Here's why pastors might be missing from their offices

Posted May 9

A new blog post from Presbyterian pastor Traci Smith challenges people's assumptions about how faith leaders spend their days.

Smith, who serves at Northwood Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, asked more than 70 pastors to describe what they're doing when they're not in their office and collected their responses. The resulting blog catalogues a variety of adventures that go far beyond reading the Bible and preparing sermons.

"If I'm not in my office, I might be helping to resettle a refugee family with some incredible volunteers from my church," wrote Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett, the director of global mission at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.

Rev. Ruth Popkin, pastor at Salemn Lutheran Church in Hitterdal, Minnesota, noted, "If I am not in my office, I might be leading an introduction to knitting and crocheting class at the local social services agency."

"If I'm not in the office, I might be at the grocery store, buying the food I will cook to feed students' bodies and souls," said Rev. Beth Scriven, who serves at Rockwell House Episcopal Campus Ministry in St. Louis.

Activities like interfaith gatherings with other area pastors, volunteering and casual meetings with congregants were commonly cited. As many faith leaders noted, this out-of-office work is an essential part of ministering to others.

"If I'm not in the office, I am out doing my job," wrote Rev. Tully Mack Fletcher, associate pastor for youth and young adults at Orangewood Presbyterian Church in Phoenix.

Full-time ministry work is often demanding, and it takes more than a 40-hour work week to counsel congregants, host meetings, lead worship services and remain spiritually nourished, as a 2015 LifeWay Research survey of 1,500 pastors illustrated.

More than eight-in-10 respondents (84 percent) said they're on call 24/7 and 54 percent said their job is frequently overwhelming, the survey reported.

Pastors are so busy taking care of others that they can forget to take care of themselves, as Karl Vaters noted in a blog about church leadership for Christianity Today.

"We all need to do something that gets us out of pastor mode on a regular basis," he wrote. "Too many pastors are overworked, overweight, lonely, tired and stressed. Pastoral ministry will do that to all of us if we don't step away for a while to rest, relax and recharge our batteries."

Service projects or other field trips away from the office like the pastors described in Smith's blog can increase workplace satisfaction, but faith leaders also need to make time for relaxation and rejuvenation by observing a Sabbath, Vaters said.

"Sometimes we forget that the Sabbath is not just meant to be a day of worship. It's supposed to be a day of rest, too," he wrote.

However, ministers do much of their work on the weekend, making it hard to observe a traditional Sabbath, the Deseret News reported last month. Those who find the most success carve out extra time for themselves on Saturday or Monday to step away and take a breather.

"It's a challenge, but we recognize that we all have a saturation point; neither we nor the kids can keep it going 24/7," said the Rev. Keith Anderson, a Lutheran pastor, to the Deseret News.

Email: Twitter: @kelsey_dallas


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