(September) Pressure Points

 with Dr. Bruce Hartung

The July “Pressure Points” dealt with suggestions for welcoming new professional church workers into the community of the parish and/or school. A number of readers responded and offered some excellent suggestions.  This month’s column gives some of those suggestions, along with my comments.

Q:  Pastors and their families come in all shapes and sizes, all with different personalities and opinions of what would be helpful or hurtful.  As a pastor’s wife, I cringed at a few of your suggestions because I couldn’t personally see myHartung, Bruceself feeling comfortable with them.  However, I think they were good suggestions, nonetheless, because to someone else they might be received very well.  My first suggestion to any congregation is to right away ask your new pastor and his family what would be helpful to them.  Communication is the key to any great relationship.  Just keep the communication open!

A:  Imagine that — asking the church worker, spouse, and family what would be helpful!  Thanks very much for this basic and fundamental reminder, which was absent in the June column.  Frankly, I think I got so caught up in thinking about things that might be helpful that I forgot the most fundamental one — to simply ask!  Perhaps you could ask something like this: “We really want to make your transition into this congregation or school as smooth and welcoming as possible.  What might we do to be really helpful for you?”  What is requested may or may not be possible, but it does set the stage for working toward a healthy transition.

Q: You overlooked the issue of vacation time in the compensation of young pastors.

As both a pastor and a circuit counselor, I have seen congregations get new young pastors and give them two weeks of vacation time, which members consider as the “industry standard” for any worker starting in a new job.  Nothing about the hours a pastor works is “industry standard,” and neither should be his vacation time.

My recommendations are as follows:

  • Minimum vacation time should be three weeks, or 18 days and three Sundays.  This does not count continuing education, district conventions, or youth retreats.

  • The Board of Elders should be responsible for finding a suitable replacement for all duties and for preparation of worship services and Bible classes while the pastor is on vacation.

  • Each pastor should have one and a half official days off each week.  The full day off should be marked on the monthly calendar.

  • Congregations should have a written policy concerning legal holidays, sick time, and sabbatical leave.

A:  Amen!  And, with more time served at a parish, the vacation time could increase to four weeks.  Concerning sabbaticals, see the excellent letter from Rev. Jim Bender on Page 5 of this Reporter.

Q:  If the congregation has a parsonage, please be proactive about maintaining it.  In a parish I know of, the trustees would walk through the parsonage and note anything that needed repairs, and then make sure that the repairs were made.  Also, once a year, a group of women would walk through the parsonage and take note of things the trustees might have missed.  I may have been uncomfortable with the idea at first, but it is very hard, frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing to have to call the trustees to come fix things.

A:  To me, this depends on the attitude of the trustees and the other folks walking through.  People do have lots of different tastes and preferences, and that is important to recognize in providing support.  I really like the proactive side of this, because it communicates that the congregation really wants to keep the parsonage in good shape.

Thanks to all who wrote!

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation
at Concordia Seminary, St, Louis.  He can be reached at

Posted Sept. 1, 2006

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