Give your pastor a break

Pastors, for the most part, work hard. They love people, love the church, and serve out of a sense of divine responsibility. They generally do it out of this love and commitment, and not because of any financial benefit, as most pastors work for far less money than they could earn elsewhere. Pastoring is a highly stressful vocation, and one which requires an often absurd amount of hours. Pastors put their weekly hours in at the office, are usually "on the job" multiple nights throughout the week, and generally have responsibilities on many weekends, with Sundays obviously being consumed with commitments. Beyond that, the nature of the job means they are also almost always available. Phone calls in the middle of the night, emergencies at the hospital on weekends and holidays as well as days off interrupted by well meaning people who have a pressing (and often not-so-pressing) need. I know, in my situation as a pastor over the last 10 years, if I put in less than 60-65 hours in a week I considered it a light week, and one to appreciate. Pastors work a lot. Beyond the fact that pastors work a lot, the kind of work they do is tasking. Not only does the job require a lot of hours, it also requires a high level of emotional, mental and spiritual commitment. I can personally attest to the fact that a pastor almost never has meetings with people to discuss all the good things that are going on. Instead the pastor typically invests their time dealing with sin, struggle and pain. Counseling sessions with people in need, lunches with people who are unhappy, emails, Facebook messages, etc. All of this adds up to an often weighty amount of time and responsibility that can suck the life out of our pastors, often before we realize it. Pastoral work is not only hard, it is incredibly draining.

In August of 2010, the New York Times said, "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could." The statistical realities that support this conclusion are often staggering.

With all this said, I would like to suggest a simple, easy to implement idea, that should cost little to nothing, but could bring about significant benefits for both your pastors and your church. Give your pastors a break. Seriously. Move quickly to increase their vacation time. Now, before you quickly write me off, according to experts quoted in the same New York Times article, taking a bit of time off may be the most significant remedy to keep your pastors and staff from burning out and walking away. What is particularly great, from a church budget perspective, is this benefit costs little, or nothing at all! Cheers all the way around! ;-)

Over the years I have spoken to a more than a few pastors who are at churches who give tiny vacation allotments to their pastors and staff. Often this is done by well meaning folks who model their compensation packages after secular packages without giving thought to the fact that pastors rarely work a 40 hour workweek, and pastors are always on call, not to mention the emotional and mental demands of the job which lead to higher than average burnout/dropout. Giving your pastors one week of vacation, or 10 days of vacation, is simply unfortunate and unnecessary. What makes this even more important, in my mind, is that churches are often operating as tightly as they can, financially. Typically they are not flush with cash and, as such, struggle to find ways to compensate their pastors and staff in appropriate ways. Providing for them extra vacation time is an easy, affordable (if not free) way to bless your staff, and in doing so, build a culture of love and respect among them that leads them to even greater commitments to your church. In my mind it makes little to no sense to offer them tiny, limited vacation packages. Moving their vacation time to 3 weeks, or even a month, could literally change their life and radically change the life of your church as well.

Thankfully I can speak to this from personal experience. I have had the privilege of serving in churches that understand how important this is, and who have blessed their staff with sufficient time off. I cannot tell you how much of a blessing that was, and how that led to a healthy ministry environment for me and my family.

So, do you want to bless your pastors and staff? Do you want to keep them around, keep them satisfied and engender their greatest commitment to you while seeing them provide the highest level of service to you? Give them a break. Literally. I think you may be surprised at how well it could pay off for you and for them.