This is the sort of post I can write only because my church doesn’t need to read it. My church pays me well and allows ample vacation time and more study leave than most pastors could dream of. I’m blessed and extremely thankful.

But many pastors are not so fortunate.

The point of my plea is simple. For any elders, deacons, trustees, committee chairs–to anyone with authority over the fringe benefits for your pastor in 2011–please make sure there is enough time for a real vacation and some kind of study leave.

One of the benefits of being ordained in an old mainline denomination is that the stipulations for this kind of stuff are fairly generous. There are minimum pay guidelines for pastors based on years of experience and the size of the church. We also get insurance (though it costs extra to get out of the inferior overpriced denominational plan). Churches must pay into a retirement account for their pastors. Congregations are also strongly encouraged to provide a sabbatical every seven years, plus professional development money and at least a week of study leave. When I started out as an associate pastor in Iowa at the ripe old age of 25 I was given (if memory serves) 4 weeks of vacation and 1 week of study leave (in addition to a short conference here or there). I’m embarrassed to say this is more than most ordained pastors of any age receive regardless of their years of service or the demands of their position.

I understand that some churches can’t pay their pastors as much as they would like to offer. We’ll save that for another post. But here’s the wonderful thing about vacation and study leave–it adds almost nothing to the church budget. At most it may cost an extra thousand dollars to pay for a few more weeks of pulpit supply. But what you’ll gain is worth so much more.

  • Your pastor will have more time away from the pressures of ministry. This will be good for the long term health of his marriage and family.
  • Your pastor will have time to think through that thorny congregational issues or complex theological conundrums. He may be able to hone his writing skills. He’ll have the energy to dream again. Or he may just have free time to read a book and go on a long walk with his wife. All these will benefit your pastor and your church.
  • Your pastor will come back rejuvenated. I’m told my best sermons are usually the first ones after I get back from a break.
  • You’ll get to hear other men preach. Even if you have John Piper or Tim Keller preaching to you, you’ll gain by hearing the same gospel message from other messengers.
  • A few extra Sundays without your pastor will allow other men in your church to exercise their teaching gifts. It might also give you the chance to hear from other pastors laboring in your city.

There are other benefits too, but I’ll stop here. The point is if you want your pastor to make it not just a year or two or five, but twenty or thirty he needs more than 2 weeks vacation. I preach 40-42 Sunday mornings a year (plus more in the evenings) and it feels like a whole lot. I really can’t fathom how some pastors preach 48-50 weeks a year.

You may be thinking as a layperson, “Well, I don’t get four weeks off a year.” True, but maybe you should. Maybe you wouldn’t be the grumpiest member on the finance committee if you did! And maybe pastoral ministry is a little different. There’s no reason for a pastor’s pity party. But the fact of the matter is pastors don’t have weekends like everyone else. Most pastors work six days a week. They never have two days off in a row except on vacation. Pastors can’t leave early on Friday, head for the lake, and stroll back into town Sunday evening. I’m not faulting families who do that sort of thing and I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for pastors, I’m just asking boards to understand that the life of a pastor is different. Plus, you have to remember ministry is not a 9-5 job. There are evening meetings, morning meetings, lunch meetings, and special events along the way. The times where a pastor can let his graying hair down are few and far between.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also challenge my fellow pastors. Let’s be honest men, sometimes we are the problem. We are too scared to let anyone know that 10 days off each year is not enough. We fear what people will say if we ask for two weeks each year just to read books or go to a couple conferences. More than anything, our pride holds us back. We hate being so needed, but also love feeling so needed. We worry what will happen at the church without us. How will they manage. Or the opposite: we may secretly wonder if they’ll like the guest preachers better. On top of all this, we fear letting people down or being perceived as soft. Yes men, we have a tendency to be yes men. But we need to take care of our families, our souls, our hearts, and our brains even more than we need to take care of people’s expectations.

Again, let me repeat: I can write this blog because I have it so much better than I deserve. My elders don’t need to do anything more for me. But some elder boards have work to do to make sure their pastor is going to survive and thrive for many years. It won’t cost much money, if any. So do yourselves a favor: give your pastor a break in 2011.

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40 thoughts on “Some Friendly Advice for Church Boards: Give Your Pastor a Break”

  1. Gaye Clark says:

    First off, let me say, I want my pastor to have as much vacation and study time as we can give him. Kevin I agree with you, he needs this, is more effective for having it. I do not begrudge your need.

    But as I read this description you write, I think of my lay elder husband as well as my pastor:

    “But the fact of the matter is pastors don’t have weekends like everyone else.” Who is the “everyone else?” “Like everyone else” is not as true in a worker harder, work leaner, meaner workforce. My sense is more people than ever are expected to worker longer hours, come in on the weekend and often. My job as a nurse had me working Christmas weekend. My husband brings work home routinely and spends several hours each Saturday with that.

