I was sitting in my car with a professional wrestler. Before he left he would give me perhaps the best ministry advice I had ever received.
The man’s name was Nelson Scott Simpson. From my childhood all the way up to a couple of days before our conversation in my car I knew him as Nikita Koloff. In the 1980s when the Cold War was still brewing, wrestling organizations thought it would be a good idea to make muscular men from Minnesota pretend to be Russians and get beat up by fat, American flag waving men from Texas. The idea took off and transformed Scott Simpson from a regular American kid with NFL dreams into The Russian Nightmare.
A church down the street from the one where I was working as a youth pastor was hosting a big event and Nikita Koloff was the featured speaker. Towards the end of his wrestling career, Koloff became a Christian. Since then he has been traveling all over the world as an evangelist. At this particular event, I think 20 people showed up. I found myself feeling sorry for the man I spent my childhood hating. I went down to try to encourage Nikita after the event and minutes later I was asked to be the man responsible for taking care of The Russian Nightmare while he was in town.
The next day we went to the gym. I tried to tell him that I would be over in the corner with the old ladies while he worked on his bench press but he wasn’t having it. I had to follow him around and work out with him. People looked at us like we were with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“Oh, that’s so sweet to see the former wrestler spending time with that puny feller.”
I spent the rest of the weekend taking Nikita to eat, trying to take care of his lost luggage and asking dumb questions about wrestlers from the 1980s. The bad news is that a lot of the guys I asked about are either dead or in the process of ending things badly. The good news is that the rest of them are preachers.
The weekend finally came to an end and it was time to drop Nikita off so someone else could drive him to the airport. As I was driving us to the parking lot, Nikita was telling me about his schedule and how the evangelism circuit was just as grueling as the professional wrestling circuit. One year in his ministry he was on the road for well over 300 days. We were already at the drop-off point but Nikita stayed in my car to finish talking to me. That’s where the ministry advice came in.
“Jesus already died for the church. You don’t have to.”
We all know the pastors that don’t need to hear these words. They are the ones that put in a hard 55 hours every week on the golf course or lake. But there are also those on the other extreme. The guys that have to make every hospital visit or the guys that just can’t seem to study enough for Sunday’s sermon.
I think Nikita’s words have impacted me more than any other single sentence a man has ever spoken to me. As a pastor, and I know this is true in other professions too, there’s the temptation to do it all. You could always study a little more for Sunday’s sermon and there’s always somebody that’s mad at you for not coming by to visit them.
This is where pride is a real killer. Pride will tell me that there’s not much room to rely on the Holy Spirit so I should probably let my wife deal with bathing the kids and putting them to bed. After all, pride tells me, I am doing the Lord’s work. As if caring for my family isn’t.
Pride tells me that God will take care of my wife and kids if I have to neglect them to serve on another committee or make another visit. Pride reminds me of how crushing it would be to have people say of me, “He just doesn’t visit enough.” Pride forgets to tell me that as important as my presence is at the hospital it’s even more important in the front yard, kitchen and soccer field. Pride also forgets to tell me that even the apostles, men who had spent significant time with Jesus, weren’t above the “He just doesn’t visit enough” label (Acts 6:1).
A pastor can get a lot of praise and recognition for serving on denominational committees and being the first and last one at the hospital but I just can’t imagine a scenario where that praise is worth the spiritual and emotional murder that is done to the pastor’s family.
No matter what your career is, make sure that your schedule tells your family that they are more important than your job. I’m thankful to serve at a church that understands and supports this and I’m thankful for a former professional wrestler that taught me this lesson before I had to learn it the hard way.