Mowing Lawns at Midnight

I have 20 minutes this morning. From the moment I ply my two year old son with Cheerios and picture books to when he tires of them and lets me know with substantial volume. 20 minutes of silence. 20 minutes of me.

There are some people, who have a difficult time determining where they end and their work begins. Boundaries. I’m not one of those people. I’m not a workaholic. You won’t find me at the office burning the midnight oil, mostly because I don’t have an office.

I’m a church planter. A church planter doesn’t have a 9 to 5 and therefore a church planter doesn’t have a 9 to 5 to flout. There are no regular hours that would mark a reasonable expectation of work accomplished. For the church planter, there are no regular hours to exceed. There’s no such thing as overtime because there’s no defined time to work over. The truth is a church planter cannot over work. You won’t find a church planter “staying late”, precisely, because they never leave work.

So much of what we do is intrinsically tied in to who we are.

A friend of mine once shared how ridiculous the life of a church planter can appear to onlookers. My friend was in the first year of a fast-growing independent plant and he had been burning the candle on both ends. Services needed to be planned. Sermons needed to be written. People had to be visited. He was routinely up before dawn and regularly returning home after 10pm. Chores around the house were piling up and his to-do list was growing fast, as was the grass in his front and backyard.

On several occasions, returning home after work, and after dark my friend took to mowing his lawn with a flashlight held high above his head. With one arm wrestling the self-propelled mower and the other lighting his way, it wasn’t long before he met the burning stares of his neighbours. And with that, the absurdity of his work/life balance.

Something tells me this wasn’t what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light shine before others, that they might see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

“The most tragic thing,” my friend said, “…about mowing my lawn at 10pm is now that’s what I’m known for. To my neighbours, I’m the guy who pastors people and tends to their spiritual care and wellbeing, only I’m also the guy who doesn’t know how to punch out his time card. All work and no play. It’s effected my witness.”

It’s true, it isn’t exactly a picture of the abundant life, is it? It’s not Christian witness at its best.

Hey everyone, come and see Jesus at work in me… at work doing lawn care at some ungodly hour!

My planter/pastor friend understands what a lop-sided, imbalanced work/life conveys about the gospel. Namely, that it’s not enough – that you can follow Jesus and yet have your life say it’s not enough. There’s a particular kind of striving that Christians, most notably church planters and pastors, seem to have mastered. The innocuous need to catch up on some work or go in on Saturday or the quizzical ministry mantra of being all things to all people in a consumer culture (1 Cor 9:22) – a burdensome prospect to be sure (something tells me this wasn’t what Paul meant). The malcontent of one who compulsively works to prove their worthiness of Jesus’ love, it appears in mowed lawns at midnight, in the cot beside the desk or the incandescent glow of a computer screen from the study. These are the excesses of not trusting that Jesus Christ is enough.

My friend’s working to change how he works, how he plants churches and pastors people. And so am I. Thankfully the kingdom of God does not solely depend on his, or any one of our much-to-be-desired previews of it. We’re learning to work and live from God’s love and acceptance, as opposed to for God’s love and acceptance.

I identify deeply with my work. In fact, it’s a constant challenge to remind myself that I am not only what I preach, not only the sum of my pastoral care, not only the efficacy of my leadership.

While suggestions of finding a work/life balance might still be drowned out in laughter by planters and pastors like myself, I’m optimistic that we can find a rhythm of work/life that honors the life of Jesus at work in us.