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Pastors and the Hobby-less Life

If you’ve started a church before, you know the pressure, excitement and urgency. Once the boxes are unpacked, it’s time to get to work.

Shortly after unpacking our boxes, an older church planter asked me a question I thought was strange, but now I understand:

“What are your hobbies?”

Now, you have to understand that at that time, I had just come off an eight-year educational bender. Between working and studying, I didn’t have much hobby time. I fumbled around for an answer and said with confident uncertainty, “Reading.”

My friend responded, “Well, what do you like to do for fun?” Honestly, I didn’t know.

Since that conversation four years ago, I’ve learned how to play again, and I’ve learned at least four reasons as a church planter for making time for recreation:


1)   Hobbies Bring Refreshment

Pastoral work is heavy lifting, not just the hours but the emotional toll. This is why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:28, “And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

While God is our ultimate refuge and sacred place for recharging (see Ps 27:1; Mk 1:35-39), He provides avenues for us to blow off steam and experience refreshment.

Of course, we can take His gift of recreation to extremes. Hobbies certainly are not our mini-saviors to deliver us from stress or pain, and hobbies are also not a waste of time.


A Gift

Godly recreation is a gift from God and a means for our refreshment with God. In this way, in “whatever you do,” you can “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Here are a couple examples of how hobbies can refresh us:

  • They can serve as holy distraction, providing temporary relief from weighty issues in order to re-engage those issues with greater concentration and clarity.
  • Involve physical activity that combat stress and bring greater health.
  • They can give us a tangible activity to start and finish in a pastoral world of unending to-dos and of long-term investment in people’s lives.
  • Provide opportunities to connect with friends.
  • Recreate in us a sense of youthful wonder that reminds us to not take ourselves so seriously.

Ultimately, the kind of play mentioned above is a declaration of faith. Hobbies proclaim to you, the world and every demonic force in the unseen places that you trust God to build His Kingdom while you take a break.

How do you feel while you take time to play? Do you feel like you’re wasting time? Do you feel guilty for going fly-fishing, playing golf or woodworking?

Are you able to work hard for the glory of God and play hard for the glory of God?

God’s vision is to utilize our work and our play for His glory and our good. Do you have that same holistic vision for your life?


2) Hobbies Aid In Reflection

If I’m being honest with myself, often my busyness aids in my effort to feel like I have all my stuff together. Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord.”

Hobbies create much needed space to aid in reflection. This reflection provides us the opportunity to preach the gospel to ourselves, to experience God’s forgiveness afresh and to go home confessing sin.

Backpacking is one of my favorite hobbies. I love getting out into the woods and away from the hustle of normal life. I often need to get out of the places and spaces where I regularly put my hand to the plow of work in order to feel the freedom to stop thinking about work. For me, experiencing something greater than myself in a new way – something visual, auditory, tangible – makes abstract reflection come easier.

If we never stop, then how can we actually know what’s going on in our own soul? And if we don’t care for our own soul, then how can we care for others (1 Tim 4:16)?


3) Hobbies Deepen Relationships

Play is one of our earliest relational expressions. Parents beam when their baby starts playing peek-a-boo, and as children grow, play becomes their primary means of learning how to relate to others. My son is three-years-old, and his favorite question right now is “Daddy, do you want to play?” He asks that question from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed. To him, playing is the most important part of his day.

Parents go to great lengths to teach their kids how to “play nice,” and we still insist that adults “play nice” too. Remember the last time a fun game night turned awkwardly tense in a matter of seconds because someone cheated or became too competitive?

We are serious about our games and often realize later how silly we were in the moment. Why? Because God made us to play and to play in community. Since play is deeply relational, hobbies are deeply revealing.

They reveal if you take yourself too seriously. They reveal what you think about others. And they reveal your pride or humility in relationships.

Hobbies, as an expression of play, are relational. Even individualistic hobbies find their fullest expression in community. The woodworker wants to share his creation with others. The lone fisherman wants to brag about his catch. The musician wants to share her latest song.

