Lazy Pastors… You sure about that?

clergy-1I’m not going to think this through. I’m just going to start typing…

I received a little nudge a few minutes ago from the head honcho here at Brothers of John the Steadfast. The prod was a kindly encouragement to consider writing a little more frequently. Apparently, I hadn’t offered anything to the ongoing theological conversation in as many as sixty days.

Sheesh. Time flies right by.

But anyway…

No sooner than the noteworthy “ding” of his Facebook notification arrived through my mobile phone did it become churned into the nether regions of cyberspace by the scrolling tide of twenty more email and calendar notifications.

“I want to do more, I really do,” I said softly looking at the screen, “but then there’re these…”

I suppose what I should add to this before I really get riled up is that sometimes I have this dreadfully blackened desire to take my mobile phone into the church’s back forty, strap a block of C-4 to its bosom, and set ‘er off. But with this arises a very practical problem. No, it’s not that I need the phone to do my job, but rather that I can’t purchase C-4 where I live…at least not legally.

And so, having properly vented regarding my perpetual “availability” via mobile phone, let me open the valve of my heart and soul to release the first of two points for this particular post that I am (most likely to the surprise of my editor and good friend) doling out so swiftly after being nudged…and both are, in a sense, points of evidential reference for folks who may think that pastors are lazy and only work on Sundays.

Logistically, the job of a pastor is an all-encompassing one. For example, if pretty much anyone else decides he wants to pack up and go somewhere for a weekend, he can. I can’t. My efforts, even if only considering the administrative aspects, requires me to plan, not days and weeks and months ahead, but years ahead. We celebrate every church holiday to its fullest and every church season to its richest potential – and not because of any other reason than that we want to provide the Gospel in its fullest measure to the glory of the deserving Christ who has established us. Additionally, because Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church here in Hartland, Michigan is such a unique church dwelling in the midst of a generation of shallow religiosity that is barely capable of grasping the historic liturgy, most pastors are not even willing to try to fill in for me so that I can get out of Dodge because, in their own words, it is uncomfortably challenging. Yes, you read that correctly. The Divine Service is too challenging for many of our current pastors.

Now, while I have a wonderful emeritus pastor at my disposal as well as a delightful assistant pastor who is a retired Biblical languages professor from the local Concordia who helps with preaching and visitation, in the end, they both deserve and desire to actually BE retired. This means that I am the sole pastor for a church of 950 people. There are so many congregations out there that are the exact same size and require two and three pastors, and yet I am flying solo. I am writing letters, making phone calls and visitations, performing funerals, weddings, sitting at the bedside of the sick, counseling couples, teaching in our day school, managing crises, mentoring staff, teaching Bible studies throughout the week, attending meeting after meeting after meeting, maintaining duties with the LCMS, and so many other things that do not even begin to allow room on the page for listing the necessarily personal needs of a man, a human being, which I am.

And perhaps this is a good place to begin cultivating the second point.

Guilt often abounds for guys like me. We never feel like we’re making any headway. We have a tendency to feel like our efforts at pastoral care are not as full as they could be. And with this, we’re sometimes at the edge of our seats ready to hear a church member reference a loved one who hasn’t been in church for a while, saying something like, “Well, pastor, you could have continued to write them letters, or called them on the phone, or something like that,” or as I’ve heard even in the last six months, “You didn’t show them enough pastoral care.” This is true. I can never do enough of that, but to this indictment I sometimes feel like asking very plainly of the accuser: “As a fellow member of the human race — let alone this church — and as someone with a family that needs your personal attention, how many people are you currently caring for closely and personally? I know you work fulltime, but surely you have a measure of comparability to the demand you are making of me. While still managing to provide the proper care for your family, is there at least one person on the outskirts that you are caring for with some sort of charitable pastoral kindness, a love that is neither given nor received as obligatory, but is genuine and intimate and on-call 24/7? Maybe two? Ten? Twenty?”

The entire life of the pastor is an inundation of pastoral care needs. He visits all of the shut-ins. He does all of the hospital visitations. He’s there for every newborn baby. He’s there at the deathbed of every passing Christian (and sometimes non-member Christians who have been forsaken by their pastor or non-believers and their families who so desperately need the Gospel in the eleventh hour). One o’clock in the afternoon or two o’clock in the morning, it doesn’t matter. Again, I could go on and on about this point, but it begs the consideration that we ought to take care in setting such weights upon our pastors and opting out of our role as charitable Christians.

Actually, let me be a little more forthright: Unless your pastor is sitting in his office all day long reading Facebook posts or playing “Angry Birds,” it is unfair to level even an atom-sized splinter of this charge against him considering the context. Not even Christ in His earthly ministry could accomplish what is being demanded or expected. A pastor has the responsibility of caring for a congregation to whom God has directly called him, and keep in mind that while it isn’t God’s desire for him, in his sinful nature, burdened by guilt, quite often his work is being done at the expense of his own immediate family.

I can pretty much guarantee that any given pastor that I know already barely has a handful of minutes (literally) in a week and struggles to spend them with his own wife and children. The free time that he has, as little as it is, is not to be spent trying to figure out how to reach out even more than he already has, but rather how he and his family can actually BE a family. It is to be spent squeezing every little bit of substance out of those precious minutes – fast and few minutes – to be a husband to his wife, someone he loves more than anything in the world; and a father to his children, little ones in his care for whom he would lay down his life with the speed of lightning.

So, that’s all I have this time around, Mr. Editor. It probably sounds like I’m bemoaning the pastoral office. I sure hope that isn’t how this is received. And I’m sure there will be those folks who read this and say, “Quit whining! This is what you signed up for.” Well, whatever. No hard feelings. I’ll still be there to pray with you before surgery. I love being a pastor. I love my people. Tentatio sucks. And then there is forgiveness. Praise God for this.

Just something to think about. And I promise I’ll try to put a little more thought into the next post. I wanted to get this to you ASAP and buy myself another sixty days. 😉


Lazy Pastors… You sure about that? — 17 Comments

  1. I believe it is this “me” generation that doesn’t get what is totally involved in a Pastor’s ministry. I understand wanting your minister to be there, especially in the hard times of illness and death, and yet, as you point out, this should also be the purview of the Body of Christ as a whole and we don’t always take that initiative to console especially since the Pastor is needed at that time for preparation and administration of the word and sacrament as well. As a involved member of your congregation and part time teaching staff, I see first hand the hours your pastorate involves. Perhaps some of those who begrudge you some time to yourself ought to shadow you some day and get the real picture? Regardless, we are all human beings, and only human beings, not supernatural or continuously on like the energizer bunny. And even the energizer bunny needs his battery recharged.

  2. The above just makes me think about the Pastors unjustly on CRM, and those pastors who have left because of unjust actions: what a waste all around…….

  3. @helen #4 It should be able to support two fulltime pastors? What do you know about my congregation, Helen? I can tell you that it is a gathering of Christians, and yet like so many, there are certain levels of inactivity as well as the typical financial woes. Combined they make it rather difficult to support another pastor. I understand this, and so I do not press them on it. It is as the Lord has allowed. Additionally, I am somewhat in wonder as to what you meant by the “OTOH” comment. While I’d like to respond right here, I suppose I should just offer that you may feel free to call me to explain and discuss since you are confused.

  4. A pastor should avoid using his workload to defend his office. Because the cross each preacher must carry is not always visible in such a way that it can be shown to others. The congregation must be ready to pray for their pastor, that God enables him to do his work with joy, and a congregation must value the office of preaching because of God’s word, not because how over-exerted their pastor is. Therefore the way to defend the ministry against charges of laziness is teaching about the cross of the christian, the suffering of the church, and the importance of God’s word and the office that has the charge to preach it.

    The apostle Paul was on occasion treated as a inferior type of apostle compared to Peter, John and the others. Paul on these occasions would mention, not his workload, but the whole cross that he carried for being a preacher of the Gospel. The cross is the external sign, the workload is not the external sign. It is true the workload is often, the heaviest part of the cross, but not always. Some confessional pastors are hit so hard by a cross (one which is not manifested as workload), that their work output staggers, just as they stagger in soul and body.

    Pastors should never give in and paint how hard and heavy their workload is in order to defend against the “lazy pastor” charge. If a member thinks you are lazy, it means that he doesn’t know the nature of the cross. You are the one to teach them about it. But when a pastor is under a terribly heavy cross, the work of God is being done in that suffering pastor. He will drink pain and sorrow, and will need to find true comfort where it can be found. Once knowing where the fountain of consolation is to be found (the gospel), he can comfort others with the same comfort with which he has been comforted. We must not ignore this. We must feed the flock, not defend ourselves. And we must not seek comfort looking at how much or little we do, because we, above all others, must understand that Luke 21.1-4 is not talking about “tithing” only.

    And then there is this “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief”.(Mat 13:58) “our” ministry is subject to the same danger because truly, whose ministry is this? If Christ does not operate many mighty works under certain circumstances, how far you think you, pastor, can get?

    All this is to say that the workload will vary a lot, the cross will always be there and it is not always work that can be quantified in a spreadsheet. In fact most of it is not. People are being sinful when they slander their pastor, a pastor for whom they might have never prayed, but we must not defend the ministry pointing to its works. We defend the ministry teaching sound doctrine, correctly applying law-gospel, and trusting in God who will defend our ministry and give plenty of opportunity for those who call us lazy to see that a faithful pastor is worth hundreds of busy-bodies. Because the faithful pastor, through his personal experience of the cross(those times he was crying in his bathroom, or praying with his forehead on his desk asking God to be merciful to him a sinner), will be able to provide true comfort to the sorrowful, a thing which a thousand of “look at my works” guys cannot do.

  5. Pastor Thoma is a fine pastor a daughter and son in law from our congregation attend his church and they relate his personal attention. He is a first class pastor.

  6. At the end of the day, when the pastor lays his head on
    the pillow, he needs to answer only to the Lord whom he
    serves. A pastor needs to have priorities in his Word and
    Sacrament ministry. There are some things that can be
    delegated to the laity of the parish. Yet, the pastor must
    be able to do efficiently those things that only a pastor
    can do.

  7. I’ve always wondered why if a congregation of 100 people can afford to call one pastor, why can’t a congregation of 900 call nine pastors?

  8. #8 from Daniel Bonato,
    Thank you so much for your posting, especially this:

    “…when a pastor is under a terribly heavy cross, the work of God is being done in that suffering pastor.”

    This reminds me of the fact (which many congregation members may not be aware of) that the devil and his minions attack more fiercely the members of a pastor’s family than, perhaps, the average member. And that goes for even the members of a pastor’s family who are grown and no longer living with him and his wife. It’s good to consider this fact and realize how much time it may take to minister to his grown children in such cases.

  9. This thread strikes a nerve that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve seen and heard a lot of congregations who neglect the physical needs of their pastors. Some are seriously overworked, others are underpaid, or the housing they provide is so bad that the government would allow it to used for Section 8.

    I know one vicar who was expected to live in a members basement. Another had a parsonage that was so bad, you couldn’t walk in the floor in the bathroom in bare feet or you risked getting splinters in the rotting wood floor. I know on pastor who was serving a 2000 member congregation for a time as the only pastor.

    Most pastor I know have a few horror stories like this, who have similar stories to Pastor Thoma of being overworked or otherwise mistreated. And the pastor is in a dilemma, if he complains about his pay or other problems. Usually, they just take a call or suffer with the situation as it is. I’ve said before, IMHO, a lot of Lutheran congregations would gladly let their pastor live in a tent if they could get away with it.

  10. Although only a layperson, I thank you Pastor Thoma and those of The Brothers of John The Steadfast, for posting this article/blog. It demonstrates to myself and to others (who may not be well acquainted with the many challenges of the pastorate office) the need to remember faithfully in prayer the pastors of the Church. I have sympathy for you, Pastor Thoma, and for the pastors I know more intentionally. I know that your work is all-encompassing, and demands much of you as a Christian and human being. I do, indeed, thank God for your steadfastness towards the work which God has placed before you. I can only promise that I try to include the pastors whom I am aware of in prayer. I do this even if I am only aware of those pastors by name and some small amount of interaction. I do it for the fact that I care, and because I am thankful to God for each of you pastors whom God has placed in my life in one way or another. So, thank you, Pastor Thoma for that which you have done in revealing a portion of the pastorate office that is not always known.

  11. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I can sympathize with Pastor Thoma, though don’t know anything about his call, other than what he has written about it here.

    Every congregation and call is unique, and very complex, when you get right down to it. No pastor or layman should assume they understand another pastor’s call, unless he spends a lot of time listening and watching to what is going on there.

    A pastor’s first line of defense and assistance is his elders–that is what they are usually called in our tradition. If he has inadequate compensation, he should let them know his needs, first, before talking to other members of the congregation either privately or publicly. If he has too many tasks to accomplish in a normal work week (everyone has a “crunch” week–usually Christmas, Easter, and confirmation), he should also let his elders know his burdens, first, before talking to others.

    I had a frank talk with my elders the first winter of my first call. I was living in a studio apartment, single, paying student loans, and on the LCMS teachers’ first-year salary scale (we had a large school, and the pastors were on the teacher’s scale). My twenty-year-old Volkswagen Beetle was rusting through and it refused to start in below zero weather (frequent in Chicago winters)–so I often couldn’t make hospital or shut-in calls, though I could walk to the office.

    I told the elders about this problem, and that I could not qualify for a loan or didn’t have the needed down payment for a replacement car. They authorized a loan from church assets for the down payment, which I eventually paid back. The congregational elders will take care of your “needs,” though not always respond to your “desires.”

    As to tasks, it is better to let the elders review your tasks, and prioritize them, than trying to do it yourself. A pastor cannot do all the things that he wants to do, or feels that he needs to do. He has to prioritize, and his personal priorities may not match that of a congregation’s real needs. So talk to your elders and work on prioritization of tasks, and follow-up with reports to them about how things are going. They usually are cooperative and helpful, at least in my experience.

    Some elders can also be very helpful in the area of “time management,” since they have to do that with their own jobs, or with their employees.

    I hope this helps a bit.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  12. Not only are folks assuming that a congregation of 950 members actually has 950 “contributing” members, but there seems to be a leaning toward the assumption that guys who are sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of work are somehow serving apart from the help of their elders or are unable to prioritize. This is one more generalized accusation that adds fuel to the fire of burnout and exhaustion. As has been said, situations are unique, indeed. And yet there are some situations that require a great deal of vigor until the Lord sees fit to provide relief. In my case, relief has not come. But I have not given up on these people and I don’t intend to. In the meantime, if you have a question for your pastor…and it really could wait until Sunday…don’t call him on his day off apologizing that you are calling him on his day off and then monopolizing his time with that same unimportant question. His love for you as a member of the flock may prevent him from telling you that it could have waited until another time. And more along the lines of the post, don’t assume that he has refrained from giving attention to your delinquent family member because he is lazy. Maybe, just maybe, there are 200 other delinquent members he’s trying to reach at the same time while managing everything else given to his purview. Give him the benefit of the doubt and reach out on your own, too. It is within your calling as a Christian. It is within your calling as a human being existing in a family.

  13. @Tim Schenks #11

    I’ve always wondered why if a congregation of 100 people can afford to call one pastor, why can’t a congregation of 900 call nine pastors?

    I realize your question is hypothetical (and very probably “tongue in cheek”), Tim, but thanks for framing my thought in more acceptable terms. 🙂

    As a friend of a Pastor to about 95 members (half in attendance on a given Sunday morning; he’s working on that) I probably have another view of what a very average congregation can afford, if they want to. That congregation, (then about 3 dozen) “wanted to” after suffering vacancy and various makeshift arrangements over a number of years.

    And just to elaborate on your comment, Tim: When the congregation I am discussing above reached 100 members, many years ago, it spun off a daughter congregation in a town 20+ miles away, which is also still functioning (and supporting a Pastor). 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.