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Should Pastors be workaholics?

by on November 20, 2012

A friend of mine coming out of seminary had an opportunity to go on staff at one of the largest United Methodist Churches in the nation. It was a good move for him politically and financially. I heard that the interview with the Senior Pastor inclluded this statement: “I work 80-100 hours a week, and expect my staff to do so as well.”

That was a quarter century ago, before the MBA took over the UMC. We werenu all metric-cized then like we are now. There was, the implicit message from above that the more the churches we were appointed to looked like Frazer Memorial or Ginghamsburg, the more successful our ministry was considered.

Today’s question is: do the metrics and narratives that are expected include space for self care and healthy family commitment?

Many pastors of very large churches have chosen church over family, and have the broken relationships to show for it. So do many others.

I am not out to vilify senior pastors of large churches. I am willing, however, to vilify a system that pressures men and women, in the name of the gospel, to value job over relationship.

We all agree that church is about the ministry of reconciliation; of becoming more and more reconciled with God, of offering this opportunity to others, and of fostering their ability to move into it. Can we, together, find better ways to balance this with our quest for numerical growth and the immediacy with which our culture is so infatuated?

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6 Comments
  1. Thanks for posting this. I left the UMC after 10 yrs of youth ministry amidst pressure by the machinery of the church at large. I was rewarded for being a bad dad and a shitty husband. As long as I had strong engagement numbers and increased conversions things were swell.

  2. If we model insanity, surely we’ll get more of it.

  3. Carol Bolton permalink

    Having lived the secular corporate insanity – and paid the price in health and relationships – I cannot support a metric based system applied to what is supposed to be a Spiritually nurturing environment. I know how incredibly simple it is to manipulate metrics to craft a false impression of “success” while erasing evidence of foundational failure. I have been concerned that our really wonderful congregation might – out of love! – create a burnout situation for you! We are so blessed to have you, AND your family, that we can enjoy an unmeasured journey with you and still be able to “count” those blessings that have already been, and will continue to be, heaped upon us. I cannot imagine Our Lord with bar charts, ROI projections or a slick PowerPoint presentation as proof of our love for Him – and each other. Keep sight of what REALLY counts! You don’t get a do-over!

    • Thank you for your reply. I have the sense that Euless FUMC would rather NOT have a burned out pastor, and I have felt the support for not becoming one.

  4. One of the biggest issues facing many pastors is their in ability to say “no!” Sometimes a pastor needs to say no to certain things in order to keep a proper balance of family time and having a personal life. Pastors are people as well. Honestly, if I were in a situation where I was told that I was expected to work 80-100 hours a week, I would say “no” and I would let that be known in the interview. And if that hurts my chances of getting that position, then so be it. As a pastor, I need to lead by example, and that means keeping the Sabbath and taking family relationships and friendships I am called to seriously. So much ministry takes place in those outside relationships…
    My seminary professor made a good point. He said that as a pastor you WILL take your day off…and that day off can be by your own will or from burn out….you get the choice.

    • Kyle, thank you for your response. I recall, from my years at ATS, the same kind of support for self-care and boundary maintenance. I also remember one prof (a legendary one) telling us the story of having promised his son that he would be home this one evening. After getting home too late that night, he apologized to the teenager the next morning. Son replied, “that’s ok, dad, I really didn’t expect you to keep that promise.”

      We all run the risk – especially as soon as we think we are immune.

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