I was working at a card table in front of the TV on Sunday afternoon so I could keep tabs on the Goody's 500 NASCAR race at Martinsville, and most of the race was typical short-track racing: lots of bumping and shoving, spinouts, and drivers getting short-tempered as the day went on. Jeff Gordon won the race, his first win in 2013, but what caught my attention was toward the back of the pack.
Every now and then, when the camera tracked the full field or showed the leaders putting laps on the slower cars, I caught sight of a car whose hood was emblazoned with the words "Pray for your pastor." Yep, amid all the high speed billboards for beer, motor oil, insurance, and fast food, the 98 car driven by Michael McDowell devoted its entire hood to the words "Pray for your pastor." McDowell finished in 26th place, two laps down, but he managed to stay on the track and display the message for the entire day.
It turns out that Phil Parsons racing, which owns the car, and Energize Ministries, of Winston-Salem, decided to team up on the project for Clergy Appreciation Month, which is promoted in October of each year.
The fast-paced, white-knuckled, high-stress environment of a NASCAR race is not a bad metaphor for the life of a busy pastor, and it's not good for their health. A recent article in the New York Times documented the serious health risks that pastors may face, especially if they're not good at getting some time away for personal rejuvenation. Pastors suffer from higher rates of obesity, hypertension, and depression than most Americans, according to one study, and have a shorter life expectancy.
Pastors, believing that they're doing the work of the Lord and constantly meeting others' needs, sometimes have a hard time recognizing that they have needs, too -- and that running themselves into the ground can be counterproductive both for themselves and for the church. You can't be an effective pastor when you're constantly running a hundred miles an hour.
Praying for our pastors is a great thing, but if you really want to help your pastor, make sure that he or she has adequate vacation time and at least one designated day off during the week, and insist that he or she takes that time away.
Don't just suggest or support it: insist on it, and both your pastor and your church will be better equipped to finish the race.