Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Healthy and Bivocational Ministers

Brian Russell writes at length about how Christian leaders must rest if they are to remain faithful to Biblical teaching. This brings to mind a curious UMC institution: the bi-vocational minister. These part time Local Pastors work a secular career in addition to following their pastoral calling.

It strikes me that bi-vocational ministry is inherently at odds with a spiritually, physically, and emotionally healthy life. Assuming that pastoral duties constitute 20 hours a week at a small church, adding a regular 40-hour work week is sustainable only in the short-term.

This summer, I pulled off that kind of lifestyle with CPE and student pastoring for 12 weeks. But I know that if I tried to live this way permanently, I'd be divorced by 40 and dead by 50.

What do you think?


Michael said...

Add to that going to school at night to finish up a degree. Being in management, my work week is often 50 hours or more. I have virtually no time to make visitations and really have to juggle things if I have a parishioner in the hospital. Fortunately, I have a wife who believes in what I do, but it's not without its challenges.

Keith Taylor said...


John Wesley got up and had church at 5 am almost every day and rode in a chase all over England. Francis Asbury did as well and he rode on horseback 30, 40, or 50 miles every day in addition to his preaching. I know some will say that they were full time pastors, but the actions required to get from point A to point B in their time was a full time job that relegated their pastoring to a part time position.

I guess what I’m saying is that the idea of a 40 hour week is a sign of a weak and slothful culture. I haven’t worked a 40 hour week since I got out of college. I don’t know anyone who does. But let me suppose that one does work a 40 hr/wk secular job. There are 168 hrs in a week, minus 40 is 128. Suppose you sleep 7 hrs a night. That leaves 79 hrs a week. Take away another 20 to be a part time pastor and you still have 59.

I don’t think that bi-vocational ministry is inherently at odds with a spiritually, physically, and emotionally healthy life. . I know that is easy for me to say since I don’t have second job as a pastor, but I guess that if one is a true Christian every minute of every day regardless of his or her occupation, how can it be? We are told to be full time Christians 24-7.

I’ll tell you what, in my opinion, is at odds with a spiritually healthy life. A part time pastor who works a secular job, and then works as a local licensed pastor, and then is told by the UMC hierarchy that he or she is not qualified to serve holy communion, or baptize an unsaved heathen, or perform a marriage for one of his or her own members in a church other than their own, because they are only a part time local pastor, not a full time elder. It is simply, UnChristian, IMHO. We don’t have second class Christian Pastors. Not if you do the job right. I do not understand why the UMC assigns great men and women who want to serve the Lord as a part time local pastor and then ties their hands like this. It makes no sense to me at all and I find no Biblical basis for it.

Forty hour week? We might as well move to France. :-)

Art said...

Do you mean to tell me that a 60 hour work week is not sustainable???

John, John, John... (while shaking my head in disbelief)

I've worked 50-60 hour weeks (and then some) regularly for almost a decade. During that time, I've remained active in church, regularly spent time with my family and have also enjoyed my hobbies. During one of those years, I even took a half load of senior level philosophy courses and I made A+'s in every class. I'm not saying any of this to brag but just to point out that the "40 hour week" is no longer a reality for the vast majority of people... if it ever was. Part-time local pastors shouldn't be exempted from reality.

In addition, Keith makes some great points. I second what he says as well!

DannyG said...

I suppost that if you had a small country posting it would be doable. But anything which requires much more than that, or if the secular job requires oncall or overtime it would quickly become untenable. (e.g. a forrester for a large lumber company may pretty well be able to set his own schedule, an engineer with an ofshore drilling operation might have to leave on a moment's notice to deal with a problem on a rig would probably not be able to pull it off)

Lorna (see through faith) said...

I disagee. I believe that all pastors should be bivocational (maybe RARE exceptions) and should not be working 40+ hour weeks at work and in church. I honestly believe it's time to empower and release the church to be the church and see where God takes us.

