December 8, 2009

Taking Days Off

My pastor spouse loves his job. In fact, when we first started in ministry, he worked all the time
--100 hours a week at least. Needless to say, he was never home. Even though I was newly married with no experience of being a pastor's spouse, I knew something was not right. So it wasn't long before I issued an ultimatum: Take some time off or else. I wasn't sure what the "or else" meant, but I was pretty angry. So my repentant spouse said he would take one day off a week. And guess what, he found that he got more accomplished the other 6 days. Later when we had kids, he went to 2 days off a week. And although he occasionally backslides, he has remained faithful to his promise. This is not to say that he doesn't work from 7 am to 10 pm every other day and talk on the phone, or do weddings, funerals, hospital visits, emergency counseling, or think about his sermon on his days off.

Statistics show that an average work-week for a pastor is about 50-60 hours. But the sicker the church, the more the pastor works. In my experience, this is true. With so many toxic and dying churches, some of our spouses are literally working themselves to death, others deal with stress in equally unhealthy ways (over-eating, other compulsive behaviors, addictions, depression, etc.) Wonder why our health insurance costs so much? The only profession that has higher stress is air traffic control.

Do you want your spouse to be healthier? Do you want your health insurance to cost less? (In a conference I know, the family health insurance is going to $30,000 a year. Yes.) We need to encourage our spouses to take time away from the church. Even Jesus did not work all the time. Even he got tired and had to get away.



  1. You are right on target. Churches need to view the pastor practicing selfcare as being a good steward of one's health to be effective in ministry instead of time away from doing ministry that should be guilt ridden.

    There is a fine article by a Lutheran online "Come Away and Rest" Pastors: You Are Not Called to Work Harder Than Your Creator. The link to it can be found on my site.

  2. My husband doesn't have an office at the church, so there is no line between work and home. Obviously, when he's out doing visits and leading Bible studies and whatnot, he's working, but when he's at home, there is no distinction between work and rest. I can't speak for my hubby, but when I was doing some work from home on maternity leave, it was stressful not to have that distinction.

  3. This is a boundary as well as a professional issue which the congregation really must address. I never liked that situation when I was single and much less when I was married. At one point in my life having an office was so important that my therapist sent a prescription for one to my church and they gave me a Sunday School room. Not providing an office shows a total lack of respect for the pastor's work in the preparation of sermons,Bible studies, worship services and doing counseling as well as just having a quiet place to go think and pray.

    Part of the congregaiton's problem is that they might not consider what a pastor does in the office as work, but it is and they need to understand that.