Whether as professionals or volunteers, we serve an infinite God who has entrusted us with a role in the world’s ultimate management goal, preaching the Gospel to all the nations. We in turn damage our psyches in the erroneous belief that (1) we too are infinite in our capacities, and (2) the saving of the world rests solely upon our shoulders. Church ministry often holds itself exempt from concepts like objective goals, specific tasks, hours of operation, because Church work is divine and “above” such human considerations. The fatal flaw here is forgetfulness of the simple fact that Church ministry is conducted by humans, limited by space and time.
As an Employee Assistance counselor for large companies over the years probably the most important insight I repeatedly imparted is that a worker owns his or her own life. This applies equally to lifelong career tracks and to the daily schedule. “You are not the crazy one; you work for a crazy organism.” There are a lot of church workers burning out in demoralization in sick systems in all faiths, too, but in many cases the worker’s worst enemy is the self, the compulsion to overwork and over think because everything is “critically” important.
A wise pastor engages in good long-range planning-a year in advance, for example-and assesses both publicly and privately with his team what responsibilities each parish minister can reasonably assume in the coming year, including the situations outside of work that bear consideration (caring for an aging parent, for example.) Part of this equation is the regular and scheduled personal evaluation by the pastor, a review of goals and achievement over, say, a six-month time frame. (I will discuss work evaluations in another post.) But for our purposes today, routine evaluations keep the pastor honest, too. A church worker cannot be scolded for failures to perform duties not included in the job description, the written job description signed by both parties at a previous time.
EAP patients reported to me many instances where their employers would downsize the operations by not replacing departing workers and adding the work portfolios to the employees who remained. It was not unusual to hear from tenured workers that it was now necessary for them to work Saturdays and Sundays at home to simply maintain place with their employers. A number of church workers and volunteers complain of the same thing: in mid-February, for example, an impulsive pastor might decide a young mother’s club would be a great idea for the parish, and the spade and directions are given to whatever unlucky Christian soul is standing next to the office coffee pot. Some DRE’s are guilty, too. (The proper procedure: postpone action until the leisure of annual staff planning allows for a study of need and manpower.)
A risky intervention—I only actually recommended it a few times—was suggesting to an overworked employee that the next time an employer or supervisor (church or civil) dropped more work on the employee’s desk, the employee might politely ask: “OK, which project do you want me to drop so that I can do this one?” This scenario became something of a shared joke with patients over the years; many patients came to see the absurdity of their work environment without actually risking their jobs, and their self-esteem (and righteous indignation) often led them to wise reassessments of their life situations.
Be reasonable with yourself in planning your day. There is considerable clinical literature that the pattern of setting unreasonable goals and falling short is a major factor in the development of mood disorders, particularly depression. The fact that we work for an infinite God in a Church that claims to be all things for all men does not mean we can never say, “Well, I checked my list for today, met my goals, and I’m done.” Time to go home to relax, pray, exercise, cook healthy, play with the family, read, catch up on “Downton Abbey” on the DVR. Even God, according to Genesis 1, only worked a six-day week.