    “Most pastors work six days a week.” Ditto my husband

    “They never have two days off in a row except on vacation.” Ditto my man

    “Pastors can’t leave early on Friday, head for the lake, and stroll back into town Sunday evening.” ditto my man. When the day starts at 4 am on Monday, you don’t stroll anywhere on Sunday night…

    ” I’m just asking boards to understand that the life of a pastor is different.” I would agree with you but not in the way you think. :)

    “Plus, you have to remember ministry is not a 9-5 job. There are evening meetings, morning meetings, lunch meetings, and special events along the way. The times where a pastor can let his graying hair down are few and far between”

    My husband is right there with you, in his own calling. There are doctors, dentists and engineers of nuclear facilities that all understand these kinds of pressures. Expectations inside the church and out…

    I say this not as a debate, who works the hardest, but to empathize and encourage: We feel your pain. More than you know we do. It’s easy when you are weary to think you alone are left, working hard, and others have it differently, or at least lighter load.

    My guess is you ought to get to know the others, and you’d find some common ground in your sufferings.

    Ah, but the mental and emotional strain to bring a fresh word every week, comfort/shepherd awry self serving people (like me and my overworked grouchy husband :) ) who look to their pastor too much, asking him to solve their problems, meet their need, define a vision for the church, make tedious decisions a deacon ought to . . . and try to point then to Christ? Ah . . . that is the man who needs a vacation.

    I am delighted your board knows you need your rest and grants it liberally. My prayer is in this driven society of ours we learn how much we all need rest and refreshment- pastors and lay folk alike.

    Our trials in many ways are “common to man”.. more so than you think, sir.

    Still, Amen, and great post.

  2. John Thomson says:

    Excellent blog.

    Gaye

    What you say is correct. I was a preaching elder (lay) for a good number of years. It is hard work. Yet there are some advantages.

    1. We can leave church issues and go to work. This helps create distance and give perspective not open to the full-time Pastor.

    2.The Pastor, rightly or wrongly, feels the buck stops with him and that he is expected to deliver the goods. This is a great pressure in our performance orientated world. He is trying to achieve with ‘volunteers’ what company managers cannot achieve with ‘conscripts’. Then he is criticised when he cannot deliver the impossible.

    3. He often is the only full-time worker in the church and has no-one who really relates to his situation.

    4. His authority is titular. In reality he works in a goldfish bowl for 100-200 wage-paying managers observing his every move.

    5. Like many an actor his future is as safe as the quality of his last ‘performance’. ‘Performance’ is an idol of our time.

    6. If he is true to Scripture he will find himself paret of a long line of prophets and preachers that are rejected by the church because of his message. Which of the prophets did they not stone (it was the professing church that stoned the prophets, not the world)? We may no longer stone but we have other ways of removing which are just as ruthless and merciless.

    I am not saying this is the story for all. But I suspect it is a very common story. Persecution may even be an intrinsic part of ministry but that does not excuse the congregation who do the stoning.

  3. Gaye Clark says:

    Good, and godly thoughts, John.

    I do not wish to be auguemnative, or even mildly defensive. I agree with Kevin’s post. I simply found myself thinking of the demands upon my husband’s shoulders right now as I read his post- and yours and saw a similarity in my husbands secular calling that would invite empathy and understanding. I didn’t mean to infer their trials were identical. May that never be said.

    None of us know the burden and sufferings we may endure for the sake of another. Not really.

    I watched with bittersweet privilege a pastor friend endure the very persecutions you describe in number 6. I have never gotten over it, and am quite aware, by his faithful rest in Christ alone, (and his tendency to complain only to God) few knew the price he paid to set us free through his faithful preaching of the truth.

    A vacation? Sure, he needed one. But one day, I want to be there when the Lord for whom he suffered gives him a crown. My guess is in tears he’ll cast it down before Him, lost in wonder, love and grace.

    But then we are moving on to greater needs than a vacation, aren’t we?
    John, Kevin, I hear you, that was all I sought to say. One day, there will be a great rest we’ll enter together.

  4. Rose says:

    I’ve frequently wondered why listening to sermons and participating in worship is viewed as having time off, while preaching sermons and leading worship is viewed as burdensome work by those who make their livelihoods doing those things? Have I been taking myself too seriously?

    I really appreciate your comments, Gaye, and the measured way you made them. My math professor husband comes up with and delivers 6*30 lectures a week. Even if some of those lectures are repeats, it comes pretty close to the 50*2 sermons an “overworked” pastor preaches. My husband, energized by the Holy Spirit who is involved in giving him his calling, does not feel drained by these “performances,” though the criticism and too frequent failure of his students are draining. Oddly, I have heard more than one pastor say that they find preaching to be draining. I have to wonder if they are really called to preach, if that is the case?

    I really would like to understand this. I have a son who is preparing for the ministry, and I am hoping for the best for him.

