Budget Season!

Guess what time of year it is? Spring?  Lent? Holy Week?  Spring training?  Spring football practice?  Track season?  Golf? There is a lot going on!  In addition to those listed above (and many others that are not listed) it is also budget season.  That wonderful time of year when churches and schools try to figure out how to do much more with less. It is an unfortunate and often unspoken truth that churches and schools tend to balance the budget on the backs of the church workers.

If income projections appear to be a few thousand short, then we simply institute “temporary wage freezes.”  We justify low pay for teachers by pointing out that the benefits package (especially health plan) is EXCELLENT.  Then we cut budgets by making the worker pay for greater and greater percentages of the health care plan in addition to changing plans altogether–the same plan that we used to justify the low pay. I know that this sounds very negative in written form.  I do not intend for that.  It just happens to be the reality that we face.  I haven been in low-paying positions; I have been in positions that paid well in comparison.  I have faced financial crisis; I have faced times when I was extremely thankful that I had the means to pay for a needed repair.  And I have to believe that all church workers can say the same thing.  We have learned to be content in all situations, as St. Paul stated. But while we consider the economic cost of sharing the Gospel, let us also consider “cost” from the other side.  As you work through the monetary budgets, consider the “time” budget as well. The following is from pages one and two of H. James Boldt’s workbook for salary guidelines and is VERY well-written:

“You should see our pastor!  He is a virtual dynamo.  He puts in 80 to 100 hours a week.  We don’t know how he does it, but we are really blessed.  You should have a pastor like ours!”  Such a statement may be genuine and an 80-hour per week church worker may be effective, happy, and joy to talk to about [sic].  But who is really “paying the price” for the good reverend’s heroic service?  Could it be his family or his health?  The same holds true for all church workers… While the teacher emergency-counseled the distressed parents, who took her place at her family’s evening devotion?  Who filled her empty chair at the dinner table when her 8-year old shared the excitement of having a new “best friend” at school? While the youth director was on the weekend retreat with 23 young people and only one set of chaperon parents (the other parents were too busy to help), who prayed with his wife in the hospital emergency room with his 13 year old son who broke his arm? While the lay minister, at the request of a distraught parent, was at the police station, who took his place at home when his son telephoned home about the car accident? While the pastor sat in the hospital and counseled the children regarding their 94 year old mother’s death and their guilt over removing the mechanical support system, who took his place when his unwed pregnant daughter’s telephone call went unanswered? While the principal’s wife played [S]crabble with the children to fill the 10th night in a row that he was making every member visits, who filled in for him on these evenings that can never be recaptured? While the pastor was at those ever-occurring conventions who took his place to teach his son how to bait the hook, aim the BB gun, swing the bat, shoot the basketball, build the derby car, hit the nail, saw the board, throw the horse shoe, drive the car, change the socket, prepare the speech, approach the potential girlfriend, and a hundred other things only fathers with time and the inclination can and need to do with and for their sons? Can anyone, but the real father or mother ever take the place of being at home when it counts and providing the needed parental security, guidance and faith development leadership?

Pastor Tom Rogers relates a similar thought in his book “Because God Has Called.”  He mentions attending a funeral of a fellow pastor.  The parishioners spoke reverently about the dedication of the pastor.  But, as Rogers notes, the congregation would have a new pastor within a few months; as he looked at the family, he saw children who had lost their earthly father forever. My friends, the cost of church work is steep.  Set aside the economics for a moment and consider the above.  For many, the cost of church work is our lives–and not necessarily in the sense that we within the church usually mean (i.e. laying down our life for Christ.)  Instead, church workers can find themselves as cogs in a machine rather than servants of Christ.  I recently spoke with some former students who are now in church work and this feeling was evident in our conversation.

Churches and schools, we must do more to care for our workers.  Consider:

  • Does your church/school continually ask for more from workers?
  • Do you thank your workers?
  • Do you “give permission” for workers to say “no”?
  • Do you encourage healthy practices?  Do your actions align with that encouragement?

Church workers:

  • How can you set margins in your life to maintain healthy familial relationships?
  • If you are single, what are you doing to ensure that your ministry does not consume you?
  • What can schools and churches offer you that would provide meaningful and true stress-release and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle?

God bless you, church workers and lay leaders, as we all work on this problem.  This problem is difficult and there are no clear-cut answers other than to treat all with mutual respect and dignity, keep the eighth commandment, and continue to support and pray for each other.  Beyond that… work together!

steps can you take to ensure that your ministry doesn’t consume you? Lay leaders:  How can you hold reasonably high expectations for the workers with which God has entrusted you, yet also provide for release for that worker?  How can you encourage workers to take care of themselves?

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