“You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” –Dt. 22:10
When I’m being an idiot that verse feels like pastoral ministry.
The reason you don’t plow with an ox and a donkey is because it’s terribly cruel to the ox. Not only will he be pulling the whole plow but he’s likely going to be dragging the obstinate donkey along too. And so in my weaker moments, I try to convince myself that I’m the powerful ox trying to pull along people to get in line with God’s agenda. After all isn’t that what spiritual leadership is? Moving people on to God’s agenda.
It’s frustrating carrying such a heavy burden. “It should be lighter”, I tell myself. It’d be so much easier if it wasn’t for this donkey or that donkey. But here I am expected to do what Scripture says is wrong—shackling an ox up with a donkey and making the ox do all the work.
But that’s dumb. Because I’m not the oxen. I never am. I’m the donkey. And Jesus is pulling my donkey butt every step of the way.
I’m really trying to learn the lesson of Matthew 11:28-30 and what it means to take up the yoke of Christ. Because I’m feeling 2 Corinthians 11:28 in every fiber of my bones. And it’s wearing me down. My head and heart are heavier than they’ve ever been in my life. Pastoral ministry is becoming quite the furnace of affliction. So I’m thinking a good deal about burdens that I’m carrying.
“Moving people on to God’s agenda” feels to me like lugging 30 suitcases filled with bowling balls across a mile of that really sticky mud that likes to eat your shoes. I suppose this is what Jesus means in Matthew 11:28 when he talks about labor and heavy burdens. You are working your tail off (labor) and people keep adding more to your suitcase. “Here, carry this, Pastor”.
Those suitcases are filled with expectations and anxieties.
Sometimes silly things like, “Gee, should I have said donkey butt earlier? Is that going to offend somebody? It probably will. Maybe I should change it to “rear”—but that doesn’t make the sentence work as well. It needs to be “butt”, so I’ll leave it…but I’m likely to hear about it”. The more I speak the more I open up the chance of saying something dumb.
Or being the guy who feels like he is supposed to keep everybody at peace. Sometimes a pastor feels like a kid trying to keep mom and dad from getting a divorce. Only you magnify that by hundreds of people. There is a burden to trying to help hundreds of people live at peace with one another.
Or thinking that you have to be everywhere for everyone and always know what to say and when to say it. Every sermon needs to be a homerun or folks are going to leave. The music has to be engaging…not too hip so that people don’t feel like we are selling out, but also not so traditional that the young people leave. I’m not even the music pastor—but I feel responsible for this. And even though I’m not in charge of hearts, somehow I’m responsible for growth or lack of growth. That’s on me.
One of the pieces of luggage is the expectation that you’ll always make the right decision. Every time you make a good one you “gain equity”. Every time you make a wrong decision—or even a different decision that people aren’t accustomed to—you lose a bit of equity. Pastoral ministry is all about making sure you have enough relational equity in your account to lead the church through change.
Other times those suitcases are filled with legit burdens and anxieties and things that are really painful. Somebody is dying of cancer and I need to help them through this. A marriage is crumbling and I need to offer biblical counsel. These always weigh less to me. They are hard, but they weigh differently. Seems like I’m given the grace to navigate these. It’s the other ones that have you feeling like you are heavy-burdened.
So what does it look like for me to come to Jesus and give him these burdens?
I’ve got these thirty suitcases jam-packed full of stuff, sweat coming down my brow, red flushing through my face, and I come to the feet of Jesus with them, now what? It’s not that every thing in these suitcases is silly, legalistic, and something I shouldn’t be carrying. The problem is that those real biblical responsibilities are all loaded down with these things on the periphery.
The first thing I’m told by Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 is “come to me…and take my yoke upon you.” But before I take upon the yoke of Jesus I have to lay down all my others. This isn’t a call to add another suitcase. It’s a call to give him every single one of these suitcases—whether truly biblical or not.
What I picture in my mind is me giving my over-stuffed suitcase to Christ and him sifting through all the junk, reorienting my heart to correspond to what His yoke really is, and then handing them back to me much lighter. It’s not a perfect analogy because it’s missing the reality of His power fueling my obedience. But it’s a good reminder that part of the reason I feel like I don’t have the grace to handle all these suitcases is because I don’t. He gives me grace to obey His Word and to be the pastor He calls me to be—but He doesn’t give me the grace to carry a yoke that isn’t His. Some sweat is sinful.
Trying to meet unbiblical expectations is always going to wear you out. Because the Spirit doesn’t give strength for disobedience. He isn’t going to help perpetuate a myth of Super Pastor.
I’m exchanging a suitcase that says, “Who have I made mad today?” for one that says “How can I please the Father today?” One is an impossible burden to bear. The other, because of the Son’s obedience, is easy and light. I still have pastoral burdens but now I have His strength to obey the Father’s call. And a rested heart which has dropped all that overstuffed luggage at the Savior’s feet. And now this feels less like burdens. It’s a joy to serve.