Work, Overwork, Stress: When Does a Vocation become a Job?


How many of us preachers feel overworked, stressed out? (I have never complained about being underpaid, though some colleagues are. In fact, I often say, “You can’t pay me enough for what I do, but I’m not complaining, because this pastoring business is more than a job; it’s a vocatio.”

What I am talking about are the many overlapping and separate things pastors do these days; you know the list. One almost has to know what Attention Deficit Disorder is in order to function well in the ministry. In fact, one good friend of mine has come to see his former ADD as ASV—Attention Surplus Virtue. He knows how God can use our weaknesses and turn them to strengths. Thanks, Paul Berkenbosch!

Multi-tasking is one thing, though, while sheer overwork without relief or understanding from supervisors and congregation is quite another. So, check out this article that appeared on-line on November 13, 2010 about bumps in the road in the pastor’s vocatio and job. Frankly, when I read the average pastor’s work week was 51 hours, I thought, “Hmmm. Short week!”

What do you—pastors or laypersons—think and do about your own or your pastor’s stress, overwork, time management, rest, days off, “lieu time”? To be concrete: I recently ran a stretch in which I was unable to take a full day off for four weeks. I grabbed hours here and there by going to the gym, rollerblading, changing the oil, writing blogs (!!) and dining out or cooking with Rose. But because of three deaths and funerals, significant illnesses within the congregation, plus preaching and meetings, there were no complete days off for four weeks. That is, no day off until yesterday, when Rose and I drove to Ottawa, listened to Johnny Cash, CBC, Anne Murray. We even talked occasionally! And today I will go to the Museum of Science and Technology with my daughter and granddaughter and later out for supper and some Christmas shopping.

I slept well last night and am feeling like I can hardly wait for tomorrow when we head to Barrie so I can preach at a friend’s installation service Sunday. Energized, eager, despite lots of hours, but not over-stressed when one is surrounded by trusted family, friends, fellow office bearers and congregation members.

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James, You need to set some boundaries for the welfare of you , your family and the church. Your family is your first ministry, Then yourself,Ive known a lot of pastors on a personal basis.  The church does't need a burned*out pastors but  you guys feel the call and continue on as if God will punish you if you don;t. Most people do not realize how incredible taxing it is to deal with emotional and spiritual issue's like the average pastor does. I'd love to talk to your council to explain it is for their benefit to arrange support for pastors. I'm afraid James you will have to bring this up your self. unless there are people willing to go to bat for you.  God bless you

Thanks, Jim. Some wise words on the challenges of ministry in the church today.  

Couple of things, I wholeheartedly agree with the article in the GR Press re getting a good friend(s) outside of your congregation.  It makes for a more balanced relational life, and if possible include your spouse in this circle as well.  The spouse of the pastor is mostly the forgotten one who suffers silently, and often alone, the demands of the ministry.  Looking back over 38 years of pastoral ministry in four CRCs I thank God for friendships that truly nurtured my being, while I was being attentive to the needs and demands of the congregation I was serving.

And a rule of thumb I followed was, I am my own best (and often only) advocate.  No one else will tell me, 'take a day off', spend quality time with your wife and kids, golf with a buddy instead of adding 4 more hours to a sermon that you've already spent enough quality time preparing'.  May I also add, plan for some regular continuing education, and volunteer for a community board, school, or agency-to discover what God is doing in the rest of the world.  You say, 'I don't have time to volunteer, and I can't fit in that 3 day conference.'  Sure you do, and yes you can.  

And feed your own soul with regular retreats into God's good word and times, even short times, of prayer.  It's God's call we are answering. Which means it's his work before it is ours, so give him plenty of room in which to work.  This, I've found, always leads to a better night's sleep.

All the best, James, in your kingdom service to your family, your community, and your church.