As a church planter, it’s helpful for people to get to know you in informal, causal settings. Jesus discipled his followers through formal teaching and ministry opportunities, yet how much more of His time was spent informally discipling others – walking along the road, joking, giving each other nicknames, going to festivals, eating meals together?

Shared, fun experiences deepen our bonds in ways that a Bible study never will. I’m not pitting one against the other or saying one is better, but the people we’re discipling need to see us live out our faith both at work and play. That’s holistic discipleship.


4)   Hobbies Foreshadow Renewal

I can just hear some of you at this point – “How can you talk about hobbies when there is so much despair and hopelessness in our world? We shouldn’t be playing; we should get to work!”

The disciples felt that way too. They viewed parents bringing their children to Jesus as a distraction and a waste of precious time for ministry. Jesus became “indignant” and said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk 10:14-15).

Jesus valued the playful trust of children. Jesus wants us to value it too. Hobbies help us get there.

Hobbies draw our imagination toward the coming Kingdom and the coming party, where play and joy will be eternal (Rev 19:6-9; Ps 16:11). Hobbies declare our trust in the Lord to finish His Work (Ps 46:10). Hobbies grow in us a sense of childlike wonder at the world God has made, as we enjoy it (Ps 92:4).

Dr. K. Erik Thoennes comments on hobbies in an almost parabolic sense when he says the following:

While the clear resolution sport offers is part of its draw, ironically, interest in play and sport rests largely on the uncertainty of the final outcome. We lose interest in games if the outcome is assured before the game starts… The more tension created by uncertainty, the more engaged we become with the game. This creative spontaneous uncertainty is central to the definition of play and at the heart of the intrigue of sport. I believe this mirrors the tension at the heart of the drama of human history. The spontaneous uncertainty inherent in play with an eventual ending reflects the unfolding story of our lives. Like games, our lives are filled with smaller uncertainties which lead to one final result also fraught with uncertainty. Play can equip a person to deal with uncertainties on the way to the conclusion. For a Christian, the promised good conclusion to the difficulty of life in a fallen world brings a deep enjoyment of play as it dramatizes a life that ends well.[1]

A day is coming when Jesus returns and sin is done away with forever – no more pain, no more tears, no more problems, no more death, no more hospitals, no more shrinks, no more pastors, no more graves. The mission will be accomplished, the work will be done “and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zech 8:5).

Renewal is coming; innocence will be restored! We see a partial, imperfect glimpse of that innocence in children and their play now, but one day we will experience it fully. One day the only thing left will be love, and all this death will be swallowed up by life.

Work And Play Hard For Jesus

A pleasant surprise on my journey toward greater freedom to play for the glory of God has been the opportunities it’s given me with people. To borrow a thought from Eugene Peterson, pastors need to develop “The Ministry of Small Talk.” Peterson writes the following:

Pastors especially, since we are frequently involved with large truths and are stewards of great mysteries, need to cultivate conversational humility. Humility means staying close to the ground (humus), to people, to everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthiness.

I do not want to be misunderstood: pastoral conversations should not bound along on mindless clichés like gutter water. What I intend is that we simply be present and attentive to what is there conversationally, as respectful of the ordinary as we are of the critical.[2]

My hobbies have afforded me greater opportunities to connect with those who are far from God and to walk with them on their journey toward Jesus.

The sacred/secular divide we often enforce is not the life God intended for us. Jesus is the Lord of our work and He’s the Lord of our play (Col 3:23-24; Mk 2:28). The real question is “Are we willing to bring every area of our life under His Lordship? Are we willing to live with playful trust as children of the King?”

Work hard and play hard for Jesus, because it’s “the joy of the Lord that is our strength” to do both (Neh 8:10).

[1] Created to Play: Thoughts on Play, Sport and the Christian Life by Dr. K. Erik Thoennes

[2] The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson

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