  5. Arthur Sido says:

    Not trying to be unkind but when I read stuff like this or posts about ministerial compensation, I have to wonder where any of this stuff has Scriptural support or relevance. Vacation time? Sabbaticals? A week of study time? Fringe benefits, retirement plans, health insurance? I don’t see a hint in the Bible that any elder in a local church received so much as a regular salary, much less the litany of benefits we see listed above. For all the talk about ministry not being a profession, it certainly sounds pretty much like secular professional career talk. Somehow Paul, who was an apostle by the way and certainly at least as busy as modern professional clergy, managed to work a job and provide for his own needs instead of making financial demands on the church (Acts 20: 33-35). In the culturally comfortable world of America, there is no reason that any Christian man cannot provide for himself and his family (and others!) by laboring and working hard with his own hands instead of coveting the gold and silver of others.

    I have a better idea. Instead of fretting about vacation time and “study leave” for ministers, why not have pastors fulfill the charge they have received to equip the saints for the work of ministry so that the burden doesn’t fall on one man (Ephesians 4: 11-16). Instead of pastors leaving so they can hear other men preach, they could hear other men teaching in their own local church. How novel! That would be healthier for all concerned and far more Biblical. Of course as the men of the local church become equipped and mature, perhaps we wouldn’t need a professional minister to serve in a full-time, paid capacity…

    If Christ is your first love, should you demand a salary and a cornucopia of fringe benefits to minister to others in His name? If you love your local church would you keep ministering there even if they couldn’t afford to pay you?

  6. Joey says:

    Rose said:

    “I’ve frequently wondered why listening to sermons and participating in worship is viewed as having time off, while preaching sermons and leading worship is viewed as burdensome work by those who make their livelihoods doing those things?”

    I don’t know that Kevin would use the word burdensome to describe giving a sermon (maybe sometimes)…but it is work. It is work to listen as well, but a completely different kind of work. To compare the two is a little crazy. Watching a basketball game for a true fan is not a passive act, but neither is it the same as actually playing. Listening to a lecture in college and learning something takes effort…but it is not the same thing as teaching. Etc.

  7. 0.o

    I am a pastor whose church is very kind to me, so I feel the liberty to speak as Kevin did.

    Let me try and put the ‘pressure’ in this perspective. Do you have children? Do you worry about the salvation of their souls? Do you worry about them when they take the keys and drive across town? Do you pray for them? Do you fret when they miss curfew? Do you worry when they begin to date? Do you wonder about their prospective spouse? Multiply that times every member of the congregation. If you have a good pastor, that is how he feels and cares for you. There is a reason that John addresses the church as “My little children”, there is a reason that Paul says that he is having labor pains again until Christ is formed in them.

    Sermon prep? Did you really think that was the hardest part of the job?

  8. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I have no interest in comparing whose work is harder or easier. That’s a fruitless inquiry. Certainly most professions have their perks and have their trials too. As a pastor I get to do something I love, something that has purpose, something that affords me time to read the Bible, proclaim the gospel, and serve others. Hopefully I would do all these regardless of the pay. As a pastor I have the privilege to do these things full time as a vocation. I’m very thankful. And yet, there are unique challenges too. My point with the post was simply to encourage pastors and boards to allow for sufficient rest for pastors. A church that insists on having its pastor preach 50 weeks a year is being extremely short-sighted.

    I also realize that many of the church’s best lay leaders have church meetings and many other demands on their time. I hope they get rest too. The people I respect most in life are the hard working stay at home moms, faithful factory workers, and all the other men and women who serve God with plodding consistency in their work and in the church.

  9. Excellent blog Kevin!

    However, there are many pastors who have the time you asked boards to consider, but do not have the money to utilize this time off.

    Vacations and study leave require money, even if the housing is
    provided…

    This 52 year-old pastor, Thanks God for so gifting a man of your few years! Thanks brother!!

  10. John Thomson says:

    Gaye

    Thanks for response. Didn’t really disagree with your first comment just wanted to flag-up some of the stresses of pastorate.

    Rose, I taught Secondary for about thirty years during which period I did a lot of preaching. I always found preaching more exhausting. There were many reasons I suspect. I am sure a contributing factor was the deadly cocktain of ego and performance but it was much more than that. As he years progressed ego certainly was less important but somehow the sense that I was preaching God’s Word raised the ante and always made preaching exhausting. It means a whole person involvement in a way that I don’t think lecturing does. Plus, there is a strong demonic attack too. I found that my mind was often assaulted before/during/ and after preaching in ways that it was not in my normal (very demanding) job.

    Arthur, actually I am pretty well with you. My own tradition is Open Brethren who mostly have no formal pastor. This is why someone like me had a fairly full life preaching as well as holding down a full-time job. Like you I am not convinced about the pastor/minister role as it is in most churches. I feel it seriously restricts the development of local teaching/preaching gift. Nor, however, do I like the Brethren model which often means people not really gifted get to preach. More, as I found out in terms of health, it was very difficult to do a full-time job and be effectively a full-time preacher too.

    The ideal, to my mind, is somewhere between the two. We have a full-time worker (preaching elder) who does about a third of the preaching – perhaps a bit more. Alongside him we have a number of able preachers in the church who preach on the other occasions. This, I think, is just about right.

    I do have friends who are pastors and I feel concerned for their health at times. Brad’s cares are theirs while the congregations often expect them to be omnicompetent. Personally, I believe that the responsibility for a church should not normally be the remit of any individual. It should be the shared responsibility of the elders. Some churches with pastors agree with this in principle, however, As long as this formal clergy/laity distinction exists the reality is pastors will feel responsible and congregations will hold them as responsible… and, in my view, the local church will always be lame; not only will many of its gifted preachers not have opportunity but one part of the body will be overworked while the rest becomes atrophied.

  11. Kevin,

    Would you please specifically address Arthur Sido’s comment written at 11:08 this morning? Thank you.

    Eric Carpenter

  12. Aaron Britton says:

    Disclosure: I am a full-time, vocational minister (11 years). . . . .With that in view, I don’t intend any of this to be defensive. In response to Arthur Sido’s comment, I would offer this:

    There is biblical warrant for paying the Pastor, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” 1 Tim. 5:18.

    Arthur seems to be making some broad brush assumptions in his comment; “coveting the gold and silver of others” “cornucopia of fringe benefits”. If any minister views his compensations in ways close to those two quotes, he shouldn’t be a vocational minister. I’m sure Rev. DeYoung does not view his church’s support in that way.

    Also, I agree with Arthur that we should equip others to do the work of the ministry. . . that is vital and should be evaluated on a church-by-church basis. That does not preclude the need for a “leader of leaders” or church staff in general. In fact, the larger the church staff, the more this “equipping” should be happening.

    It seems that Arthur and many others are looking at an American, corporate, modernist work ethic and working backwards into placing such an ethic on Pastors as if that is the standard. I’ve encountered this throughout my time in the church, and even have had executive pastors who have worked from such a paradigm.

    My favorite quote from Rev. DeYoung’s post was this: You may be thinking as a layperson, “Well, I don’t get four weeks off a year.” True, but maybe you should. Maybe you wouldn’t be the grumpiest member on the finance committee if you did!

    There’s some sage wisdom there. Why do we think that the secular world deals with the work/rest/compensation issues perfectly? or even preferably?

    It’s not that he, nor I, nor anyone else want special treatment. But, the ability to lead spiritually, and do it well, is sometimes hard to mesh with some of our modern views of work/rest rhythms. To all the posters above who are doing lay ministry in a more than full-time way, I salute you! I think that most of us are over-worked. This is not a positive ethic that should be tied around anyone else’s neck, . . your pastor’s included.

    The pressure on church staff is as Brad posted above. . . . .I would add that the church staff’s family is many times looked at as having to be “perfect” in some measure, and there’s a greater burden to “do family well” as a church minister scripturally (Timothy qualifications). This is not a burden, or something to be complained about. But, it is something that deserves extra attention from the Pastor/Father, . . thus vacations.

    One cannot pour into the lives of others from an empty pitcher. That goes for vocational ministers and lay leaders alike.

  13. Aaron Britton says:

    One more thing: Paul’s desire, in the New Testament, to maintain a tent-building vocation was not universal for him, and not necessarily prescriptive. Paul accepted gifts from time to time (Phil 4:10-14) of the churches he led, and maintained tent-building, so as to not be a burden to some of the poorer churches he was leading.

    I’ve known of many pastors who have not accepted a salary for a season (for reasons similar to Paul’s) or given back bonuses, gifts, etc. . for the good of the church. This is common.

    Of course there’s no biblical evidence for modern compensation packages, . . .society was different then. You didn’t pay carpenters the same way then as you do now, either.

    In closing, I want to say how exceedingly grateful I am to my generous church and elder board. This Christmas we gave 100k outside of our walls to various ministries around the globe. I am blessed beyond words for being a pastor at my church.

    Grace and Peace to all of you,
    Aaron

  14. Bob Leroe says:

    I’ve been at my church 12 years; I contacted Mark Dever’s church asking what they thought of clergy sabbaticals and one of their staff told me a sabbatical was a luxury. All I know is that if I don’t get a break soon I’m not sure how much longer I can go on…and most pastoral retreat places are for 2-3 days. Why can’t someone/group come up with a place for long-term pastoral renewal? Every place I contacted about a sabbatical said it wasn’t logistically feasible.

  15. Arthur overlooks not only 1 Timothy 5:18, as Aaron mentioned, but also 1 Corinthians 9:7-11, 13-14:

    Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? … Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

  16. Mitchell Hammonds says:

    @Arthur Sido,
    You need to go read your Bible before you speak… specifically 1Cor.9. In these passages Paul specifically says it is right that those who teach the scriptures have a right to make a living from those who are taught by them. I believe Paul waived his right to be compensated from the churches… but simply because Paul waived his right does not make that practice incumbent upon all who teach the Good News. As far as the other benefits, beyond monetary compensation, no one has the right to claim that for themselves (which Kevin is not doing,… he is simply calling for the congregation to be sensitive to these matters)… that includes you as well. Do not have expectations that you are unwilling to accept for yourself. If you never take a “vacation” let me be the one to say it sounds as though you may be due one.

  17. Gunner says:

    Kevin,

    Thank you for your clarity and courage in sharing these exhortations. Obviously this issue (like the issue of financial giving!) demands balanced, careful, and selfless thinking, which I see you’re trying to offer.

    To the objecting commenters: Certainly the professionalization of the ministry is rampant, but so is the chronically unrested minister. You might notice that the radical, self-exhausting pastor who coined the phrase condemning professional pastors is on the back end of a 8-month leave of absence right now, and none of his godly fellow elders seem to have filibustered or resigned over it. And no doubt if you checked the archives here you would see Kevin himself addressing issues of radical commitment, personal sacrifice, and the call to weary ourselves for God’s kingdom.

    But this post is not about radical sacrifice on the part of pastors, but radical love on the part of those they serve. Nor is the post a comparison between the life and work of a pastor and the responsibilities of non-pastors. In fact, one mark of Kevin’s writing is that he is very careful to say what he is not saying as well as what he is saying, and he did that multiple times in this post.

    I would encourage us to remember that if a weary, discouraged pastor is reading this, a suspicious or critical tone may only drive him deeper into his weariness, along with deepening his unwillingness to bring it up with someone who could help him. Pastors are already in the public eye constantly, and to have it confirmed that the congregation is keeping a suspicious eye on their hours of sleep and vacation days would probably be pretty discouraging.

    Yes, it’s true that if a self-seeking, money-loving, ease-wanting pastor is reading this, he might be finding more fodder for self-justification. But I hope that most readers here don’t have pastors like that, and if you do, it would best to contact him for a personal conversation about it, because you’re right that that would be a really serious issue.

    Anyone who has carefully read the New Testament letters should be able to see the high level of responsibility and exhaustion embraced by the leaders of Christ’s church, even if you haven’t been one. Again, this is not in comparison to anyone else’s exhausting occupation or two-job life or 10-child family, but we shouldn’t have to keep saying that. When Kevin says, “Your pastor works really hard!” I don’t want my first response to be, “Not any harder than me or my _______!” Just like when I say “My mother homeschooled four boys over the course of 20 years, ran a ranch, and was up at 5am praying every morning, and I think we should really do it up for Mother’s Day every year,” I don’t want my pastor saying, “Hey, we have 5 kids and my wife works really hard, too! What does she get for all HER toil?”

    I would hope that as a church member, my attitude toward my weary pastor would not be, “Well, life is hard for all of us and you sure don’t work any harder than me, so be content with what you have and get back to it. Besides, Paul tanned hides AND preached the gospel.” Because Paul also said that those who preach and teach are worthy of double honor.

    Yes, there is an eternal rest better than any earthly reward, and I’m sure our pastors hope for that rest more than we know. But that didn’t keep Jesus from taking mini-sabbaticals with his disciples and napping in every boat that crossed the Sea of Galilee, and it didn’t keep Paul from telling Timothy to take care of his stomach issues and to make sure pastors get paid what they’re worth.

    I hope I would be happy to work a little extra each week so that I could fully contribute to my pastors in the spirit of Galatians 6:6 — “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.”

    I’m only twenty-nine and I’ve never been a local church pastor, so I don’t have a big dog in this fight. Except for my pastor.

    For the record, I don’t think anyone’s being particularly nasty or objectionable here, though I do think some are (I say this graciously) choosing to miss the point. Either way, don’t take this as an ultra-serious jeremiad against anyone specifically. I just know that pastors probably aren’t going to rush to the front to expound upon their weariness, and I think Kevin’s point is worth an exclamation point, not a bunch of disclaimers.

    Thanks again, Kevin, and every pastor who’s reading.

    Gunner

  18. Rose says:

    Maybe I am crazy, as Joey suspects, but I find listening to sermons to be very hard work. I can’t speak to watching sports; I think people do that for recreation. I wish it weren’t so, but I find it very challenging to be discerning, fill in gaps in logic, get past distracting illustrations that don’t quite work, and all the while think the best, sometimes convincing myself that the pastor didn’t really mean what he actually said, but sometimes wondering what he really did mean. Is that crazy? Maybe it is. I rather think it is what God requires, for we all need to be convinced in our own mind about what is true and what is false. I definitely think that sitting in a lecture on subject I’m trying to learn is a lot harder than speaking about a subject on which I am an expert.

