Posted on May 24, 2023 by Rev. David Gunderson, tLMFT
Church Worker Wellness
After hearing the words, “Dust you are and dust you shall return” during an Ash Wednesday service, Billy, a four-year-old boy asked his mother “what does that mean?”. His mother explained that God created people from the dust of the earth, but when they die, they return to dust. The next day Billy came in and told his mother, “I just looked under your bed and all that dust must mean someone is coming or going.”
Coming or going is a good way to describe one’s life. We are here for only so long and we spend a great deal of time coming and going. We are going to work, coming home from school, racing off to the store or coming home from another meeting at church. All that coming and going can make for a busy life. At least that’s what I hear from so many individuals in church work. Comments like, “It’s been a busy week, it’s a busy time of the year, or I’m so busy!”
It’s not uncommon to hear of church workers spending 50 to 60 hours a week doing their job. In fact, many just assume that’s the way it is. The truth is many church workers are willing to put in the extra hours to do the work they are called to do, but one needs to be aware of the consequences of “always being busy”.
Some of these consequences include missing out on special events involving family. For example, I knew a pastor who had a son who was a gifted ball player. Sadly, the dad only saw him pitch in one game during the child’s high school years because the pastor was “busy” with church stuff. “Being busy” can cause problems for one’s marriage, family and even one’s physical and/or mental health.
To guard against these consequences, one should consider these three thoughts.
A fellow pastor stated, “I am first a child of God, secondly, I am a husband/father/son and thirdly, I’m a pastor.” As children of God, we are called to do our heavenly Father’s work. As church workers, we can be tempted to think being a preacher or teacher is how we do God’s work, but those “careers” are only one of many ways we serve the Lord.
We serve the Lord as a neighbor, a friend, and especially as a family member. Working in the church is great, but that vocation is not more important that being a plumber, truck driver, or store clerk. As church workers, we need to remember that our spouse and family are blessings given to us from God, and taking time for them is not only very important, it is God pleasing.
Now some folks would say, “I may not spend much time with my children or spouse, but the time I do spend with them is quality time.” While striving for “quality time” is great, it is not an excuse for less time with those we love.
Dr. James Dobson, the famous Christian psychologist, shared an illustration that went like this: “Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering a steak. The meal arrives with one small piece of steak on the plate. The portion is delicious. After eating the tiny portion, you complement the waiter on the taste, but question why such a small portion. The waiter replies, ‘Oh, we believe in quality over quantity.’” Dobson’s point is simply this: the more time we spend with others, the odds of more “quality” time we will have. To shorten that time is a poor choice. But, to achieve more time leads to time management.
When one recognizes that our top priority is not our job, then we need to set aside time for our other priorities.
For church workers, this means setting time “to talk to the boss”. This is taking time to spend with the Lord in prayer and devotion. If we are so busy that we don’t have time for devotions, then our time management is out of whack. Devotional time is different than preparing to teach or preach. In preparing for classes or sermons, we are searching God’s word for information, but devotional time is for transformation.
In addition to time with the Lord, we need time with those close to us. Husbands and wives need to take time to go out on a date (ideally once a week). Another way is setting aside one or more days a week as your “day off from work”. On that day one doesn’t go to the office, but instead spends special time with the ones you love. Obviously, we should spend every day with those we love, but on our days off, we take specific time to spend with them and also take time to rest from our jobs. By setting a special day aside you are reminding the church members that time with family is important.
Another time management tool is letting some things go. For example, is it necessary to have certain church meetings every month. Would better use of time for those church members be spent with their families? In Lent there is the tradition of “giving up” something. Maybe instead of “giving up” dessert, one might give up “meetings” during this busy season. Not only would that give church workers some extra time, but members might appreciate the break.
One last time management tool is setting a limit to how many hours one will work. While some weeks require longer hours, many times we simply need to say, “that’s enough” and go home. Maybe this week we only get 7 out of 10 things done on our list, but that’s okay. Working extra and long hours wears people out physically, mentally and emotionally. Review how much time you work in a week and seek ways to cut back on some of those tasks to give you fewer hours on the job and more time with those you love.
To avoid being overwhelmed by work or other demands, one needs to set boundaries. Boundaries help us maintain our priorities. When people wanted Jesus to stay, he replied, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also for that is why I came…” (Mark 1: 38). Jesus came to save people, but to get that job done, he needed to tell people at times, “No.” He wouldn’t let others sideline him.
As church workers, we can avoid constantly being “busy” or the danger of “burn out” by setting limits to what we can do. Saying “no” is one way to control how much we can take on in our lives. Just because someone asks you to serve in a certain role, doesn’t mean we must do it. Saying “no” allows us to say “yes” to other challenges.
However, setting boundaries needs to be done wisely and gently, because some folks don’t like hearing “no.” In the big picture of life, it is necessary for one’s relationships with others and for one’s own physical and mental welfare to set boundaries.
God’s word teaches that there is a “time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3). During those two events in our lives, we spend a lot of time coming and going. Hopefully we can start spending more of that time with our Lord and those we love.
Finally, if you or someone you know needs help avoiding “burn out” or dealing with “the stress of being too busy” consider a mental health wellness check up with a counselor or therapist. Most services are covered at little or no cost through one’s health plan. Agencies like Lutheran Family Service at lutheranfamilyservice.org are here to help!
God’s blessings in Christ,
Rev. David Gunderson
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
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