Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Focusing on the Family

I had the afternoon off last Sunday.  A non-church staff member might say, "Yeah ... so?"

In eight years of ministry, it hasn't happened that often.  For years Sunday morning has been a grind (95% of the time an extremely blessed one) from 7am or so to 6pm ... Or so ...

During the school year, when student choir rehearsals are going on, Sunday has usually been an 11+ hour day.  I say this not to complain - a minister signs up for these things - just to illustrate how wonderful it can be to have a Sunday afternoon off.

Sure, I often went home for lunch between worship and rehearsal for an hour or two.  But for my family, I might as well not have come home some of those Sundays.  I was pretty worthless as a human, dad, and husband.  My wife signed up for it with me, but that didn't negate the occasional tension in the house.  For me, coming home for lunch was just that - a lunch break, not really a time to get stuff done around the house, interact with my wife, or play with my kid.

That was just part of Sunday.  So when we new we'd have the occasional Sunday afternoon together, those afternoons were circled very brightly on the family calendar as a day to do something different or special.  Because dad could be all-in on family time.

In our family, and in most church staff families, my spouse works a mostly 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday.  So, while most families get a full weekend together we've generally just had Saturday.  I've always taken Friday as my day off.  It's always been a balancing act on the weekends, wanting to cram as much family time into Saturday as we can, while making sure to find time just to rest.

At Perkins, we had to take a class called "Spiritual Formation", a class designed in a group setting to introduce us to various spiritual disciplines.  The idea behind the program is to encourage those studying to work in ministry to start taking on spiritual disciplines as a way to keep you centered on Christ and family.  It encourages the students to find a way to keep a balanced and healthy spiritual life.  The class exists because those in ministry can have a really hard time maintaining a spiritual life that grounds a person.  It may seem ironic to someone who doesn't work in ministry, as those in ministry are there to help others find their way spiritually, but there it is.

Leanne and I work very hard during the work week to keep our family's spiritual life in balance, and we've chosen several family spiritual disciplines to keep us on the right path.  We eat dinner together, at the dinner table with the TV turned off, nearly seven nights a week.  We pray with Wesley before we put him to bed.  We've started a Bible-in-a-year reading plan (it'll end up being more like a Bible-in-a-year-and-a-half when we wrap it up).  And we pray with each other as a husband and wife before we go to sleep.

We've come up with most of this on our own, and we're accountable to each other.  But ... Rarely does somebody from the local church actually check on us.

The world needs to be let in on this: pastors and staff members have messy lives, just as much if not more-so than the average congregant.  And especially just as messy in one of our harder to swallow American statistics - divorce.  It's hard to find clear data on divorce rates amongst clergy, but nearly everything I could find essentially stated that clergy divorce rates are the same as everybody else (and apparently higher among female clergy).

So, I'd like to pose a few questions to Pastors, SPR/PPR members, and laity:
What are you doing to see that your staff is taking care of itself spiritually (as individuals and as a whole staff)? 
What are the vacation and time off benefits you have allocated to your staff?
   And do you encourage your staff to take that much needed time off? 
Do you provide health insurance for your staff?  Do you see that they take advantage of the benefits? 
Do you pray with and for your staff?  Do they know that?
Some times of the year are much busier than others ... I added up the hours I worked during this last Holy Week and I stopped counting after 70.  Advent and Christmas has it's own hurdles.  The whole ministry staff puts in these hours during the all-hands-on-deck events to help bless the communinity and create God experiences, but:
Do you help your staff keep track of the hours they work and take the necessary time off to balance things out?
Your staff needs your help.  It never becomes more evident at the sacrifice my whole family makes for my (our) career in ministry until I get a Sunday afternoon off.  Think about it.