As we approach the beginning of a new year, we're making plans about how to spend 2010 in healthier and more productive ways. We're thinking of steps we can take, priorities we need to right, and changes that need to occur in our lives. The truth is that while we alone are responsible for making healthy choices, we are often helped by the encouragement of those around us. Whether we're dieting, exercising, taking a weekly sabbath or setting up a regular date night with our spouse, many of our goals require the cooperation of others.
And this is where the church can help those that minister vocationally. I believe many more pastors - and their spouses - desire to live a healthier lifestyle, to actually have a regular day off, and to spend concentrated time with God than feel able to do so. The sad thing is that most of the time we become workaholics because we love our job, we think about ministry all the time, and we want to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. We truly desire to please and honor God with our work ethic. And so we work - as I once did - 70-80+ hours a week. We give our entire being to ministry and instead of anyone reigning us in and saying "this is unhealthy", we are instead praised for the very behavior that if practiced long enough may one day kill us, or if we're lucky, only burn us out.
I myself have walked down this road. For a period of several years I worked well over 70 hours every single week. I rarely had an entire day off. I went to sleep thinking about church, and I woke up thinking about it as well. I lived as if I had no limits and was on the road to burnout and all along that road I was congratulated and applauded for overworking. As a people pleaser, this just added to my workaholic tendencies.
As a result of this near burnout, I’ve done much research into ways to do ministry in a more healthy manner. I talked to pastors who had gone through similar times in their life. I read books and consulted counselors for their advice. I know that the church does not want our ministers to come to the place of burnout. We want them to learn how to minister in ways that are healthier for them - and for our churches - spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. This will be, in the long run, something that truly honors God and His people. Churches can give their staff the gift of cooperation and encouragement and it will not cost them much money, only time and care to implement. We can choose to give our staff benefits that make for a healthier, happier group of ministers.
I encourage all church boards, deacons, elders, and lead pastors to take these suggestions and discuss how they might be implemented in your own setting. Your staff needs your encouragement, your permission, and even your accountability so that they minister and live in healthy ways.
- Sabbath Sundays - Producing week in and week out is exhausting and is difficult to do. It would be helpful if every ministerial staff member be required to take every 8th Sunday off. This allows them a regular time to sit in worship (at a neighboring church) without worries if they’d like to, or go to the beach or simply stay in their pjs and have an extended quiet time at home. This will encourage staff to reproduce themselves and help them gain an understanding that they cannot be the only one that does their job. Everyone learns to share leadership when time off is also shared.
- Personal Retreat Days - Pastors often study the Bible and pray for the sake of everyone but their own relationship with God. Staff could be encouraged to have extended quiet moments with God if churches would give one work day monthly for them to have a personal retreat. Expect them to use it and ask them about it, thus educating and building in some soft accountability. Give resources to help them plan these days and talk about ideas as a team. Make this a core value for your ministers!
- Staff Pastor/Counselor - We often check on how well people are doing their job, but we don’t often check up on how well they are doing emotionally or even spiritually. Regular, periodic check ups on their mental, emotional and physical state can help encourage them to take steps toward health. If the church has money for it, I’d recommend that they have an account to help staff members with counseling when needed. Many times pastors have no one to talk to as they process the reality of being in ministry. At the very least, provide one staff member as a Staff Pastor to oversee how these staff members are implementing these policies, and to discern if there is a need to send them for further help, etc.
- Planning Leave - It would be beneficial to allow two weeks per year for each ministers to help them to leave the constant demands of ministry to work on ministry, not just in it. This leave can be used for planning and preparing ministry ideas and systems. This is also a time to visit other congregations and be inspired and challenged. This should not be seen as a break, because they would work hard during this time.
- Renewal Leave - This is often called a Sabbatical, but this leave would be given based on years of service for the purpose of renewal only. Many times I see churches give this only in emergency situations - and I myself took a sabbatical under these circumstances - but this is not the most profitable for the staff member or the church. Renewal leave can proactively rejuvenate a minister and allow them to pay attention to their own health, spiritual passion and families. They will often return to serve with greater vigor and a deeper faith.
As you enter 2010 take a long look at your work habits in ministry. If you're in the position to help the ministers at your church, I hope you'll share these ideas and help implement them. But one thing is certain. We won't have healthy pastors when expectations and habits are unhealthy. It's time to make changes for a healthier 2010 and future!
** If you'd like to talk personally about how to implement these ideas in your life or your church, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to consult with you and your church board. **