If you want to look after your pastor, just let him have a normal weekend off!

I’ve just read one of those Twitter threads which outlines how churches should look after the pastors.  This current one talks about things like using paying the pastor a decent wage, paying for any counselling they need, letting them have marriage enrichment weekends, praying for them, giving them sabbaticals and also giving then a “sabbath in the week.”

My list would be simpler.

  1. Love them as first and foremost part of the church family, including looking out for their spiritual wellbeing, praying for them, encouraging them.
  2. Treat them as you would expect any employee to be treated.
  3. Give them weekends off!

There has been much discussion about the pressures that pastors face and why they need their own Sabbath in the week because Saturdays are a working day.  Now, I think there are two sides to this.  The first is that we do need to remember that whilst there is something distinctive about the role of someone who is a full time elder in the life of the church, we must not underestimate the significant responsibility, a lot of the challenges are things that other members of the church will have to face.  They may be working long hours for little pay, they may be working challenging shift patterns that affect time with their family.  Yet, they do not have these special dispensations created for them.

Secondly, I wonder whether some of the things we have turned into compulsory necessities have become essential because we’ve failed to get the foundations of normal church life right.  I am not against a pastor or any elder having a sabbatical.  There are a few reasons why this might happen positively

  1. It enables them to have an extended period of focused study or to visit and investigate ministry and mission elsewhere.
  2. It encourages both them and the church not to become dependent on their identity as the pastor.
  3. It may sometimes be helpful for rest after a sustained period of spiritual warfare. In fact, I’ve recently encouraged people to seek out the possibility of a sabbatical for this reason.

However, whilst a sabbatical may be a positive option, I don’t think it should be a necessity. This depends though on having healthy patterns of rest and service built into the normal routine. It depends on having a strong sense of body ministry so that week to week church life isn’t about one man.

This brings me to the other issue.  A healthy routine should include, as far as possible, the pastor taking the normal weekend off. This should mean that they neither need to have a special personal sabbath in the week nor build up to the point where they take all of their sabbaths in one go.  Rather, if the pattern in their church family is of a weekend where Saturday is a day off for family stuff and then Sunday is in effect “sabbath” for the rest of worship, then that’s what the pastor should do.

There are two objections to this.  The first is that the pastor needs another sabbath because Sunday is his working day.  He must carry out his employment duties of leading worship, preaching and spending time with the congregation.  I’ve written in detail about this before, so I don’t want to go over old ground too much again. However, I do want to emphasise my belief that

  • Sabbath rest is about enjoying God together in worship
  • This means it is primarily about celebrating the fruits of our labours in the kingdom during the past week.
  • It means that there is also an emphasis on feeding and being refreshed for the week ahead.

All of this means that when the pastor preaches, he is worshipping and sharing the fruits of his labours in the study and among the flock in the past week.  It also means that he too is feeding on God’s Word so he is nourished for the week ahead.

This does mean though that we need to look at how we organise Sundays and Sunday worship. It also depends on a genuine sense of every member ministry.

The second objection is that the pastor needs to be working on Saturday because that’s when other church members are around and so ministry can happen.  I would again challenge the assumption here.  This seems to assume that he needs to be around at every key activity and that pastoral work is not happening unless he is organising it.

I think that both pastors and local churches need to take some responsibility here.  This situation arises because of how churches have become dependent on one man and devalued ministry that doesn’t come from him.  However, it also comes because if we are honest, too many of us like to be needed. We are worried that if we are not there then we may be seen as surplus to requirements or we fear that without us present then everything will go awry.There is of course a solution to this.  It’s that you have a strong sense of plural leadership and every member ministry. Is this beginning to sound repetitive?

Now, please don’t hear me legalistically here. There will be many contexts where the majority of the congregation do not follow the 5/2 weekday/weekend pattern.  There will be pastors whose wives work shifts at the weekend and whose children haven’t started school or have long since flown the nest. There’ll be single pastors and widowed pastors too.  I’m not saying that you must make Saturday their day off.  I am saying that in a lot of contexts, that day might be best. What I’m saying is make it the principle that you will allow a pastor the same kind of family life that you expect for themselves.  This is because the pastor’s stewardship of the church starts with the stewardship of his own home.  Of course, if that means a Wednesday when his wife is off work and they can then head up the motorway one week to visit their daughter at Uni and another week to visit elderly parents then go for it. Just make sure that the weekly pattern of work/rest revolves around genuine needs rather than presumptions about pastoral ministry.

%d bloggers like this: