This series is an ongoing Q&A between Deacon Tish Harrison Warren (asking the questions) and Fr. Thomas McKenzie (answering) about ordained ministry. See the bottom of this post for an overview of the series.
Let’s talk about the life rhythms of a pastor. You take off Fridays. Many other pastors take off Mondays. Why do you take off a day a week and how did you pick Fridays?
I think most pastors take of Mondays because they are exhausted by their lives on Sundays.
I understand that, and I empathize. However, I find that there is often a great deal of pastoral work to do on Mondays, because of what happens on Sundays.
I would say that I get more messages from people who need some pastoral guidance on Mondays than any other day of the week. People often experience something in worship which prods them to need to talk to their pastor. If I was off on Mondays, then I wouldn’t be able to do that.
Further, I like to contact visitors as soon as I can after they visit. First thing I do on Monday is to get information about our guests to that I can reach out to them, through letter, e-mail, phone call, or all three.
In addition, Sundays don’t kill me like they do some pastors. Maybe that’s because I don’t have a Sunday night service (thankfully). But, for whatever reason, I’m more tired at the end of the week then at the beginning.
By Friday, I’m done working. So, I have a Friday liturgy that is unique to me, a way of doing Sabbath that I find restorative. Sometimes I don’t have to work on Saturday, either, which makes Friday/Saturday a real weekend. That’s something that you miss if you take Mondays off.
Are there work-hour boundaries or other “rules” you’ve put in place to keep a semblance of work-life balance or do you think that’s impossible with pastoral work?
It is not impossible at all.
There will sometimes be emergencies, sure. If a member of my congregation has a heart attack and is going to the hospital, I’m going to go. If someone dies, I’m going to show up. That sort of thing you can’t plan for.
At the same time, most congregational needs are not emergencies.
There are things that can wait, and there are things that don’t have to be done at all. I do my best to stay away from electronic messaging (phone/email/text/etc) early in the morning or after 6 pm. This might bother some people, but I’ve found that most folks get it.
When I was in youth ministry, years ago, I would sometimes get a phone call from a 15-year-old at 11 pm. That kid would need to talk right then. Today, if an adult messages me that they need to talk, I schedule an appointment. I find that, short of serious mental illness or suicidal thoughts, adults can hold off for a day or two.
Beyond that sort of crisis/reaction boundary, I also keep away from work things on my day off and on vacation. I’m not the kind of person who reads theology books at the beach.
In the years of little ones—you know when your kids were sick all the time and didn’t sleep at night and you had very young kids—how did you maintain sanity at home as someone in ministry?
Having little kids is difficult, and ministering to a congregation at the same time is ridiculous.
Thankfully, I am married to an amazing woman who stayed with the kids rather than working outside the home. But, when I was home, I was with my kids. I was very active in their upbringing. Which means that some ministry stuff didn’t get done. That’s OK.
Laura, my wife, was great at releasing me to go to work when I needed to go. And I was dedicated to only going to work when I needed to go. I don’t believe I used work as an escape from my family.
Some people complained that I was too often with my wife or children. They’d want me to go to every event or every meeting. Oh well, I’m not going to do that.
The day before I was ordained, my bishop told me that, once in a while, the church would ask me to choose between my family and the church. When that happens, he told me always to prefer my family. I’ve done my best to do that, and it seems to have worked out just fine.
Folks who don’t like that? They tend to either leave the church or they get with the program.
Everyday Life of the Ordained: Series Overview
Part 1: Wearing a Collar
- When do you wear a collar and when do you not? How do you decide?
- Is there anything that you wouldn’t do in a collar that you would do otherwise (example: like smoking cigarettes)? Why or why not?
Part 2: Let’s Talk Vestments
- Some lower church Anglicans are moving away from vestments while Anglo-Catholics have very strong feelings about particular priestly dress in the service. How have you decided what you wear on Sunday?
- How about censers? You rarely use one. Why is that?
Part 3: Time, Life, and Family
- You take off Fridays. Many other pastors take off Mondays. Why do you take off a day a week and how did you pick Fridays?
- Are there work-hour boundaries or other “rules” you’ve put in place to keep a semblance of work-life balance or do you think that’s impossible with pastoral work?
- In the years of little ones—you know when your kids were sick all the time and didn’t sleep at night and you had very young kids, how did you maintain sanity at home as someone in ministry?
Part 4: Let’s Talk Money
- When you are a new minister or a church planter how do you decide an appropriate salary for a clergy person? How do you walk the line of being appropriately simple and not greedy but also not wanting your family to fear financial ruin if they get extra whip cream on their lattes (or whatever)?
- As a church planter, how did you determine your salary?
- Generally, how do clergy think well about their personal financial lives?
Part 5: The Pastor’s Personal Life
- Should a pastor talk about his/her financial life or sex life or marital struggles publicly ever?
- I’ve heard from some clergy say that you can’t or shouldn’t be close friends with parishioners. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
- Can pastors be friends with people of the opposite sex? How have you and your wife decided what your boundaries will be for meeting with parishioners of the opposite sex or staff of the opposite sex? Why have you set those particular boundaries?
Thomas is a husband, father, friend, pastor, author, speaker, movie reviewer, and by grace alone the beloved of Jesus. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two daughters. He was ordained in the Anglican Communion in 1998, and is the founding pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Tennessee.