Friday, February 17, 2012

The Time Clock is the Wrong Boundary

Early in ministry, I served a congregation where a previous pastor was a predator. He looked for vulnerable women in the congregation and abused his power. I found a deep mistrust in pastors from people in the congregation. They wanted to trust me. I wanted to build trust. Someone suggested that my schedule be an open book. I posted my schedules in the church, and I worked a lot of hours. I did my best to show that my work produced tangible results.

One of my bishops proclaimed that the amount of hours worked wasn't as helpful for planning work as laying out blocks of time. A morning, an afternoon, or an evening represented a block of time. We were encouraged to work 13 blocks of time per week. It was still a time clock, only with different hands.

In another region of the country, full-time work and compensation for pastors was listed in published guidelines as 55-60 hours per week. I started to wonder whether any of this time clock orientation was helpful.

Time clocks are for factories. The church is not a factory. Earlier generations of pastors were probably not time clock watchers. They focused on things like teaching, preaching, planning worship, and visiting the sick. Sometimes that work takes a lot of hours. Sometimes it doesn't. I am not proclaiming that a pastor's job description returns to a former image of ministry. What image is helpful?

The image associated with a pastor often changes, but never completely changes. Pastor as wise parent of the congregational family. Pastor as counselor. Pastor as CEO. Pastor as mission director. Pastor as director of a social service agency. Though images gain and lose favor over the years, none of these images are ever completely abandoned by a congregation. Combine these prevailing images with decline in denominations and envy of large thriving congregations, and the temptation is to watch the time clock. Some pastors experience burn out. Some pastors retreat and "cook the books" on the hours they've worked. Some pastors will stop working once they've hit the magic number of 40, 50, or 60 hours. Some congregations are concerned about the amount of hours a pastor works. Some attempt to squeeze every last hour out of their pastors until they're left for dead.

Good boundaries with pastor and congregation are important. The time clock is the wrong boundary. I am moving away from a time clock, focusing on doing what I love, out of love for God, love for my family, and love for my neighbor. This is never an easy thing to do, because it means overcoming fear. The fear is that something that I create out of love will be rejected, or not work. The time clock gave me emotional distance. The problem with a time clock is that it strips away emotional investment. The time clock strips away love. The ministry needs more emotional investment, more love, more passion. Can the love of God be communicated by a church that focuses on something artificial like a time clock?

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