The elementary school was electric with energy as I walked my middle child to her class. Teachers were excited, kids were running around, some people even looked lost, too! I could tell the teachers were looking forward to a new year, and so were the kids.
I grew up with a father for a teacher, a principal actually, so I'm familiar with the excitement. The school year starts off strong and follows a predictable schedule. Fall Break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and on into the spring semester. But more than anything else, a school year is pushing towards a goal – a qualifiable, tangible goal: to teach children and move them into the next grade. I know teachers do much more than that, but that simplifies it. And even beyond the goal, a school year has an end in sight. There's a beginning of the year, middle, and end. To break it down even further, each semester has a beginning and end, down to even every day.
It was great to see how excited the teachers and kids were this morning. As I got in my car and left for the church, I thought about my work week, work year, and work day. My clear goal as a pastor is to move people into relationship with Christ, with each other, and to grow deeper in that knowledge of God everyday. This past Sunday, we baptized three people to mark their recent decisions for Christ. But I cannot rest thinking that know I can check them off a list, as if the work God is doing in them is done, or even that my work in proclaiming the gospel to them is done.
A pastor's work schedule often does not have a clear beginning and end. Growing closer to Christ is something that is carried out over a lifetime. One of the things I still struggle with as a pastor is this very fact. I often go home at the end of the day thinking there was someone else I could have called, visited, another commentary to check. It easy to leave the day feeling like my work is incomplete. The work takes a lifetime. While we might feel like we have more to do, we must rest in knowing that Christ’s work is done.
The work of discipleship takes a lifetime. There are all sorts of ways and methods to help us in the short term. For example, the liturgical calendar is one. But still the work we have takes a lifetime. More than that, it takes millenia. We still have not completed the task that Jesus gave in the Great Commission.
So what are we to do? We are to plod. We are to walk daily in the grace that has been given us. We are to embrace the starts and finishes that we can grab ahold of, but we are to rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross. We must learn to rest in what Christ has done, and is doing, not in what we might accomplish in week, month, or year. I will never “graduate” from being a disciple of Christ. Christ’s work for me is done, but Christ’s work in me will take my lifetime.