What If Pastors Weren’t in Worship Every Sunday Either?

We’ve all seen the stats.San_Pedro_Church_002

Pew tells us that in their 2013 study,  only 37% of church members claimed to attend worship every Sunday.  And we can assume that some of those “every Sunday” Christians report that they attend weekly, but actually they don’t.

Church attendance trends are troublesome to most of the pastors I know, but here’s something you might not realize:  some pastors are also jealous.  We would love to take some of those Sundays away from church too.

Most clergy I know get six Sundays off each year:  two for study leave and four for vacation.  Six. Sundays.

We, too, have children’s soccer games and grandma’s birthday party and groceries to buy and sleep to catch up on and wedding showers and tickets to the concert.

Friends who take sabbatical often find it difficult to transition back into the working-every-weekend routine.  I confess before you and the Almighty that one of the things I love about my work is that I have a bit more control over my weekends.  I preach almost every weekend for church transitions and other occasions.  Or I attend worship with – blessedly – no responsibilities (like yesterday) or I sleep in.  There – I said it.  Sometimes I stay home on Sunday mornings, especially if it’s been a busy week.

One of the primary reasons churches pay their pastors is to lead worship and other activities on The Lord’s Day.  Even tiny congregations with no other programming want to ensure that Somebody Preaches On Sunday.  Maybe they don’t have mission projects or small groups or even Bible studies, but – by golly – they have a preacher.

A few people still think it’s funny (and true) to say that “the preacher only works one day a week.”  The truth is that  the responsibilities of pastors have increased enormously in terms of community care and administrivia.  Most effective pastors not only minister to church members and friends, but they are also called upon to minister to strangers with every physical, mental, emotional, psycho-social, and economic health concern imaginable.

Seminarians considering professional ministry in church contexts are not only choosing to give up their weekends for the foreseeable future, but the realities of professional ministry will also require giving up most evenings and weekdays as well.  One stellar pastor I know recently announced to his congregation that he is giving up professional ministry to seek secular work – and not because he was an unsuccessful or unloved pastor.  He wants his weeknights back.  He wants his weekends back.  He wants to be the Dad on the sidelines at soccer games on Saturday or in the kitchen making Sunday pancakes.  He wants to be able to travel on weekends to see his extended family – sort of like everyone else.

I get this.  But I have an idea:  What if pastors were not expected to be worship every Sunday either?

I know some seasoned pastors who finagle one Sunday a month “off” and we all call them slackers (or geniuses.)  But what if we gave every pastor one Sunday a month off for self-care or family time or the ability to feed her/his own soul in another church’s worship gathering?   A rested/emotionally satisfied pastor = an effective pastor.

Other benefits:

  • It enhances ministry to hear more than one voice in the pulpit.  Imagine hearing a seminarian, a retired pastor, a lay leader or an ordained ruling elder share a sermon or faith story.
  • It teaches the congregation that the pastor is not The Professional Minister.  All baptized people are called to serve – maybe not to preach – but to serve in some way.  In my denomination, some ruling elders are indeed called to preach.
  • It pushes the ordained clergy to fulfill the Biblical job description of a teacher/pastor according to Ephesians 4: 11-12.
  • It reminds us that – in a thriving 21st Century Church – the Sunday morning worship service is not the sole portal into the community, nor even the most important.  Thriving congregations have multiple entry ways into the spiritual community (e.g. Monday Bible Study, Tuesday small groups, Wednesday Logos, Thursday Faith on Tap, Friday potluck, etc.)
  • Worship becomes more about collaboration than performance.

Yes, this would shift “the way we’ve always done things” but – unless a church is on the cusp of closing – this would energize both pastors and congregations.

9 responses to “What If Pastors Weren’t in Worship Every Sunday Either?

  1. Leigh Hollis-Caruso

    Our priest has one sunday off a month and we have a rotating roster of lay preachers who preach two times a month. Works very well.


  2. Andrea ( aka rokinrev)

    This is why my specialty in interim was transition to closing. A full time pastor’s package can bankrupt a dying church not willing to look at alternatives. It’s hard to admit that I’m actually getting twice as much per month on SSDI as I was in my last pulpit


  3. I’m one of the slackers who heeded the advice of a friend and worked 6 Sundays of pulpit supply (in addition to study leave and vacation) into my terms of call. So i get to worship with my people 6 weeks a year, when I’m not leading worship. I know that isn’t what you’re proposing, but it makes a real difference in my life. It gives me a week, every other month or so, when I have those sermon prep hours freed up to use in visitation or study.

    What has really given me life is our once a month Sabbath service (which I stole from Kara Root). Once a month we worship on Saturday evening at 5 pm and then the entire congregation is invited to take the Sunday that follows it as a day of Sabbath rest. No Sunday School, no choir practice, no meetings, no potlucks, etc. People love it. I’m not sure what they are doing with their Sabbath mornings, but for me, it makes that next week seem like it is 10 days long. I get to sleep in, go for a hike, read the paper at the coffee shop, make a nice meal with my family, stay in pajamas all day. It has given life to me and to the congregation. People have more energy now to do what else needs to be done.

    We’ve been doing this for 16 months now. Overall, attendance is up, giving is up (a bit, not huge numbers), and participation in the life of the church is up. And this pastor is much healthier and happier.


  4. Wow…really really interesting. I am a Pastor’s Wife…means I am no longer a “regular” person so I too don’t get hardly any sunday’s off. When he went to his first call it took me over 2 yrs to convince him that I didn’t have to be there every sunday. Even then the few I did stay home I usually had Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar in the VCR.

    Later I actually became a very p/t church employee being in charge of the sound system. (stupidest thing I ever did but that’s another story). I ran it at the newly created 8 am service and oversaw my volunteers at the 10. So I had to be there every sunday – and when we were out of town it was horrible to replace me – easy for him – as an assoc he just said – not available to preach.

    He now has his own church and we are pretty much back to – no sunday’s off. In fact I don’t think he has taken one and he has now been here a year. Our mission comm. sponsored participation in a community event that was at 8, 10 or 2 to fill meal pkts. I said I wanted to go at 10 – as long as it didn’t count against my 4 sunday’s off. (I figure same as hubby)…never could get a answer on that one. We actually ended up doing the mission the sat before as I had a community band concert on sunday at 2 when the group went.


    • ((Linda)) I wish I could kidnap you. I hope you will advocate for yourself and that all pastors/spouses will do the same for the sake of your health and spiritual energy. Blessings.


  5. Christina Berry

    I’m one of those people who thinks Marci Glass is a genius. And when I tried her idea out with my people for ONE Sunday, they balked. I proposed a series on Sabbath-keeping, culminating in a Sunday off for everyone….Nope, no, non, nein, nyet, NO! I get it – they want worship to happen whether they are there or not. But I found myself on Sunday (after worship, teaching my tween class, hauling in food for our Buddy Bag program, going to CROP walk, visiting in the hospital, and attending an Eagle Scout Review board) wishing that worship attendance were optional for me the way it is for everybody else.


  6. And what about those who are in the ministry through music? Most of us are responsible for between 6 and 10 small group ministries which can have well more than 100 members even in a moderate sized church. If full time (which usually translates to 6 days/60 hours per week), we don’t have 4 weeks of vacation until after several years of employment at the same church; if part time (because we have to have a full time job elsewhere to support our “church habit” and to keep our family from being hungry, naked, and living in a park), two weeks is the most.


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