Thursday, August 23, 2007

A sabbatical and the small church pastor: Part 3.

Dahlia of the day: Hillcrest Fiesta.

I can hear it now, “Why does the pastor get a three month time away from work with full pay when no one else in the congregation gets that from their job.” I think that this is a strong argument against a pastor taking a sabbatical.

The local congregation has several types of people that attend: retired, too young to work, stay-at-home moms and dads, hourly wage earners and salaried professionals. For the purpose of this discussion I will only focus on the latter three listed.

Stay-at-home moms and dads very seldom get a break. The kids are there all the time. Things have to be done. No one from the “outside” comes in for three months to take care of the kids.

Life is different for the hourly wage employee. They are hired at a set wage for a given number of hours worked. Overtime is paid when the worker exceeds those hours. (Note: state and federal laws dictate hours, overtime, etc.) These workers get vacation hours. They do not get three months away from the job. Company owners and managers would say that such extended leave would cause undo hardship for the company—especially for smaller companies.

Salaried professionals (this is the category pastors fit into) are paid a set salary to GET THE JOB DONE. It is wonderful if the job can be completed in a forty hour work week. However, it often takes more than a forty hour week to get the job done. There are times when it takes fifty or sixty hours. The salaried professional gets the same pay no matter how many hours the task takes. Salaried professional do not get three months away from work for a sabbatical.

Some may argue that the pastor works six or seven days a week. My answer is, “So?” Most professionals work more than a five day work week. Even many hourly wage workers work six days a week (I know some Boeing workers that regularly work overtime on Saturdays and Sundays). The people in our congregations work their “job” and on top of that they come to church on Sunday (or Saturday) and participate in Bible studies, small groups, committees, task forces, choir, worship team and elder and deacon boards. So, basically we expect our church members to work full time and give many hours to the church as well. This if why, as a pastor, I have no qualms with working six days a week. Do I get tired? You bet I do. Do other people in my church get tired from their work and church schedule? You bet they do.

There is a guy at our church who is a good example for this discussion. He had a fairly good job (hourly). He knew he did not want to be in that job for the rest of his life. So what did he do? He enrolled in the local community college. He quit his job and took a different job--his new job is working nightly in a warehouse, which enables him to go to school during the day. In another year he will complete his time at the community college and will transfer to U of W Tacoma to complete his degree. On top of school and work he attends church every week! Does he get a sabbatical?

Being a pastor has been a blessing in many respects. I have a very flexible schedule. I use to have a lot of night meetings (three youth groups, committee meetings and such). This enabled me to take some time off during the day to coach my son’s basketball and baseball teams. I could take my daughter to dance lessons and to cheerleading activities. I even went on school fieldtrips as a parent chaperone. I can take a long lunch or go to the Nordstrom’s men’s sale. Pastor’s work weird hours!?! This can be a blessing or a curse. Pastors just need to be good at managing their time.

One of my biggest struggles with a sabbatical is that no one else in the congregation gets one. I have expounded on some of my thoughts on the topic. What are your thoughts?


At 4:26 PM , Blogger Red_Cleric said...

I resonate with your dilemma as our Presbytery has a policy of sabbaticals with no way to fund them. Like you, our small church cannot make the ends meet while I took off for three months.

On the other hand we've had at least a couple of our pastors in Cascades get money from the Lily Endowment. They not only paid their salary while they were out of the pulpit but also paid for the replacement and even some of the costs for the study time. is the website with information.

Another pastor took a Sabbatical this summer and she put together a group of pastors to preach and cover the pastoral duties while she was gone. It cost them basically a little more than the usual pulpit supply.

I could take off and love being a student again. I'd rather take off and let my mind unwind and my body relax. And like you I realize that this is something no one else in my congregation gets to do while they work so I am torn.

But to quote Princess Bride, "If you don't have your health..."

Peace, I am sure you'll make a God honoring choice


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