Monday, December 26, 2011

A New And Personal Perspective On Time Off Closing Out 2011

December 26th marks the first official time off since I began serving at St. John's Lutheran Church. This reality sounds strange on two fronts.

1. I am part-time. On average (I'm an expert on average) I work somewhere between 25-30 hours per week. Some weeks less, some weeks more. Sometimes I notice the difference. Sometimes I don't. I can care for my children and get them where they need to go. If I need a day or two during the week to recuperate, I can. If Melanie needs help, I can do it. If the household needs particular attention, I attend to it. If someone from the extended family calls for my assistance, I oblige. We have a little less money coming in, but our lives feel a little more sane. The only reason I'm able to serve church and family in this way is because my wife has a wonderful full-time call with the ELCA--a call she enjoys and to which she is well suited. If she's not in a good situation, things change. It's good to take some time away for perspective, but I'm not particularly exhausted. Advent and Christmas have been hard work, but I'm still upright and mobile, which leads me to my next point.

2. The notion of time off is different for me these days. I'm serving in a way I enjoy. I have the opportunity to try new things, stretch my thinking and prayer life. I think the people of St. John's are thankful these days because morale is up--the congregation was not far from closing in recent history. I believe there is recognition of the presence of God in the ministry, and people at St. John's take many opportunities to encourage one another in faith and serve their neighbor in a thankful and joyful way. We have outside volunteers leading St. John's, bishop-appointed trustees, that take away some of the burdens of leadership (mostly in the areas of financial and organizational management) and allow St. John's to focus on worship, spirituality and evangelism. In this climate, I feel like all parties involved aren't attempting to squeeze blood out of a turnip. In other words, congregations and pastors are often disappointed with each other because each is hoping to get more out of the other (trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip), or that one sees the other party as not quite giving enough. It is possible for pastors and congregations to have good relationship--and I have experienced that environment. My experience this time is unique for me because I feel like I can give of myself and my talents to congregational life that isn't attempting to live up to skewed congregational (or personal) expectations. In the environment of skewed expectations, vacation feels like a time to exhale and escape, and the vacation never seems long enough. This week, vacation is a time to rest, but it is more about perspective than anything else. I am thankful for my work, not merely for employment's sake, but because of the shared opportunity to give.

In 2011 both St. John's and I saw nebulous futures. Though we may not be able to predict the shape of tomorrow, I think we share a sense of thankfulness that I believe God blesses moving forward.

Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year.


  1. How do you think congregations and pastors can avoid that disappointment you spoke of? I've had the opportunity to see that happen from the vantage point of my former church secretary position. Now I'm serving on the call committee in a new congregation. Hope is running high here now and I love the excitement, but I worry sometimes that maybe expectations aren't realistic.

  2. Here's my experience in most congregations. Very few have broken this mold. Congregations are often willing (in theory) to do the things necessary in order to grow and/or change. Usually, the problem is that they are not willing to give things up in order to move forward. These expectations are often piled on the pastor. A pastor can sometimes diffuse these unrealistic expectations if the pastor is patient and differentiated. The governing board also needs to be trained well and differentiated. It's a big cultural shift. Your calm functioning is a significant role in the transition. Blessings to you. Send me an email at jbwsmith at hotmail if you want to continue the conversation. I would be glad to help.