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Balance

"Balancing" Some rights reserved (CC BY 2.0) by Ariff Ahmad Tajuddin. Sourced from Flickr.Twice this week I’ve had comments about clergy workload. I don’t think that the people making the comments were aware of the weight of their words.

One suggested we get together socially some day for coffee; when I mentioned that I usually have a full work calendar during the week, there was genuine confusion that I had set ministry commitments beyond Sunday mornings.

Another person, in a discussion on Thom Rainer’s blog “How Many Hours Must a Pastor Work to Satisfy the Congregation” (spoiler: 114!) suggested that 40 work hours per week seemed like a good idea, but wasn’t going to happen.

The first comment came out of misunderstanding of how a clergy’s work week is structured, yet could inadvertently feed into the myth that clergy only work an hour each week (less if the choir sings an anthem!).

The second comment was intended to support a realistic expectation of workload, but could inadvertently feed into the myth of acceptable overworking and 24/7 availability.

These two comments, in such stark contrast to the other, reminded me of the need for balance in my workweek. Under normal circumstances, 40 hours is a healthy amount of time for full-time ministry—all ministries, lay and ordained. In my experience, as a clergy person, there is some flexibility in hours—some weeks involve more hours, obviously; yet those need to be balanced by weeks with fewer hours.

These comments also reminded me of the opportunity to be a role model of balance. I aim to demonstrate the benefits of engaging in rewarding work as well as the necessity of sabbath rest. I aim to model availability whenever life throws a curveball, but also that limits need be set on accessibility. I demonstrate accountability for my time to the Parish Council, and I rely on their support in helping to maintain a sustainable workload.

Balance: it’s essential to establish and maintain; it’s essential to adequately communicate to those with whom we serve, so expectations can be realistic.

How do you maintain balance in your work-life? How do you support those with whom you serve? How do you support your clergy in their quest for balance?

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I'm a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I'm passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee. http://everydaychristianityblog.blogspot.ca
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14 Responses to Balance

  1. Go to church on a weekday, which leaves weekend open for other things.

    • Yah, why waste a weekend on God ,I am sure you have better things to do.

      • I find it’s helpful to seek balance, keeping God and corporate worship IN that balance, no matter what day.

        • Are you saying we can give God too much corporate worship?

          • Not at all, Tony; but I try to support when someone is actively engaging in corporate worship, whether it’s a Sunday morning or a Tuesday noon or whenever.

          • I agree but too often I see too many times people worship God ,if they can fit it in their schedule not as a sacrifice but an attitude of doing God a favor showing up when ever convenient.If God is the most important thing in ones life then worship should take precedence over all other things

  2. I have to say that the principle of ordained ministry was designed with the concept of a full life time will of service to others. As a fellow trained theologian, laity I strive to remind myself and others who are in “service” that accepting all else the duty is until death and beyond. My late father in laws grave has “The Rev”, upon the stone, so he is the eternal keeper of all in that sites saints, as he was ordained for life, in 1948.

    Todays clergy are far too set on vocational terms like a period of until I decide to retire, not ordained observance, as the will is to be a pensioned retired person at some future date.

    I am a soldier by training and a Centurion by rank and yet I call myself a full time christian follower and laity leader, without a specific time or place limit. I hope more clergy will say to their community, a similar state of mind. Then and by grace will the duty of being a fellowship of shepherd amongst the flock they are charged with by holy orders, asthe terms applied with ordained responsibility, be a calling not a terms of service, prior to retirement.

    • Thanks Ron. I think being a Christian – ordained or lay, academically trained or not – is a life of service. Finding a healthy balance, though, is part of that service. I have a sign on my office wall to remind myself of the need for self-care: “You cannot pour from an empty cup” – rest and recreation are integral to our ministry. Jesus modelled this well for all of his disciples (then and now); he often went away by himself to pray.

  3. I had an ex-boyfriend (now deceased, God rest his soul) who was convinced that ministers only work one day a week: Sunday. He even said the ministry was lazy work. He worked, by contrast, in a seafood processing plant.

    • I think every career/vocation/occupation has hidden sides to it. There’s often more being done than what is seen!

  4. I work closely with clergy, and estimate their time working per week is 60-80 hours. This just isn’t sustainable for 52 weeks per year. There might be some who feel that this is acceptable, but I see the damage, fatigue, and burnout that this causes people.

    Congregations need to understand the hard work that it takes for clergy to be emotionally plugged in, all the time, with whomever is at the door, or in the office, or in the pew. This type of emotional involvement just doesn’t exist in a lot of other jobs, (plus of all the other work that a member of the clergy does!) A pastor is on-call 24-7 in most cases. They’re at your death bed to comfort your loved ones at 2 am. Your barber, or your therapist, or your factory worker doesn’t have that sort of job description.

    Let’s give clergy a break, adjust our expectations, and get them a workload that looks like 40 hours, like most of the rest of us.

    • Thanks Jamie – I think 40 hours is a guideline. When there’s more work to be done, clergy do it. When there’s a lull, a lesser amount of time can be put in.
      Trying to put into exact hours the time a clergy person works is difficult – there are so many variables! Can you imagine a priest standing up Sunday morning saying “I was *going* to write a sermon, but hit my 40-hours on Wednesday”. 🙂 The key is realistic flexibility, I think. And good communication about the reality of it all.

  5. This is an good and important conversation. Can I suggest that we might benefit from re-framing a little bit?

    I remember hearing a senior clergy person talking about the difference between stipend and salary. The distinction was that that a salary was pay for work while a stipend was pay that allows someone to give their days and weeks to a particular task. I’m way less interested in talking about the hours that someone puts in. I’m way more interested in making sure that I live into my vocation. That I seek to “grow into the full stature of Christ”.

    This definitely doesn’t fit with how culture talks about work. It can make accountability hard and I’m not going to pretend that I have it all sorted. I suspect the balance of what kind of work I’m doing and when could be improved. I know my prayer life could be improved. Having said all of that, I’m not sure that focusing on the number of hours is going to be helpful in a conversation about healthy vocations and balance.

    Thanks Laura for raising this and writing well on it.

    • Trevor, I think for those of us inside the inner workings of the church, we could reframe it into stipend/salary discussions. However, as you pointed out, I wonder if by such a re-frame we might continue to lock out folks who don’t understand the workload to begin with.
      And, I think we could all struggle with answering a question like “What does a typical day/week look like?” – as the flux is the constant in our ministries.
      I just thank God I thrive in flux. It keeps my energy so high for exercising my ministry!

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