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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Corvallis Gazette-Times: Pastors work overtime to cultivate faith

I did this for a while. I worked overtime. A lot. I thought it was part of making a sacrifice for God and the church. Even the people of the church affirmed it with comments like, "Hey, we work 40+ hour work weeks and then volunteer several hours here." That comment was made to tell me I should be working at least 55 hours a week.

I really did believe it was OK. I was ministering in a church that would be considered a "turn around" situation ... if indeed it would ever turn around, but that was debatable. I say "was" because it is no longer debatable — it turned toward death after I left. Anyways ....

I talked with Lyle Schaller and heard him say elsewhere that the hardest job in ministry was that of the turnaround pastor. Those who make it, work really, really, really hard. Schaller said it was more difficult than church planting. Other leaders in my denomination affirmed it too.

I read Barna's book about Turnaround Churches. It said the same thing about hard work. So I worked seemingly endlessly, although my congregation never thought I did. They complained so I kept tedious notes about what I did but it never did stem the flow of negative comments.

I worked to the point of exhaustion. I guarded my "day" off pretty fiercely, although compromised when duty called, and it seemed that all I did that day was try to recover from the other six. I burned out. I already had serious problems with depression and that type of work schedule and ceaseless flow of complaints exacerbated the problem. Eventually we parted ways.

It took me well over a year to recover. I participated in the Arrow Leadership Program and they talked a lot about self care. Some of the reading during that time claimed that those who work 70 hours a week and those that worked 50 accomplished roughly the same amount over a long period of time. The 70+ person was sick more often, did things less well and had to deal with damage control and had to worker longer to achieve the same results as those who didn't, experienced higher degrees of dysfunction that interrupted their performance, led less well because they related to people less well because of the stress that amount of work put on them.

I have one ministerial colleague who I've watched do this over the past year or so with tons of travel, phone calls at home on weekends and "vacation", sometimes a day or two off per month. He feels a little burned out. He can't see it and I don't have the heart to tell him, but I observe him having a difficult time completing a thought and carrying on a conversation. He kind of fades out at the end of a sentence. That's dangerous. It could be a huge scary crash.

Pastors wear that "work overtime" like a badge of honor or some use it like a sickness to garner sympathy for themselves and their sorry performance. Many pastors are like other workaholics — working overtime to medicate their pain and hide from their problems and responsibilities. Some are adrenaline addicts too. Adrenaline is certainly my drug of choice.

Seems some churches expect their pastor to "work overtime" also. To many in the pews, pastors seems like whiners when they talk about working overtime. If that's you, I know I can't change your mind but I'll say it anyway: If you have never been a pastor you don't get it. I know you think you do, but if you haven't done it you really don't get it. The book that has come the closest to explaining it is: It Only Hurts On Monday.

I was in a job interview recently where I was asked how my family was going to handle a high amount of travel. All work has ebb and flow and my family will handle the times of travel OK when done well. I'll probably suffer more than them. Then he asked "what if it was like 3 weeks a month?", to which I replied that would be a problem. I ranted a bit about being a family man and wasn't going to sacrifice my family on the altar of ministry and wasn't going to be having my kids cry themselves to sleep because their daddy was never home. Fortunately my boss (who did not ask the question) gave a hearty "amen" to that which I appreciated.

I felt like saying, "Could you sleep at night if I was gone 3 weeks a month? Do you think that's godly? What family wouldn't suffer under those circumstances and is that what you want for my family or for anybody else's family? Do you care that little about me? Am I just a means to an end for you? Even if I didn't have little kids and was a boomer like you, do you honestly think that would be right? Look deep within your soul for a moment. Can you really feel good about yourself with that expectation? Shame on you!"

I live in a military community with Ft. Drum being my next door neighbor. I see first hand how these soldiers being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan is destroying families. I'm about six weeks away from seeing one of my buddies deployed for about 13 months (or more) and leave his 2 gradeschool daughters and wonderful wife at home. I cry when I think about what they are going through. There is pain all over this community with children and spouses crying themselves to sleep at night missing their daddy or mommy, husband or wife.

Then I think about the quote from Leighton Ford that I posted several days ago. Sometimes great sacrifice is required to serve God. No doubt the apostles did ministry to the point of suffering greatly in their physical beings. Yet, I bet they observed the sabbath. I know of other non-military or non-ministerial jobs that require extended travel like truckers, seafarers, professional baseball players, etc.

Honestly there are two sides to this issue and a strong argument could be made against what I am advocating for. But it's my blog and I'm generally prone to letting my ignorance fly. So here it goes ...
  • If you are one of these "pastors working overtime to cultivate faith", get your butt home to your family before you don't have one. Turn off the cell phone and unplug the land line if need be. Stop deluding yourself into thinking it's right and won't harm anyone. It's not right. It will harm you and might harm others. Take a sabbath and consider it a gift from God.

Comments on "Corvallis Gazette-Times: Pastors work overtime to cultivate faith"


Anonymous Randall said ... (9:33 AM, December 18, 2005) : 

Hey, thanks guy.

Well said, and I needed to have someone say that to me.



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