This is long, so please bear with me.
Last week, I was on vacation for spring break with my daughters. It was the first "real" vacation I have taken since beginning my term as Bishop in 2017. I have taken trips, but always also checked emails and phone calls while away--so I was basically just an EWAID Road Show.
We stayed in a home on Hood Canal. There was no phone. No internet. There was an old television, and a DVD player, but only yoga DVDs. As the mother of two teenagers: I was nervous about how this place would be received as a vacation destination.
Turns out? We loved it. We read. We did crafts. I completed an afghan for my youngest. We walked on the beach. We ate breakfast for dinner. We watched seals and loons and seagulls. We napped. We stayed up late and slept in late.
After seven days of this, I was ready to come home. Ready to re-engage the work. I felt rested. I felt imaginative. I felt energized. Ready to cannonball into synod assembly prep, call process, candidacy and all that goes with this glorious ministry I've been called to.
This sabbath on Hood Canal reconnected me with myself, my children, and my call.
What a gift!
I'm sharing this because I truly believe that God and the Church deserve leaders who are imaginative, energized, rested, ready, and confidently called. But all too often, the work of ministry doesn't allow those qualities to be present in any significant way.
Most pastors are granted 4 weeks of vacation, and most (hopefully) take 1 day off a week. I know lay people look at that and think, "Four weeks vacation! I'm lucky to get two!" But here's some interesting math for you: if an individual worked for a company that provided full-time employment but REFUSED to provide any vacation time, but DID provide a solid two days off per week, that individual would have MORE time off in a 12-month period (104 days) than a pastor does in that same 12-month time period (4 weeks/28 days + 52 days off = 80 days).
This doesn't take into account that often times weddings, funerals, key meetings, major holidays, or poor boundaries take many of those promised days away from your spiritual leaders. So I feel pretty confident in saying that a rostered leader is LUCKY if they get 80 days off a year. Even if you throw in 2 weeks of continuing education you're STILL only at 94 days off a year. Compared with 104 days for a low-ball estimate of time off for lay people.
Now, I'm not critiquing ANYONE. I'm sure we can all point to pastors who get lots of time off, and jobs for laity that provide far less. But generally speaking, I think the numbers I'm using are solid and I've just found over the years that very few people have bothered to do the "Pastoral Time Off Math" to realize that what seems like a generous amount of time off really...isn't.
And yet, I hear frequently from pastors that they get knocked for taking their time off. That people make snide comments about pastors "only working on Sundays" (as an aside: PLEASE stop saying that. It's not funny. It's not true. It's not helpful.) so why do they need vacation?
I firmly believe that the Church deserves leaders who are rested. Who practice good self care. Who have lay leadership who hold them accountable for taking care of themselves and their families. Leaders for whom burnout is a foreign concept, instead of something that they battle all. the. time.
Church professionals already tend to be "givers"--they truly love people, they love the people God has given them to care for, and they love their work. At first, answering a quick phone call on their day off might not be a burden. Or checking their email a couple of times. Or stopping in to church to do some small chore someone has asked them to do. But those small things add up. As do the big things that also make demands of a pastor or deacon's time. It doesn't take much time for a day off to be completely consumed in small bites from people who have no idea that others are also taking small bites from a pastor or deacon who will never say a word about it.
Google divorce rates for pastors. Google divorce rates for clergy couples (a different number).
Ask pastors with grown children how many of their children are involved in a congregation.
Then ask WHY.
It will break your heart.
So what can you do?
Make sure your rostered congregational leaders are taking their day off. If you don't know when that is: ask them! Then publicize it in your bulletins, so people know when leaders are taking a sabbath. If it is their day off and you need something "really quick"--it's something that can probably wait 24 hours until their sabbath is over. THANK THEM for taking care of themselves so that they are better able to take care of your congregation. Encourage them to not leave vacation "on the table"--but to take full advantage of those days to rest, to be renewed, to be re-created. Provide ways to support their sabbath time--do you have an old fishing cabin they could use for a few days? Or an RV that a more adventurous pastor-type might be interested in borrowing? What about a gift card for a dinner out with their spouse?
As a church we are living in a time when we require great flexibility and imagination on the parts of our leaders. Because of the climate and technology of our culture, they are carrying heavier burdens than previous generations of pastors. I am constantly after them about self care, because it is only through that care that they will have the needed flexibility, imagination, and JOY that they will need to do the work we need them to.
So please: help me help you take care of your leaders. Help them to take sabbaths. Hold them accountable to that responsibility (laid out in the 10 Commandments if you need a higher authority than me) just as you hold them accountable to the other responsibilities of their call. Pray for them. Pray that they rest. Pray that they find joy. Pray that they are renewed.
You won't be sorry. :)