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?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A sabbatical and the small church pastor: Part 2.

Dahlia of the day: Jax. This photo does not do justice to Jax. The color is a deep red. The blossom is fairly round. It is one of the most awe inspiring dahlia's that I have.


Finances in the small church are always tight. (Probably in large churches as well.) One tithing family’s departure can mean the difference between ending the year in the “black” or in the “red.” Most of the church’s budget goes to support the pastoral expenses, heat, lights and insurance. It gets really tight when there is a mortgage to pay. Many small churches will tremble at the thought of paying a pastor to go on sabbatical and paying for guest pastor while the pastor is away. The sabbatical could add close to $10,000 to the budget.

There are some grants available to assist the church with the sabbatical. Be sure that any grant requirements are met.

Finances would not be a problem at this point in Evergreen’s history. After several REALLY difficult financial years we are experiencing a time of blessing.

The many hats:

The large church generally has a large staff; small churches have little or no staff. The pastor will wear many hats: preacher, teacher, counselor, Bible study leader, hospital visitor, prayer, evangelist, mission worker, musician, computer specialist, sound and lighting guru, phone answerer and all around great person. It may be easy to find a person to preach on Sunday mornings. It can be crippling when the church cannot find people to fill some of the other rolls. The most difficult “hat” to fill when I am out of town is leading our two worship teams. I am a pretty decent guitar player—for leading a worship team. My brother is much better “technically” on the guitar but that doesn’t translate into being a better guitarist for leading a worship team. The music quality takes a HUGE hit when I am out of town. We can find a guitar player—it just isn’t a worship team leader.

Finding the “right” fill in pastor is not as easy as it would seem. Each church has its own culture and theological position. Many of the folks at Evergreen were not “Presbyterian” before coming to Evergreen. They stay at Evergreen because of our biblical base, evangelical theology, casual style and excellent music. The prolonged presence of “progressive/liberal” preaching would cause a loss of membership/attendance.

Different pastors wear other hats. One pastor I know is also the best pianist I have ever met. He has perfect pitch. He can transpose almost any song to any key within seconds. If he hears a song a few times he can play the song. Needless to say, he is the main pianist for his church and leads the choir. He would be almost impossible to replace. One pastor I knew was also the police and fire chaplain for the small town he was in. His absence would affect the entire town—not just his church. Finding the appropriate people to wear all of the pastor’s hats can be difficult.

That’s enough for today. Check back tomorrow for more random thoughts on sabbaticals.

PS. July 21st was Stephanie’s last day at The Oasis (my office away from the office). Stephanie is a pastor’s daughter and worked afternoon. She knew my favorite drinks and always had a warm smile. She will be heading to Europe with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Best wishes Stephanie!

A sabbatical and the small church pastor.

Dahlia of the day: Jack O Lantern.

My recent health challenges have caused some folks at my church to being talking about me having a sabbatical. (It appears as though my shortness of breath is not due to heart “issues.”) I have been at Evergreen for eleven years. Evergreen is a small church that averages about 100 in worship each week. It is a great church!

The first I ever heard of a sabbatical was when I was in seminary. When I was the Chaplain at a Presbyterian-related college the idea of a sabbatical resurfaced. In both of these cases the sabbatical was a time for college professors to study, write books and publish articles in scholarly journals. The professor had to have been at the institution for at least seven years before applying for sabbatical. Typically, the person on sabbatical would receive half of their salary during the sabbatical.

Pastors of large churches have been able to go on sabbatical for quite some time. Multiple pastors on staff made this possible. I have known pastors who traveled to Europe to study Calvin, Knox and other notable Presbyterians. Once again, study was the major component of the sabbatical.

A few years ago a friend of mine (a pastor in my Presbytery) was approached by his session about going on sabbatical. They like the pastor and want him to stay at the church for years and years to come. They also realize the many hours that the pastor put in (like me he worked WAY too many hours each week). What my friend needed was rest and relaxation—not study! As things developed they decided that they would not call his time away a “sabbatical.” I think they called it a “time for refreshment.” The church gave him a three month time of refreshment. Once again, church staff carried the preaching, teaching and visitation load while he was away.

That brings me back to the topic of a sabbatical for a small church pastor. Here is a list of issues that the small church will face if the pastor is given a two or three month sabbatical:

  • How will the church pay the pastor and the additional costs to fill the pulpit?
  • Church attendance normally drops then the pastor is gone on vacation, so will there be a drop in attendance/membership for the period of the sabbatical?
  • Most (if not all) of the members of the church don’t get a sabbatical or an extended time of refreshment at their work so why should the pastor get one?
  • Small church pastors have to wear many “hat,” who will wear those many “hats” while the pastor is away?
  • Who will do the funeral of that influential church member that dies when the pastor is on sabbatical? What if the pastor is on sabbatical and stays in the immediate area of the church?
  • Will the sabbatical be a time of “study” or “refreshment?”
  • Who will play first base on the church softball team? (Note: Evergreen doesn’t have a softball team.)

There are a whole different set of issues that the pastor faces:

  • Will the pastor receive their full salary during the time away?
  • For the married pastor—what are they to do when the spouse does not get two or three months off of work without losing pay.
  • How will the pastor cover the additional expense of having someone look after the house, lawn, garden, etc?
  • Can the pastor “go” to a funeral of a close friend and church member but not do the service? What would the family think? The church?

Evergreen’s session HAS NOT spoken with me about a sabbatical—an elder or two have talked to me about it. Those discussions have caused me to wrestle with the idea of a sabbatical (or whatever you want to call it) for the small church pastor. In a perfect world a small church pastor should be able to do the same things that a large church pastor does. The “real” world is very different from the “perfect” world.

Join me in the days to come as I wrestle with the idea of a sabbatical for the small church pastor.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Presbyterian Panel Survey – Today.

Dahlia of the day: Bloomquist Dawn.

I completed the latest Presbyterian Panel Survey today. It is great being able to do them on line. The one drawback is that I wish I had been able to make a copy of the survey. Today’s survey was about the General Assembly Council and what I thought should be the priorities of each ministry area. The input for the survey will help the GAC set priorities for the coming years.

I felt like crying when I completed the survey. It is my understanding that the GAC came up with the different possible priority areas. It was the same old, same old thing. It is like the GAC is rearranging the deck chairs on the Presbyterian Titanic. It would have been nice to have even one creative, outside-the-box idea for how we can be a denomination in a post denominational era.

I am so thankful for the local church—the front line of ministry. Very little of what the denomination does has an impact on the daily ministry of our church. Fortunately, the ideas and information we have received from the Purpose Driven Presbyterian Network has had a profound impact on our local church.

I have attended Presbyterian Coalition gatherings—to date they have not been able to articulate anything that would assist our church or denomination. I attended the New Wineskins meeting. They had some good ideas but there was little traction in the denomination. I haven’t been to a Global Fellowship gathering yet. Still, I don’t see anything they have done that would impact the daily life of Evergreen.

I am so thankful for finding out about the Purpose Driven Presbyterian Network. At least there is one corner in this denomination that has something to offer our congregations.