In a recent post, Landon Whitsitt tells pastors to “Go the F^(% Home.” Landon likes to say that “If you’re working more than 40 hours a week, you’re doing it wrong.” If you missed it, you should first read “Pastors: Go the F^(% Home: Part 1.”
It’s important that we actively take steps to fight against the temptation to give into workaholism, and I’m sure many of you have strategies and things you’ve learned over the years. Here are some that I’m currently working on and think are important:
Take Your Day Off, Take Your Day Off, Take Your Day Off
Now, this is one that I think people struggle with the most. Taking a day off. Actually, not doing any church work for at least 1 or 2 days. But it’s so important. Luckily, I have a wife who likes to remind me that I need to take a day off. At this season in our lives, with a baby, it’s a little easier for me because Mondays are my days to watch Caleb. And so…it’s not possible for me to meet up with people, attend committee meetings or do other work-related things because I just can’t. I need to be with Caleb. So, figure out how to make it happen and then stick to it. We need time away.
When I first worked at a small church in Idaho, I would take a 1-night retreat to a monastery about once every two months. I don’t know that something like that would be possible right now, but finding time away, built-in, structured time away, is very important. Which leads me to the next one…
Go on Vacation
I think it’d be scary if we took a poll of pastors to see how much vacation time they HAVEN’T used. Most of us get pretty generous packages when it comes to time off. Our presbytery’s minimum is 4 weeks of vacation and 2 weeks of study leave (now, our idea of paternity leave is another topic that I won’t get into now). That’s 6 weeks of time away. But I wonder how often we actually use it? Now, I know it’s easy to rationalize not taking it (“I can’t find anyone to cover for me” or “Our budget doesn’t have enough to pay honorariums for other pastors to come in and preach” or “I just can’t miss that meeting…”) – but we must not do that. Take a vacation. Take a couple. Use all of your time off. Seriously. Right now. Go schedule your time off if you haven’t.
Since most pastors don’t work a traditional 9-5pm job, it’s easy for the work hours to add up quickly. Luckily, there are ways to avoid that, and one of those is the use of comp time. For example, we had a Session Meeting this past Tuesday night (as I’m guessing many others did). Our Session meetings can run a bit long sometimes, and so it doesn’t make any sense for me to work from 9-5pm, go home and grab a quick dinner, and then head out to a Session meeting. That can easily turn into a 12-hr work day. So, if I have evening meetings or evening programs now, I will take a portion of the afternoon off and be at home with Caleb. Sarah and I sat down, this past month, and went through the calendar and actually scheduled in chunks of time in the afternoons that I was going to be at home; it’s really helpful to actually see it on my calendar.
Have Someone Keep You Accountable
This isn’t easy to do alone – and you need someone who will keep you accountable. Maybe that is your spouse, or your colleague or a friend. It may, in many cases, be your children, who ask you why you’re going out so many nights for meetings. Whoever it is, make sure that they keep you accountable, and make sure that you listen to them.
Update: Another reason it’s helpful to have someone keep you accountable is that often we think we’re doing better at this whole thing than we actually are. For example, Sarah just woke up and read the part about me taking my days off and she promptly said, “Liar!” (which caused Caleb to start crying). As I mentioned it’s not possible for me to meet up with people, attend committee meetings, etc., because I have to physically be with Caleb…it IS still possible for me to have my face stuck in my laptop/iPad/iPhone replying to emails, doing planning, etc. So…I think I’m getting better, but I obviously have a long way to go.
Get Your Church Behind This
Finally – if the leadership of your church isn’t behind this idea…well, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Talk to your Personnel Committee, and make sure they know your priorities. Obviously, the easiest time to do this is in the interview process. If you’re hired under the assumption that you’ll be working 50-70 hours/week and available at all times for things that come up, coming in and telling the committee that you’re now aiming to work 40 hours/week might be difficult. But it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. If the committee doesn’t value your relationships with your family and your self-care…well, there may be some other problems going on as well.
What do you think about these. Do these work for you? What other steps have you taken to ensure that you don’t burnout and that you’re not working 60-70+ hours/week?