    I still find it strange that speaking about God’s Word would somehow be more exhausting than speaking about academic subjects. Perhaps it’s because people speak about academic subjects in which they are experts, but no one is an expert in God’s Word? We all need the gifts given to all the other members of the body? Maybe it would be easier if there were opportunity for questions, and more participation by the whole body. In any case, my guess is that, if you find your sermons draining rather than regenerating and energizing, your congregation does too. At least the ones among them who are actually listening. Just saying…

    As for vacation time, I guess we all need to set boundaries for ourselves, even hard-working moms.

  19. Gaye Clark says:

    Kevin, pastors,
    I feel I may owe you an apology. My comments initially seemed to have led us far beyond the point you wished to make, which was simply healthy pastors need rest to stay healthy. To that I say again, Amen.

    I never meant to launch a debate over who works the hardest, or whether a pastor ought to be paid for his work.

    I have found that expressing the uniqueness of our circumstances from others, be it lay person or minister, can lead to further isolation and misunderstanding. Expressing how our circumstances are similar, although maybe not identical, leads to community, and sincere empathy.

    For all of those hard working pastors, who have unique circumstances their flock or board doesn’t quite understand, I hope you hear Kevin’s exhortation and take it to heart.

    Again Kevin, other weary pastors, I am truly sorry.

    Grace and Peace to you,
    Gaye

  20. John Thomson says:

    Bob

    I don’t know your circumstances but I would encourage you if it is at all possible to discuss how you feel frankly with your elders. It may be possible to cut your workload. For example, I know one pastor who preached three times a week who through negotiation was able to have one of these taken by others (the mid-week service). This was good for him and the church (as they began to discover and develop teaching gifts). The arrangement also involved a three month sabbatical and visiting preachers more often.

    I live in the UK. We are still, I think, not as driven as the USA though we are getting there. As we become more driven, depression is on the increase. Impossible demands are placed on work forces. As Christians we should if possible resist buying into this treadmill. Hard work is one thing but C21 market slavery is something else. Churches should set a counter cultural example here by showing the world that the Kingdom of God does not demand more from people than they are able to give.

    We all have different energy levels and different capacities. It is no shame if one person needs more rest than another nor if we are not all Pipers and Carsons in gifting. In every church being alert to the needs of others is part of Kingdom living – including being alert to the needs of those who serve and get their living from the gospel.

  21. Rose says:

    Another way of expressing my question, which may be more to the point, is if the Sabbath day is not a day of rest for a pastor, is it a day of rest for anyone?

  22. John Thomson says:

    Rose

    I can’t resist being mischievous – all this is one reason why its not a Sabbath but a Sunday. :)

  23. Rose says:

    As I think about it, it occurs to me that most of the people I know, when they have any “off” time, spend a good chunk of it reading the Bible and theology, praying, visiting sick friends, performing service work in the church and in the community, attending the weddings and funerals of family and friends, practicing hospitality, providing a listening ear to neighbors, maybe even getting a little writing done. I really don’t know anyone who spends weekends at the lake, though I believe there are some who do. If pastors had more “off” time, they could do the sorts of things the rest of us do in our work week. It could be very restful for them and allow us all to understand each other’s circumstances better!

  24. Dave Powers says:

    Kevin
    Thanks for a very thought provoking post. I was an engineer in a auto supplier industry for 20 years before going to seminary and entering “professional” ministry, which I have now completed my 12th year. I regularly worked 60+ hour weeks under a lot of stress – especially when launching a new model car. Yet for some reason that stress paled in comparison to regularly trying to save a parishioner’s marriage, going to the hospital three hours away at 3am to sit with a wife while her husband has emergency surgery and then has a brain bleed, etc. The reality is thoiugh that we ALL need a sabbath rest periodically. God said we needed to rest in him at least once a week and more lengthy once every seven years. I couldn’t do that as an engineer and most likely I won’t as a RCA pastor either. Recently I purchased an inexpensive travel trailer and plan to use it as a prayer cabin in a nearby park often next summer. My church too tries to give me whatever I need to stay centered and rested. But as I said, God said we ALL need a day of rest regardless of our profesional career choices. The question is do our board members take one too? If not, why not? And if not can we expect them to see our need for one? In 2011 I plan to preach often on the need for sabbath because I can feel my congregations need to rest. By the way, I serve a rural congregation of mostly farmers and some of those dairymen. They really don’t get the need for rest! God Bless you brother! Keep preaching the Word!

  25. Kevin,

    I made this request yesterday, but you may not have seen it. Would you please respond directly to Arthur Sido’s comment from yesterday at about 11:00 AM? I think Arthur makes some good points and would like your thoughts on these. Thanks again.

