Time, Life and Family in Ordained Ministry: Q&A Part 3
Tish: Let’s talk about life rhythms of a pastor. You take off Fridays. Many other pastors take off Mondays. Why do you take off a day a week and how did you pick Fridays?
Thomas: I think most pastors take of Mondays because they are exhausted by their lives on Sundays. I understand that, and I empathize. However, I find that there is often a great deal of pastoral work to do on Mondays, because of what happens on Sundays. I would say that I get more messages from people who need some pastoral guidance on Mondays than any other day of the week. People often experience something in worship which prods them to need to talk to their pastor. If I was off on Mondays, then I wouldn’t be able to do that.
Further, I like to contact visitors as soon as I can after they visit. First thing I do on Monday is to get information about our guests to that I can reach out to them, through letter, e-mail, phone call, or all three.
In addition, Sundays don’t kill me like they do some pastors. Maybe that’s because I don’t have a Sunday night service (thankfully). But, for whatever reason, I’m more tired at the end of the week then at the beginning.
By Friday, I’m done working. So, I have a Friday liturgy that is unique to me, a way of doing Sabbath that I find restorative. Sometimes I don’t have to work on Saturday, either, which makes Friday/Saturday a real weekend. That’s something that you miss if you take Mondays off.
Tish: Are there work-hour boundaries or other “rules” you’ve put in place to keep a semblance of work-life balance or do you think that’s impossible with pastoral work?
Thomas: It is not impossible at all. There will sometimes be emergencies. If a member of my congregation has a heart attack and is going to the hospital, I’m going to go. If someone dies, I’m going to show up. That sort of thing you can’t plan for.
At the same time, most congregational needs are not emergencies. There are things that can wait, and there are things that don’t have to be done at all. I do my best to stay away from electronic messaging (phone/email/text/etc) early in the morning or after 6 pm. This might bother some people, but I’ve found that most folks get it.
When I was in youth ministry, years ago, I would sometimes get a phone call from a 15 year old at 11 pm. That kid would need to talk right then. Today, if an adult messages me that they need to talk, I schedule an appointment. I find that, short of serious mental illness or suicidal thoughts, adults can hold off for a day or two.
Beyond that sort of crisis/reaction boundary, I also keep away from work things on my day off and on vacation. I’m not the kind of person who reads theology books at the beach.
Tish: Okay, this one is kind of self indulgent, but … In the years of little ones—you know when your kids were sick all the time and didn’t sleep at night and you had very young kids, how did you maintain sanity at home as someone in ministry?
Thomas: Having little kids is difficult, and ministering to a congregation at the same time is ridiculous. Thankfully, I am married to an amazing woman who stayed with the kids rather than working outside the home. But, when I was home, I was with my kids. I was very active in their upbringing. Which means that some ministry stuff didn’t get done. That’s OK. Laura, my wife, was great at releasing me to go to work when I needed to go. And I was dedicated to only going to work when I needed to go. I don’t believe I used work as an escape from my family.
Some people complained that I was too often with my wife or children. They’d want me to go to every event or every meeting. Oh well, I’m not going to do that. The day before I was ordained, my bishop told me that, once in a while, the church would ask me to choose between my family and the church. When that happens, he told me always to prefer my family. I’ve done my best to do that, and it seem to have worked out just fine. Folks who don’t like that? They tend to either leave the church or they get with the program.
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