Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pity the poor pastor...

...or, can we get a dose of reality here?

Proposition: An SBC pastor is in a unique position. He is on duty 24/7/365. He can never relax. He has to be in pastor mode constantly. He has to respond to every need. The duty of sermon preparation, delivery, meetings, church administration; the cares of the congregation in an onerous burden that leaves him exhausted and spent physically, mentally, and emotionally.


The pastorate has certain demands. Sometimes these can be overwhelming if allowed to be. Some churches can be pastor-killers. Some people can be burdensome. GuideStone tells us that depression is a costly component of our health care costs and I recall some surveys saying that clergy are more depressed than the average American.

Woe is us?


But do we labor with unique responsibilities, extraordinary burdens, and job stresses that are far greater than the people we see each Sunday in the pews?

I think not, and frankly, I think it unhealthy for the brethren to constantly gravitate to the conversations, articles, and blogs that might be categorized as the "Woe is us" genre.

A couple of times a year, we get articles singing the praises of pastoral sabbaticals, as if that is really an option or even a remote possibility for any other than a few large/mega church pastors. The anonymous 'Bill' on the pretty good blog SBC Voices (who apparently eschewed any opposing views on this issue and closed comments) says:

For me, I think that the pastor should get the normal 15 days vacation that other people receive.

I also think that they should get the month of June or July off. Yes, OFF. I think they ought to be encouraged to travel, take a class, fish, spend this time with their family, anything but come into the office. They should also be paid for this time as well.

Go for it, Bill, but I'd speculate that the average SBC pastor would be laughed out of a deacon's meeting or search committee interview if that is put on the table. A pastor with a long tenure in a church may have sufficient credibility that his congregation gives him such, but not annually.

I once listened increduously to a pastor talk of how he expected to take the first month off from his new church (a church plant). When I shared that item with a layman, he just shook his head.

When I am with some of my lay friends, ones who are mostly not in my congregation, folks who are comfortable enough not to worry about offending the "Rev" they will quickly respond that pastors seem to be, well, uninformed about real life. Many occupations have stressful job responsibilities. Many jobs require availability around the clock. Many have long hours that are simply part of the job. And many other jobs have intense moments like delivering a sermon to a crowd. One doesn't hear these people whining about sabbaticals.

Sure, Johnny Hunt gets every July off. He certainly deserves it, academics get sabbaticals, and, thankfully, many churches work with their pastor when he has prolonged health issues, but only the rare pastor gets an extra month off.

Pastor pay may be suffering with the economy as of late but has steadily risen over the years and less of the brethren are required to live in a pastorium next to the church (although with plummeting housing values, some may wish that they did). In many ways life has improved immensely for the pastor (and his family, with the pastor's wife often having her own career and not available for any expectation of the two-for-one deal).

So, let the brethren have an occasional gripe session and whinefest, but then be done with that. And by all means don't do it in front of a layperson.

OK, my dozen or so readers may now start tossing the hymnals or pew Bibles at me.


Anonymous said...

The pastors I am close too and a few I am not all have the 24/7 understanding but each of them would honestly say that there are many hours within that 24/7 that are downtime hours.

Sure, I'd like a sabbatical but, for me I don't think I would enjoy it because I love being around my people each week and an extended time away would not be healthy.

Maybe for a pastor who is disconnected with the people or who just can't stand them so works to avoid them might like time away but for me, I know I am called to be here.

Stressful? Absolutely. So are marriage and kids but I would not take a month off from them (though they might want me too).

I truly think if a pastor can leave for a month on a sabbatical and not miss, greatly, the people and place he has been called might need to rethink God's calling on His life.

I hate missing a Sunday, preaching and teaching, even when I am there and something special is going on (like a Christmas program). Even one Sunday away is difficult)


Anonymous said...

Good analogy, marriage & kids.

I enjoy 'missing' a Sunday now and then, not preaching four or so Sundays each year, and not being in my church for those times. I think it is beneficial. A month's sabbatical, well outside of reason for me, could be beneficial as well. I just think those who delcare all pastors worthy of such annually are indeed out of touch with reality.


Scott said...

i don't think is the time constraints that are difficult for pastors. I think that is the only way many of them can communicate why there jobs of different than most. I agree we can be a bunch of whiners, but it doesn't mean that facts are any less difficult.

About 20,000 protestant clergy face forced termination every year. That is a lot. They only people in america with less job security are NFL coaches, and they get paid pretty good even when they are fired. Most pastors get three to six months severance if they are lucky.

It is a lonely job since most people don't know really what you do. It doesn't even look like work to them. They can't understand what could be so taxing. It is difficult to maintain friendships in the church and with other ministers because of the nature of the job.

"Real" jobs, and I have one, are just different beasts all together. It doesn't impact my self-image or my relationship to God all that much. It is simply a means to an end. I leave my job at the job end of story. I take off what ever time I want. I do the deep emotional work of pastoring as my time allows.

The woe is me stuff comes from frustration of not being able to communicate the difficulties of the lifestyle, not the work.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the post today.

Having raised a special needs child while my husband worked a 24/7 job (with, however, some vacations) chasing drilling rigs I have never understood the need for sabbaticals.