    Eric

  26. Mitchell Hammonds says:

    Eric,
    Arthur does not make “good points.” They are unrealistic as well as unbiblical. It is a general principle to pay those who teach the scriptures. As far as I can recall there is no specific way mentioned in the NT in which compensation is to be carried out. Paul says in 1Cor.9 not to muzzle the ox while it treads the grain… let it eat while it performs it’s duties… let the teacher make his living from teaching the scriptures. To do otherwise is to deny a workman his fair wages… a very unbiblical principle. Arthur’s comments are bitter and distasteful… and no I am not a paid teacher of scriptures so I have nothing to gain from my opinion.

  27. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Eric,

    I simply do not have time to respond to every email request I get in a day, let alone to every blog comment, not even when they are direct questions.

    Plus several comments in this thread address the questions Art raised. Beyond that, I have written about some of the same issues in Why We Love the Church (see especially my chapters responding to historical and theological objections to church as we know it).

  28. Jewel says:

    Thanks, Kevin, for yet another blatantly sexist post. I’m glad to hear you “respect” women who are stay at home mothers; too bad you don’t respect women who aren’t (because they are either childless or employed).

  29. Mike says:

    Well this is an interesting post. I came here to cut and paste from a different blog and got caught up!

    I think pastors should be paid and have benefits commensurate with the congregation they serve. I don’t believe they are entitled to extra benefits like months long sabbaticals. When John Piper said in May he was taking the rest of the year off I think everyone I know wished they could take seven months off. Many pastors have access to benefits that Joe church member never gets by church members giving them special treatment – whether that’s meals or babysitting or bonuses.

    All that being said, we are commanded to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10) and providing rest for our vocational pastors is a good way to do that. We are also commanded to treat others the way we’d like to be treated, and since it’s in our power to give our pastor the four weeks of vacation we’d like, it’s something we ought to be considering. We shouldn’t be appalled that the pastor drives a four year old Acura if 2/3 of the congregation drive new ones.

    I’ll echo some of the earlier comments that some pastors do bring the kind of burdens Kevin describes on themselves by refusing to share the load for whatever reason. In many cases the wounds of exhaustion are self inflicted.

  30. Arthur Sido says:

    Aaron, Mike, Mitchell

    An emotional response driven by a cultural nostalgia for professional pastors coupled with rigid adherence to traditions inherited from Rome are a poor substitute for exegesis. Read the text for what they say, not what you have been told they mean.

    What is important to examine in the alleged proof texts ( 1 Cor 9: 1-18 and 1 Tim 5: 17-18) supporting a paid, professional local church ministry is what these passages say and perhaps more importantly what they don’t say. Nowhere in these proof-texts do we see an example or command or even an implication that the church should develop a special caste of paid ministry professionals who shoulder the bulk of ministry in a local church in exchange for a permanent salary, benefits and retirement. There was nothing like the professional local church pastor during the time Paul was writing, he clearly was not envisioning or commanding this and therefore it is incredibly bad doctrine to push our cultural expectations onto the text. There is a major difference between developing a practice based on Scriptural interpretation versus interpreting Scripture to support our traditional practice.

    In the 1 Corinthians 9 passage, we are conditioned to read that with an emphasis on the idea of those who preach the Gospel getting their living from doing so. What Paul is emphasizing is different. First note that Paul was not a local church pastor, he was an apostle and itinerant preacher who traveled all over the region spreading the Gospel. What he was engaged in is completely different from the week in and week out activity of a career pastor. When he did settle down, he worked a regular job and his reason is clear in 1 Corinthians 9. Paul knew that getting paid for preaching would take away his grounds for boasting (1 Cor 9: 15) and because he saw that getting paid for preaching was an “obstacle” to the gospel of Christ (1 Cor 9: 12). If the church cares so much about the Gospel, why would we insist on something that Paul declared and evidence affirms is an obstacle to the Gospel? The key to 1 Corinthians 9 is not “pay pastors to preach,” it is “getting paid to preach the Gospel is an obstacle to the Gospel”.

    In the worker is worthy of his wages passage (1 Timothy 17-18), you are making an enormous leap that is unsupported by Scripture by assuming that “double honor” = “permanent salaried position (until a better offer comes along at a bigger church)”. Paul himself worked with his own hands to provide for himself (Acts 20: 33-35) and saw taking support from other churches as robbing them (2 Corinthians 11:8). The idea of “double honor” = “permanent salaried position” is convenient to the laity who gets to show up and watch a performance but it is unsupported by Scripture. In a few verses prior to these oft used proof texts we see that we should honor widows. Does that mean that widows should be paid a salary at half the rate of pastors? Obviously not but if not, why not? Should every elder at a local church get paid? That is what would be implied from your interpretation of the text but I would hazard a guess that most churches with a plurality of elders only pay the pastor. If he is worthy of special honor (i.e. salary in your interpretation), shouldn’t all of the elders get a cut of the offering each week?

    Is there something unbiblical about financially supporting a Gospel worker? Not at all. An evangelist traveling to a far away country, a church planter getting a Gospel work established in a unreached town, etc. certainly can and should be supported financially. There is something very wrong with able bodied elders in a local church demanding pay to present sermons to the Body. I repeat my question to local professional pastors: if you love the people in your church as much as you say, would you keep serving that congregation if they were unable to pay you? I would suspect that the answer is sadly no.

