Isa. 52:7).  That’s why some do what Margaret of Scotland, before becoming queen, did.  She kissed the lips of the ugly poet Alain Chartier as he slept.  She explained, “For it was not the man whom she desired to kiss but the lips whence had issued such golden words.”  The golden words drew her past the ugliness.  Many don’t make it.  Those at Nazareth didn’t.  They were drawn by the words of grace pouring out of Jesus’ mouth, but they wouldn’t kiss the lips of any carpenter’s son!  Many don’t kiss our lips; many think our feet ugly.  They can’t get past the stench of death wafting about us (2 Cor. 3:16).  There’s no health ministerial or otherwise with us.  And of course, they’re right, but there is life from the grave.  There is Easter from this Lent.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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