Among the many challenges of pastoring in a church is the myriad of duties that one is expected to accomplish. As a pastor, I thought of myself as a “jack of all trades, who was expected to be master of all.” The responsibilities and duties of pastors entrusted with a church or fellowship or other ministry, are listed in the Book of Discipline in ¶340. The list is three pages long of all that we expect our pastors to do! And we expect them to be “master of all!” We hope that as the pastors do excellent work, our churches will thrive and become vital.
Recently, at the Gathering of clergy of our Conference, I met and talked with many who are willingly devoting their lives to the Church faithfully serving God as they fulfill the requirements of the Book of Discipline in local church and extension ministries. I deeply appreciate their hard work and diligent efforts to bring vitality to the places where they are appointed or assigned.
One of the concerns that emerged in our conversations had to do with their own health and wholeness. Pastors described long hours on the job in their ministries, spending a great deal of time and energy responding to God’s call to the best of their abilities to serve as our spiritual leaders. And as I spoke with many, I learned that “clergy burnout” is a reality because of the many demands on a pastor’s time and energy. Some clergy shared that at the end of a long, challenging day there was very little time or energy left to experience the joy of family and friends. In some cases, it was clear that the pressure of a pastor’s life sustained over a long period of time contributed to crises of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
At The Gathering, I inquired of a pastor, “When are your days off?” (Note that I used the plural “days.”) He looked at me a bit quizzically and remarked, “I take Fridays off when I can.”
I repeated my question with emphasis, “When are your days off?”
He admitted that he only takes one day off a week, and sometimes, because of a funeral or wedding or another pastoral crisis in the church, he did not even have that one day of rest.
At our conversation at The Gathering last month, I shared my expectation that our clergy would take steps to take 2 consecutive days off each week, if they were not already doing so. I promised that I would share my thoughts with you so that we would all be on the same page. I asked our pastors to do this homework:
1. Prayerfully consider the need and desire for 2 consecutive days off per week.
2. Talk with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee about taking 2 days off.
3. Prayerfully come to an agreement and make a covenant so that both the clergy and the Staff Parish Relations Committee enthusiastically support this plan.
4. Share this covenant with the whole congregation so that both clergy and congregation understand, honor and uphold this.
Our pastors are hard workers in God’s vineyard who deserve and need 2 consecutive days off in order to be healthy and whole, and to be stronger and more creative to do the ministries they are engaged in. We expect our pastors to have excitement and energy as they engage in ministry, but we don’t always give them the time to “refuel” themselves for the difficult work of pastoring in today’s world.
It is a two-way street. Pastors must be willing to find the time and to set aside the time for refreshing their spirits. And congregations must be willing and supportive of their pastor’s need for renewal time. The time of “R, R and R” is meant to be time away from the responsibilities of work, used creatively for the rebuilding of a person’s body, mind, and spirit.
Now, here is my confession! When I was a pastor in a local church, I did not always take 2 days off. I tried to take Mondays off. But on Mondays, in reality, I was exhausted and much of Monday was spent “recovering” from the whirlwind of the Sunday. Monday was not my “R, R and R” day. It was my “Recovery” day.
I used to also say that Saturday was my other “day off.” But Saturdays were often given away for pastoral emergencies, weddings and church, district or conference meetings. And of course, I had to make final preparations for Sunday morning worship. Saturday, as it turned out, was not a day of “R, R and R” either. It was a day of “Revving” up for Sunday.
I share these confessions with you because as a bishop, I also need to keep working on this! I have learned that when we continue to maintain this pace of life, our health and wellness suffers. Our spouses and our families are often robbed of precious time together. And ultimately, the quality of ministry diminishes and the church and congregation (and the Conference!) suffer if we consistently do not find 2 days a week to hold as “R, R and R” days.
I encourage all congregations and pastors to have an honest and prayerful conversation to discuss this matter. As we do so, I believe our pastors will be healthier in body, mind and spirit, “Rested, Renewed and Recharged” for ministry and our congregations will notice it! It really makes a positive difference!