    As a final note, look at how Paul caps his alleged defense of paid ministry:

    “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9: 18)

    If that is Paul’s reward, who are we to demand a further reward from the church?

  31. Mitchell Hammonds says:

    Arthur,
    Absolutely unbelievable! Paul waived his right to be paid by the church. That practice does not make it a commandment upon all who proclaim the gospel “for their living.” You set yourself against many gifted men in church history… Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Sproul, Augustine… men who are fallible… but would not have continued in their occupations as “professional clergy” were they to think it to be against the scriptures.

  32. Aaron Britton says:

    Arthur, until you stop impuning motives to paid church staff that aren’t there (or shouldn’t be there) I don’t think your comments will be taken seriously. A few examples:

    — The idea of “double honor” = “permanent salaried position” is convenient to the laity who gets to show up and watch a performance

    –There is something very wrong with able bodied elders in a local church demanding pay to present sermons to the Body.

    –What he was engaged in is completely different from the week in and week out activity of a career pastor.

    Apparently, there is no way to work at a church without being a “career” pasor and “demanding” salary. Huh?

    If anyone is viewing their position in that way, they shouldn’t be a vocational minister.

    I will also respectfully disagree with your exegesis. The reason Paul did not want support to be an “obstacle” to the gospel was because those churches could not afford to support him. That was the obstacle. Not some forced “performance” of the ministry that would inhibit others from exercising their spiritual gifts.

    Also, the verses everyone are citing, talk about “elders” receiving double honor, . . . . not Paul himself. He’s not talking about himself in the Timothy passage, he’s laying out church leadership qualifications and, yes, support for other churches. The point that Paul’s position was different, and somehow more worthy of support, than the local church leaders’ is moot, since he was adovcating for THEIR support, not his.

    Finally, in the verse you end with, Paul calls receiving support from a church as a “right”. Yes, he was giving up that right for reasons listed above, and others. But, a) that is not necessarily prescriptive and b) he calls it a “right” which seems to hurt your argument quite a bit. Since, apparently, other elders had that right, it was a common practice, and he was foregoing it.

    It seems that Arthur and others have been a part of negative church support environments, and/or are not taking into account cultural differences between the 1st Century and today.

    (i.e. no one received a “salary” for anything in those days. . . that’s not how society was structured)

    As a church staff member, I apologize for the abuses and hurt surrounding this issue. I do not accept Arthur’s arguments for exegetical, cultural, and spiritual reasons.

  33. I guess the point that I would make is that, by and large, vocational ministers are likely overworked and underpaid. I agree that the stresses of people’s lives would weigh heavily on anyone on whom such pressure is placed. I think Arthur’s point is not to blame the clergy, but to fault the system as a whole.

    It is not beneficial for anyone when the “laity” pass the responsibility for their spiritual rearing to the “clergy” (neither of these distinctions are found in scripture). The body as a whole will not ever mature until every joint is supplying as it was intended, and every joint will never supply until we quit shirking our responsibilities onto the “pastor”. The system is also unfair to the paid minister, because one man should not have the weight of the cares of hundreds of people on his shoulders. It was never designed this way! Instead of increasing benefits and paid time off for professional ministers, maybe the answer is to spread the leadership “burden” out over multiple elders, like we see in the NT. In a church (and by church I mean the body as a whole) that is lead by the Holy Spirit, undue burden would not be placed on any individual. There is no doubt that service in the Kingdom is demanding, and sacrifice and suffering are part and parcel. BUT, to think that the paid ministers should be the only ones suffering and sacrificing is absurd. In reality, EVERY believer is called to the kind of devotion in service that will lead to persecution. And, any believer that is truly walking out their faith WILL encounter difficulty, and that should apply to all of us. We are all in this together!

    To stress an aside made earlier, I’d like to again point out that the concept of clergy and laity, as we see it today, is entirely foreign. Was their leadership in the early church? Absolutely. Did it look like what we see today? I don’t think so.

    Mark

    It also seems to me like we take a few scriptures, take an EXTREME amount of liberty in filling in the blanks, with the result being a church that is built by man. What about the Holy Spirit building His church?

  34. Somehow the paragraphs in my previous comment got mixed around, so if it seems disjointed that is why!

  35. John Thomson says:

    I have no objection to full-time workers in a church being paid a salary. I think the evidence for financial remuneration in the NT for full-time workers is clear and has been clearly made above. The labourer is worthy of his hire. Wages were paid in NT days which were roughly equivalent to a salary today.

    However, I do think the clergy/laity divide is a mistake and the result of an incomplete Reformation. Here I find myself largely in agreement with Mark Van Norden above. I think with the present system both pastor and church get a raw deal.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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