Working One Hour a Week (Part Three)

Previously, I wrote about serving as theologian in residence, and in providing and equipping for pastoral care. Today, I’d like to briefly write about Sabbath.

My intentional days off are Friday and Saturday. Because people do not work on Saturdays, they are sometimes the best time to meet or gather. Because the Holy Spirit will not be contained to particular hours for inspiration and transformation, sermons are sometimes written or edited or tossed out and restarted on Saturdays. Saturdays are a bonus, is what I think I’m trying to say. So my day of rest, my Sabbath, is Friday.

And I am strict with it. I answer my phone only for emergencies, I do not check or respond to e-mail. I do not work if I can help it–even if the sermon’s not done or a class is not prepped or if there’s a thousand things to do, and it’s for one simple reason:

There will always be more to do in ministry.

I know one person–one–who has suggested he’s ever just been done with his task list for the day. And he was an Associate Minister who later had his job expanded. Every other pastor I know can work eighty hours a week, every week, if they choose to. And plenty of them do. And I used to, and then I realized my boundaries were breachable, my rest was raucous, and I was not setting a good example.

God rests on the seventh day. Not for a few hours each day. Not half a day here and there. Not a month after nearly having a nervous breakdown. One day of rest, each week. The pyramids will still get built, the weeds will still be there to be pulled, the world will still run and devour everything we throw at it. We each can take a day.

(I recognize some folks cannot; they must work too much to scratch by. I want to be a better advocate for them, and lead people in serving their needs. Thus, Sabbath.)

Does taking a strong day off influence the congregation? Perhaps. Leading by example and not decree takes time; developing a rhythm, and then examining it in community, is a process.

Working One Hour a Week (Part Two)

This is a continuation of the series, “Working One Hour a Week,” answering (at least for me) “What do pastors DO during the week anyway,” and you can find Part One right here.

Today, let’s talk about building relationships, particularly through pastoral care.

Pastoral care is important, an inescapable part of the life of ministry, and there’s something to be said about professionals who are trained, equipped and ready to walk alongside people in the best (think weddings!) and worst (think unexpected deaths!) moments of their lives. It is an honor and privilege to walk alongside folks, to sit in silence in hospital rooms, to trust the Holy Spirit will understand our sighs and muddled words, to invoke God’s presence in the rooms where God already is.

And it is something that cannot, should not, and ultimately, will not be done only by professional Christians.

First, it’s impossible–I can’t remember where I’d read it, but if the expectation is that one person will cover all pastoral concerns (hospital visitation, home calls, concerns sharing and keeping up to date), there might be enough time for that person to also prepare a sermon during the forty hour week, if the church is fewer than 80 active members. Might. So that means anything else–teaching, advocacy, community presence, innovative worship, name it–either has to happen on an ever-deepening deficit, or not at all.

The most simple solution, I think, is this: equip the congregation to do pastoral care, and start calling it congregational care. If we look to the witness of scripture, there’s not, in any community or mention through the entire New Testament, someone who has the task list and job description of a solo pastor in mainline Protestantism. One of the big draws of the church, in fact, was that the community was so connected and interwoven, everyone was caught. There were many as one, not one doing the work of many.

It takes a paradigm shift–the pastor may not come pray with you in the hospital! But an elder or trusted servant may! And God hears those prayers exactly the same way as the pastor’s. And some will be upset–but they’ll come around.