I Don't Care What Time You Got Here; This is Hard Work!
Special Note: The next four blogs at this site (including this one) will be in honor of Pastor Appreciation Month (October). Pastors tend not to draw attention to the fact that it is Pastor Appreciation Month. In fact, it is the fact that I am NOT serving a local congregation that makes me comfortable doing these blogs, which I would not do if I was in a church. Why? Because we don’t do this job for the appreciation. We do this job for Jesus. But honestly, knowing that this month exists, and that so many of our evangelical brothers (and a few sisters) get heaps of recognition during this month hurts us mainliners a little. So this one is on you, laity – share this blog if you are so inspired, because pastors for the most part won’t. And if not that, then at least please read and gain a little better understanding of the lives of the people who walk alongside you in ministry.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard. Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went. Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’
‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.
He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’
But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, CEB translation)
Despite the fact that it is still pretty hot outside, we are in a new season. And that season is… charge conference paperwork season! For those of you who aren’t Methodist, or who are Methodist but have somehow avoided knowledge of this particular administrative “joy,” allow me to explain. In the fall we assemble all kinds of data about our church to present at an annual meeting of our churches. This paperwork includes things like how many people have joined, left, been baptized, and entered the church triumphant. It also includes stuff on financial health, insurance coverage, and committee nominations. And, it includes the recommended compensation for the church’s pastor for the coming year.
This past May our Annual Conference passed a non-binding resolution asking churches to give pastors a bump in vacation time, bringing everyone up to at least 4 weeks. As a non-binding resolution it is not a requirement. Instead, it is like a very hopeful recommendation. There were a number of good reasons given on the floor of Annual Conference arguing for this resolution. I am not going to repeat those so much as I am going to make my own case for why churches should make this move:
1. Burnout among new pastors is particularly high: The last report I heard, we lose a tremendous number of pastors by their fifth year in ministry (look here for statistics that argue 33% are burned out after 5 years; or here for an anecdotal look at an 80% burnout rate in Australia). You know, most pastors I know go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt to pay for seminary. That’s a lot of debt to carry to walk away from it within five years. Also, that is a significant call to abandon as well. Why leave? Follow this blog through the end of this month for those answers, but certainly overworking is part of it.
2. Pastors are an unhealthy lot: Insurance actuaries will tell you that pastors rank alongside coal miners when it comes to figuring costs of insuring them. Our profession bumps our insurance premiums up significantly if career is taken into account. We spend a great deal of our time and energy taking care of other people to the detriment of ourselves. And we are carrying the stress of the church. We need ways to unplug from that stress. Our very lives depend on it.
3. Increasing vacation might mean we would actually take a week or two off: Pastors notoriously do not take our vacation. This is a great sin of ours, one I know I am crazy guilty of. Hell, I don’t even take a Sabbath most weeks. It is a consistent hypocrisy of ours – we urge our people to rest and Sabbath and we are terrible examples. But maybe if we had more vacation time available, we would feel some level of responsibility to at least take some of it. Especially if it was extended to us like a gift.
4. We all need to trust each other more: Just a month ago I heard Ken Nash speak about his doctoral project in which he learned that the Methodist Church grew and grew and grew until around the 1850’s, and since then we have steadily declined. You know what also happened in the 1850’s? The professionalization of the clergy. We grew when the laity took more ownership for the work of the church, and the clergy stayed out of their way and empowered them. Soon as everything became the pastor’s job, everything fell apart. Maybe if our pastors were expected to be gone one month out of the year, pastors would be more intentional about equipping the laity to handle that, and laity would I am certain rise to the challenge.
5. We are all workers in this vineyard: I can hear all the objections. First, from people who work in the secular world: I have been working for fifteen years and I just have two weeks of vacation! Why should the pastor get more than me? Good question. I think the first question there is how unjust is it that you only get 2 weeks of vacation? We will return to the pastor piece in a minute here, because I also need to address my fellow colleagues, who are going to have a very similar objection: I had to wait X number of years before I got 4 weeks vacation (I think it is 10 years in Arkansas, but maybe 15; I honestly don’t know because I am not close enough yet – I hit the 3 week mark this year), why should they get to skip all those years of service and get rewarded? Why indeed! How about the above parable? That should be enough to silence both objections. Give them four weeks vacation as a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven. No, it doesn’t look like the way the secular world does things. When exactly were we supposed to look to the secular world for our model in how we work? No, it is not “fair” in the traditional sense of “earning” your due. Funny, I am pretty sure none of us “earn” our worth here. God isn’t about fair. God is about righteousness. Righteousness is not a synonym of fair. God is also about all of us being valued in God’s heart. And the work of God’s people and God’s church is to live generously, not fairly, and to love abundantly, not scarcely. We do that best when we quit talking theoretically and instead live boldly and differently.
And let me add just one more thing. We all know what a mess our denomination is right now. We also know that we are suffering losses as a result. People, your clergy are taking that reality very personally. And it is not some distant, “well, that will look bad on our Charge Conference paperwork” way (though they are collectively sweating that out), but in a deep spiritual crisis way. They are weeping at each loss, whether they admit it or not, as a lot of them are keeping a strong face for each of you. They also feel very alone in this, no matter how often I assure them I am hearing it from their neighbor pastors as well. This is, I think, the hardest year I have ever seen to serve as a UM pastor, and there are likely more hard years to come. And also, many churches just can’t afford to give their pastors raises this year. Some of them are cutting salaries. Offset some of that loss, and cut them some extra vacation days. And then encourage them to actually take them. We need our pastors functioning as well as they can right now. Time off to recharge is critical to that reality.
So let’s live like the people of God and seek the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, instead of grumbling about who deserves what when. Let God have the power to give through us abundantly.