“. . . as you love yourself.”

If Jesus were pastoring in a mainline, Protestant church today, and were asked the same question scribes and scholars ask in Mark 12.28-31 (What is the greatest commandment?), I think he’d omit the “. . . as you love yourself” part.

Not because its outdated or bad advice, don’t get me wrong, but because the life of pastor, the life of a minister, the life of anyone in a helping profession proves time and time again to be too demanding, too time consuming, too filled with need and pain of others to ever take time to focus on ourselves.

Jesus would know this.

He’d know Mondays are administrative days where we look at the week, schedule meetings, upload the podcast from yesterday’s sermon, make plans to implement the new children’s curriculum, run a church staff meeting, catch up with what the parishioners are saying on Facebook, respond to the 25 emails, get a volunteer to fill in for Mother’s Day Out, correspond with the secretary, update the prayer concern list, order new lapel microphones for the sanctuary, talk to the maintenance staff about the bathrooms, and try to collect your thoughts about all the disgruntled parents at the lack of church attendance during the summer weeks.

After Tuesday’s staff meetings we have a luncheon with the Chamber of Commerce, three hospital visits, a premarital counseling meeting at Starbucks, and a Wednesday night bible study to plan.

Wednesdays mornings are when we crack open the commentaries and start penciling in ideas for a sermon.  He’d know the pressure of getting the sermon titles and scripture passages to the music minister before 3 p.m. on Wednesday because the music minister gets anxious when she doesn’t have them in order to plan for choir practice after the Wednesday Bible study.

Jesus would know Thursdays are jam packed with administration, follow up calls to families who didn’t come to church last week and who failed to appear last night too.  He’d know Thursday afternoon is sacred time dedicated to workingpreacher.org as well as meeting with troubled parishioners who can’t seem to learn to let the past go.

Jesus would know that life doesn’t end at the office and that on Tuesday night the high school basketball game is a must to attend, Wednesday night is church, Thursday night is family night, and Friday night is visiting another family in the emergency room.  Saturdays are filled with football, sermonizing and last minute runs to the grocery store for Potluck following the service tomorrow.  And then the week begins again.

On top of this schedule are the responsibilities of owning a home, mowing the lawn, calling the contractor.  On top of that are the responsibilities to your spouse, which by the way is code for always being emotionally available.  On top of that are the responsibilities to your kids, to their projects, to their needs, to their desires, and then once again back to your church.

We haven’t even scratched the surface on the work week of a say a counselor, missionary, or nonprofit leader.   But this is the lifestyle God calls us ministers to live.  And we’re good at it.

So if Jesus were pastoring today, he’d know that life is filled with what others need, what others want and at the end of the day we are always on call to be emotionally available – which means there is zero to little time for our own selves.

So of course Jesus would omit “as you love yourself” – for fear of the pot calling the kettle black.

But the problem with Mark 12 is Jesus didn’t omit the phrase.  I wish he would have had the foresight to think of ministers in situations like me . . . people who more often than not, abandon our own needs for the needs of others . . . who sacrifice all our free time stressing and thinking and working towards helping and being with others.  For if he had, he surely would have omitted the phrase and I would somehow feel less withered, less fake, less empty on the inside, and I’d see that my production somehow equates God’s love for me.

For if we don’t have to love ourselves in order to love God and others, then my shallow insecurities and ego can handle the role of ministry just fine.  But that’s not what scripture says.  Actually, in order to love God and others we must first learn to love ourselves.

I wish I did this better.

Barrett Owen

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About the Author
Barrett Owen is the associate director of admissions at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology and pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He blogs weekly at Liminality: Exploring the holy, in-between spaces.

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