I have been a pastor for a long time. Over the years, I have worked with many other pastors and volunteers on a myriad of projects. My pastoral co-workers at Freshwater are a huge blessing because they are passionately dedicated to their work. It never ceases to amaze me how many staff and volunteers give so much for the cause of Christ. But here is my beef. I need to admit that I loathe pastors who have lost touch with the workload their volunteers deal with daily. Let me explain.
My friend Joe drives 45 minutes each way to work every day. He leaves before 7 and when he gets to the office he deals with unique challenges from personnel problems to complex spreadsheets. He fights traffic all the way home arriving around 5:30pm. But, his day isn’t finished yet. He needs to drive his daughter to her soccer game and arrange for someone to take her home. After he drops her off he heads to church for a meeting and will return home just in time to tuck his 3 kids into bed. After which he will open his laptop, write a few e-mails, communicate with his wife, watch 30 minutes of T.V., read his bible, and collapse for the night. This isn’t the exception for Joe, this is the norm. His schedule at work is very consistent but his family events vary with the sports season. Two of his kids are involved in AWANA at church and during the school year he volunteers his time to help with that program. Some critics might be tempted to say that Joe is overbooked. I would argue that Joe is more the norm than the exception. You could replace his name with anyone else and tell the same story.
Then there is the “professional” pastor. Most pastors I know are hard-working, loving, kind, wise leaders. They give their time to leading the local church and they lead it well. Some work way to many hours, because there is always one more call to be made and one more meeting to be arranged. I admire these hard working leaders and often have to encourage them to inventory their schedules, because they are precariously close to burnout. The sad reality is that only one pastor in twenty who begins a career in pastoral ministry will retire from it. My beef isn’t with these committed pastors, my beef is with the pastors who carry a light load and take comp time to ensure they only work a 40 hours week. These pastors irk me. There, I said it and I mean it.
One pastor I know takes comp time off in the morning if he has a meeting at night. If he has a meeting on Saturday, he takes an extra day off during the week to run errands. This way he can show up at evening meetings refreshed because he spent the morning relaxing at home. One night he lectured volunteers about commitment and dedication. Sitting on his left was Joe. Joe is already feeling hung-over still pondering unfinished business at the office. He’s weary from his commute and quick dinner at home. Joe didn’t get to take the morning off to rest up for his meeting that night. And he won’t get to sleep in tomorrow because he has to get the kids on the bus. He is just sitting there exhausted listening to his refreshed spiritual leader challenge him to give more. While I admire Joe, I am frustrated with the pastor because I think he has lost touch with reality. Jesus had a huge problem with the Pharisees because they had no problem putting a huge yoke on the people while refusing to carry their own. I have the same problem with pastors who mitigate their own schedules because they can but refuse to do the same for their team of volunteers. It seems a bit hypocritical.
I would never ask anyone to match my schedule. This past year I learned the hard way that my life was out of balance. My workload had become unsustainable and I paid the price for it. In May, I set out to change this. I am beginning to develop sustainable rhythms. This includes taking one day off a week and not working late into the night several nights a week. There is always work to be done and I need to be content with putting my laptop down then picking it up again tomorrow even if I didn’t accomplish everything I thought I needed to. What I refuse to do is to expect a volunteer to commit to something that I would never commit to myself.
I rarely take a morning off if I have a meeting at night. My volunteers don’t so why should I? I understand that the leaders have to get up and go to work in the morning so we try to end our meetings at a reasonable hour. This helps me maintain sustainable rhythms and at the same time model it to volunteers. Do not demand volunteers to commit to a schedule you cannot sustain yourself. There is nothing more important than the ministry of the local church. The local church reflects the light of Christ in the community and we feel satisfied when we serve. Pastors need to help people prioritize their lives in such a way that glorifies Christ and model it to their volunteers. Both pastors and volunteers need to find a balance that will propagate the Gospel and share the load.