I think sabbath rest and family time- intentional- should be really high up on every member (clergy and lay) of our churches

As you say 20 hours a week at a small church, adding a regular 40-hour work week is sustainable only in the short-term.

If even then.

At what cost was your 12 stint - in terms of your health, and your family coming down on the list. Praise God it was only 12 weeks - but to break such a pattern and setting of priorities is really hard.

I say this not to criticise you - but to say that the system- the way we see and do church - and training - really has to change.

It's all unsustainable. And it also puts it into perspective how much ordinary lay members sacrifice to serve in church (active in worship services, Sunday school (kids or adult) committees etc - because they do that on top of 40 hr weeks - at least here in Europe)

bless you - and us - as we struggle with this.

John said...

Sure, John Wesley worked himself ruthlessly. He was also a lousy, lousy husband who essentially violated his marital vows by being absent from his marriage. And Francis Asbury supported clerical celibacy so that he could work himself as he did.

Lorna, please explain what you mean. How can all pastors be bi-vocational but not work 60 hours a week?

One of the oddities about this summer was License to Preach School. The work day consisted of a 13-hour shifts, five days a week for two weeks. This is inconsistent with the institutional UMC telling us to be healthy.

Todd said...

Interestingly enough, a 40-hour work week is a government mandated standard. It had nothing to do with a holistic and balanced life. It was a labor law to combat unfair labor practices such as excessive work time, payment for "overtime", a minimum wage, and child labor restrictions.

The clergy (ordained and non-ordained clergy) do not live 8-5, Monday through Friday jobs as the majority of city dwellers do. In fact, clergy live outside of the Fair Labor Standards Act just as agricultural workers do. Technically we are self-employed. We control our work time (to a degree) but must respond to the needs of the community.

If we are to lead holistic and healthy lives, the standardized 40 hour work week is not the beginning. It is response to the need for self-care balanced with the call to community shepherding.

John B said...

I think Lorna has a point. For too long clergy & laity alike have been taught, if not by word then by deed, that the church can't survive unless the pastor works her/himself to death, sacrificing family, health and spiritual growth in order to care for dependent people. If the clergy got out of the way and stuck to the ministry of word, sacrament and order, there's no telling what might happen.

JD said...

This dicussion is one of the main points of contention that the Catholic church has with priests being celebate and single. The belief is each has a vocation. 1) single life - not marrying, not becoming a priest, but dedicated to a life of reflection and celebacy 2) married life - a life dedicated to family 3) holy orders (priesthood) - a life dedicated to the service of Christ through their role in the church. Their family, if you will, is the church.

Also, with the Catholic church being the behemith that it is, there is opportunity for financial help while in seminary. While there is a little less freedom, priests, as well as nuns, are taken care of completely by the church: food, housing, and retirement are covered. The small stipend recived each month goes toward personal needs or wants.

Paul said it best that we are called not to marry and to be celebate, but since everyone cannot, then be married. I think, even he understood at that time that being completely dedicated to the Lord in His service required a great sacrifice, which, more often than not, is a family.


the reverend mommy said...

The CPE thing with a part-time local pastorate? heh. If I did it again, I'd be divorced TOMORROW and dead in two years. NO ONE can do it long term and maintain any kind of health.

My opinion? Where was the last death bed you attended (as clergy) and the person dying said "Oh, I sure wish I spent more time at the office!"

Where you spend you time (where your heart is) is where your treasure is... isn't that Biblical?

Hence, to be a good steward of your time with your FAMILY (the basic unit of Christianity (why else all the Household of God language?)) the more you will become Christ-like.

Do you work to live or live to work? If you have EVER sacrificed a family event to a "career building" thing (note the distinction here), then I would call it simply what it is -- sin. Missing the mark.

There are ways to organize your life so that you can do both: earn a living and honor the family. I hear a lot of justification in some of these answers.

(How's that for stirring the pot? heh heh heh)