Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Running on Empty

About a week ago a pastor friend of mine posted on their Facebook page about being exhausted and too busy to rest. One of the comments made on the post suggested they HAD to take some time away from the church to rest. The fairly quick response from the original poster was that they had no time, no money, and no one to cover for them at the church. It was clear from multiple comments under the post that many are in the same situation. It is not the first time I have seen these kinds of posts from pastors on my feed or heard comments from pastors talking like this with each other.

According to several pastoral studies, full-time pastors work on average 50+ hours per week. Approximately, 42% work more than 60 hours per week. And these are not regular hours – they are evenings and weekends, include emergency calls or visits in the middle of the night, and are often filled with stressful human interactions (contentious meetings, funerals and crisis ministry, strong willed parishioners, and extreme pressures on their personal life and families).

Part-time pastors are typically “part-time” in pay only – as so many part-time congregations expect nearly full-time work for their part-time pay. Add to this formula high seminary debt, extreme relationship expectations with congregants, and often low pay (especially in earlier calls/appointments) and you now have a recipe for potential trouble.

One of my favorite things growing up was the bold talk of my Dad about how “in tune” he was with his car. He could drive to the edge of the “E” on his gasoline gauge and he knew instinctively when he had to stop and get gas. He bragged about never running out of gas. It was a “guy thing,” my mother would say. But during one family trip, my Dad’s expert knowledge of his car failed him.

He just knew he could make it to a particular exit to get gas. My Mom, my sisters, and I tried to tell him he needed to stop because he was not going to make it. He was certain – even a bit cocky that he knew his car and he knew where the station he wanted to stop was located. You all know what happened next – he ran out of gas. And my sisters and I pushed the car to the gas pump. We have kidded him for years about it. Even though he insisted that he knew how far his car would take him – he was wrong. We were running on empty and paid the price – well, his kids did. And he has gotten teased for decades.

Often pastors do the same thing. They run too long on empty and pay the consequences. They pay the consequences in their personal faith and life. They pay the consequences in their relationship with their parishioners. They pay the consequences in the ways they pastor and preach. And they pay the consequences in how they feel about their call to the ministry.

But the truth is – many pastors feel the same way as my Facebook friend. They feel exhausted and overwhelmed but know they have little time and less money to get away. So what should we do?

First, we should follow the rules of rest and renewal:

1.  Take time every day to refresh – pray, read for fun, go for a walk, go out into nature, take a nap, take a bubble bath, or something that refreshes you EVERY DAY for at least a little bit – even if it is just 10-15 minutes it will help.

2. Take a day off every week to rest or play. If something comes up on that day once and a while, take a different afternoon off to make up for it if you cannot take a different full day off. Go to the movies, go on a family date, spend time with your spouse or significant other, or sleep in.

3.  Take time off quarterly to rest and refresh. Take time to go see a friend in a nearby town, plan a retreat at an area church or retreat center that has low cost housing. Try area universities, seminaries, or other resources if you are short on finances. Do a spiritual retreat with colleagues at a local church for a day or spend time with friends.

4.  Take time off annually for a personal or family vacation. Swap homes with a clergy colleague in another conference or synod who is also short on finances. Find low cost alternative trips that are more service oriented or mission focused. Spend time with your family in larger chunks of time if you do a staycation – and do NOT give in to the temptation of answering calls from the church. Trade coverage of your church members and emergencies while you are gone with another area pastor by offering to cover while they are gone as well.

I know … money is tight. So is time. Expectations are high. So are the pressures of ministry. But you have to make the effort to find time – daily, weekly, quarterly, and annually to do something to renew and refill your tank. No matter how long you think you can go without refilling – at some point you will run out of gas and everyone will pay for that.
Honor your family, your call, your faith, your body, and your congregation – stop early and often to fill up that tank. Don’t run on empty.

P.S. A friend suggested that in toxic environments - churches or other ministry settings that are difficult to lead or have toxic personalities to deal with - self-care is even more important. And with the number of churches that are very difficult to pastor, the need for care is even more important. But even doing that cannot make up for these situations completely. It is a step that is important, however.

1 comment:

  1. Amen. But sometimes we are our own worst enemies - some clergy seem to find their identity . I have a cottage in NW CT that I have offered to clergy who say they can't afford to get away (free - though a donation or some yard work is always welcome!), and they almost always find another excuse...