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.
- 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.